This past Saturday’s In Goop Health Summit (at Pier 17 in New York City’s South Street Seaport) wasn’t even a wrap, and already the haters were sniping on social media about food waste (the entrance signage incorporated real vegetables) and unnecessary plastic and paper consumption (by some of the organic food and beverage purveyors). What is it about Gwyneth Paltrow that pisses people off so much? Sure, she’s rich and famous, but instead of engaging in acceptable celebrity behavior like trashing hotel rooms or getting caught with cocaine in her car, she’s touting turmeric to the masses and trying to shed light on interesting and alternative approaches to wellness and women’s issues. Heaven forbid!
Critics complain that Paltrow is elitist, and that the gadgets and beauty products she peddles are too pricey. But since when is commerce a crime? Judging by all the shoppers milling around the Summit’s tightly-edited retail section, their wire baskets stuffed with mindful merch, the lifestyle maven is merely supplying demand. I mean, who CAN’T use a little Paper Crane Apothecary Psychic Vampire Repellent Protection Mist now and then, if you want it and can afford it? And if her new “The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath Soak, which contains Himalayan pink sea salt and chia seeds, can “take the edge off during turbulent times or after a crazy day” (and prevent me from attempting to do that with real martinis), I don’t mind getting soaked for $35.
Of course, more than just cookbooks, crystal-containing water bottles, reusable plastic bags and spiralizers, Paltrow’s selling herself. The mostly female attendees of the event (who paid $650 or $2,000 for all-day passes and one hell of a goody bag), were audibly excited when Paltrow took the stage, straining to see her and listening raptly to her kick-off speech. “We at Goop have an insatiable curiosity,” said Paltrow. “We love data, but we also love the unexplained–the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.”
As I padded around the airy event space (trendily done up in Danish Modern–there was even a Hygge Room for VIP lunchers) in the comfy fake-shearling slippers we were given at the door, I vowed not