As we stepped out of the shiny black shuttle that transported us from the parking garage to the venue, we were greeted by a sea of plucky Goop employees in matching white tees. Some scuttled around politely commanding walkie-talkies, others directed us to the entrance, where linen-clad women streamed in. Security guards tweaked their earpieces.
About 500 women, myself and three or four other men, were here to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s first wellness summit. The event, In Goop Health, was a pulsing monument to Paltrow’s lifestyle brand of health, wealth, and privilege. Which was wholly expected. Less so was the anxiety-ridden phantasmagoria the day would produce.
For nearly a decade, Paltrow has been handing down wellness guidance from her pulpit of pseudoscience, quite successfully. So popular is the lifestyle brand that they erected this flashy, expensive summit for their congregation — and it sold out in days. The event offered three tiers of access — the lowest ticket costing more than a weekend pass to Coachella at $500 — for nine hours of lectures, panels, activities and the opportunity to part with more money in the Goop Hall “Retail Therapy” corridor.
I lead a lifestyle in diametric opposition to the one Goop is selling. I drink often, smoke cigarettes, take drugs, consume fast food regularly, rarely exercise, never take vitamins or supplements and generally exhibit a lower than average concern for my health. Yet, Gwyneth Paltrow and her ilk of California health advocates, their pockets deep and their obsessions mystic, have fascinated me for years.
My youth was military middle class. The California I grew up in was a lot dingier than the coastal glisten of Big Little Lies. The differences between mine and that organic new wave lifestyle bred my intrigue, especially brushing up against it on day trips to Newport or Laguna. What made these monetarily blessed sojourners so fearful, so concerned with their physical temple, often more so than their spiritual or psychological houses, other than the fact that they’re the few who can afford it? As someone from “the other side of the tracks,” the absurdity of this pursuit was so… entertaining.
So what the hell was I doing here?
I arrived on the west side of Los Angeles at 9 a.m., beneath a canopy of grey clouds seemingly displeased with the events below them. The entrance split into three lines for the different ticket tiers: Lapis, the cheapest experience, which was the ticket I and most others held, then Amethyst, a slight upgrade in goodies and a yoga session, then Clear Quartz: The $1500 VIP experience, complete with a Gwyneth-attended lunch and cocktail hour, a heavier swag bag at day’s end, and surely an inflated sense of superiority.
Eager attendees poured into Goop Hall, half of the hangar-like venue resembling an indoor/outdoor pop-up mall. We had an hour before the first lecture of the day and were encouraged to have breakfast and “hang out.” The first vendor to pull me in was the much-maligned Moon Juice — owned by Amanda Chantal Bacon, a sort of spiritual-echo of Gwyneth herself — by promising me focus and energy with one of their dusted drinks.
Now we waited for the lectures to commence. I sat at a picnic table with my juice and took in my surroundings. There was a palpable electricity in the air, women strolling in groups of two or three, decked out in swishy fashions, green and white Stan Smiths, grinning moths in a wide white light, all of us immediately branded with our large In Goop Health tote bags handed to us at the entrance.
Some seemed to be there solely to be seen, more interested in the fashion of wellness than wellness itself, resembling the cartoonish patrons of an art gallery in a bad film. The “dressed-down” sect was largely in athleisure, sporting slogan tees that read, “Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe,” or, “Public Cervix Announcement”. Others expressed their worldliness on their chests, with some French phrase I didn’t recognize. All of this, while the baroque sounds of Serge Gainsbourg going down on Jane Birkin played over the sound system.
The summit was set up like a festival, with a large selection of trendy food and drink stations, and a smattering of services that mixed to form what they called a “Choose Your Own Wellness Adventure”: crystal readings, manicures, massages, the Radiant Human Photo Dome, an oxygen bar, I.V. drips with vitamin cocktails, Glamsquad touch-ups, et al. These services, and the edible provisions, were on offer throughout the day, gratis, alongside the retail bounty of the Goop Pharmacy, Clean Beauty Apothecary, The Workout Shop and Detox Pantry, to visit, partake, and purchase in-between the day’s schedule of discussions and panels.
The aura photography and crystal reading appointments filled up immediately, so I waited patiently for the first lecture to begin, when, like a queen stepping out to survey her empire, Gwyneth appeared on the steps to the courtyard. She was beaming, in a long, thin, floral dress, bright and flaxen, exuding a quiet personability. Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” played over the speakers. She withdrew back into the dim of the event space, but those who caught her brief plebian mingle were noticeably charged.
Soon after, a middle-aged woman joined me at my table and struck up a conversation. She was in from Alaska, ran a sustainable seafood company that brought large orders direct to classified clientele, which, she explained, brought her to LA and Orange County often.
“Have you met Gwyneth before?” she asked.
I haven’t. She, of course, has, and has nothing but sweet things to say about her, how caring and down to earth she is. Throughout the day, several attendees will ask me the same thing, with the same cultish glow, and sing her everywoman praises. They impart this information as some saccharine secret, reminiscent of the time I visited Scientology’s Celebrity Centre and each employee, so welcomingly, so familiarly, swore they knew me from somewhere.
The summit began with an introduction from the disembodied voice of Blythe Danner, Gwyneth’s mother, either pre-recorded or from somewhere in the wings, in which she joked about us all drinking the Goop Kool-Aid. How sneeringly wild to use an idiom like this while herding the sheep into the theater! Gwyneth then took the stage to an appreciative crowd and led us through her journey toward the pursuit of wellness. It all started when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She tried to get him to eat healthily, something gluten free, which he likened to “biting into the New York Times.”
“We’ve come a long way!”
She continued, telling us about the myriad methods she’s tried, her “macrobiotic phase,” how she read about “sugar being… not so good,” her search for a cure for… tiredness. She then introduced her friend slash philosophical hype man, Dr. Habib Sadeghi, who transitioned into a seminar on cosmic flow, the laterality of the body.
Before the third scheduled event, a panel featuring Gwyneth and the authors of two self-help books I’d receive by day’s end, I had to leave the “Chat Room” and get some air. The inconsistencies of some of this information was apparent to even a layman like myself — an Advil isn’t going to explode my stomach, animals definitely get cancer and a demon isn’t living inside me, devouring my ambition. These medical and scientific fallacies are the heart of the Goop problem, excellently reported on at The Outline by Yvette d’Entremont.
Seeing it up close and in person unnerved me, at first inexplicably. A mild anxiety attack began to surface from within and I decided to walk back to my car and smoke a bowl — a dicey tactic but no better than much of what the Goop vendors had on offer.
I returned starving and made a beeline to a food station operated by Kye’s, a “health-focused eatery” based in Santa Monica that specializes in burrito-wrap hybrids. These wraps, sorry seaweed excuses for burritos, required a bit of a trick to open and eat, one I could not master, even after it was slowly explained to me. Three different employees came to my aid, only stoking my anxiety, perpetuating my fish-out-of-water feeling. On the patio I messily consumed my “kyrito,” never having been more embarrassed to eat in public.
I decided to try out the IV station. I had given up on this pursuit once already; the line was wildly long and the prospect of it actually improving anything seemed slim and not worth the prick. But with a clinical exhaustion setting in around midday, it seemed like a fair strategy.
My vitals revealed my blood pressure is higher than average, not absurdly so, but something to take note of, the tech told me. “It’s probably stress.” Of course, of course.
As saline and vitamins B-12 and C were injected into my veins, a process that felt less intrusive than I’d imagined, I met the only other attendee to broadcast that their bullshit detector was on and working. Unsurprisingly, she’s a doctor, and because of that she found a lot of the event hard to swallow. At least we met doing arguably the most pure and true thing at the summit — injecting vitamins directly into our bloodstreams. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask her why she attended in the first place while they unplugged me.
Once my sparkling bag of liquid was empty I walked back inside, passing one of the few other men at the summit. He was explaining to someone in the IV line that he and his girlfriend flew in from Dallas in an attempt to get their sexual wellness product featured on Goop.
The IV drip had me feeling energized, a smooth surge of focus like snorting an Adderall without all the jittery side effects. Unfortunately, I was still on edge, a fact only clarified by the process as it wiped away the exhaustion and weedy fog that’d been masking my nerves.
An odd loneliness set in. The only thing I felt I had in common with the other attendees was an underlying, simmering fear. And was that fear large enough to cloud them all from seeing the contradictory philosophies, or the medical inaccuracies, or the fact that they’re being bilked to the bone, their fear and insecurity plated for profit?
I stood at a high table to take some notes when a woman asked to share it with me, holding in her hand her photographed aura. I asked if I could take a picture of her purplish Polaroid and she said yes. As the shutter released, a Goop employee approached me and asked me to identify myself. A sense of dark urgency emanated from her.
She informed me that without credentials I was barred from doing any interviews and taking any more photographs, and if this seemed to be a problem she would have me delete the ones I’d already taken. I wasn’t asked to leave, but it was made clear that documenting the event without approved messaging was strictly verboten.
The funny thing is, I didn’t seek anyone out for interviews. In fact, every attendee I spoke with had approached me. It was easy; I was an outlier. When they asked why I was there I told them I was fascinated by Gwyneth and Goop, and that I planned to write about it. I didn’t lie to anyone, I wasn’t attempting any gotcha journalism, I wasn’t on acid. What were the organizers so worried about? Which version of the day did they want undocumented?
Or maybe they want the Goop information only for the Goop congregation. But aren’t disciples supposed to spread the gospel?
This, in conjunction with the anxieties of the general energy there, the cosmic flow of some unnamed fear, some intangible, mystic curse permeating the flock to this expensive, escapist science fiction, only made the day feel more sinister. I walked outside to make a phone call, passing the employee who’d reprimanded me as she traded hushed whispers with two others. Maybe I was being paranoid, but in the searing overcast light I felt dark, fried, uncomfortable. There was a dreadful spookiness surrounding it all and it was closing in on me.
Why had the day turned so sour? Why did I feel so… unwell? Others did too, as far as I could tell, with many exuding a kind of base anger when there wasn’t any awe. It wasn’t for feeling like such a sore thumb in the environment, and not because I was scolded by a Goop employee (the latter is nearly a badge of honor). A glossy fear felt all-encompassing, present in a misplaced energy, misguided values, misinformation.
The Advil grenade. My goddamn “cosmic flow.” Ha! Misinformation. That’s what did me in. The echoing of a problem that’s so severely plaguing our country right now. Especially with Alex Jones on national television, a government propaganda machine spewing constant falsities and a pathological liar for a president, the tolerance for fake has all been worn out. The acceptance of any other attempt to deny our reality made criminal, spiritually offensive. It all felt like it was in grand support of that big American lie, all of us made suckers, practically asking capitalism to profit off our insecurity.
Then again, when the fuck don’t we ask?
I left early, burned out from going through the
Goop wringer, collected my 15 pound swag bag of lies, and walked back to
my car. I let out a sigh of relief as I turned the engine over. If this is what
a wellness summit feels like, I’d rather be unwell.
Published at Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:13:54 +0000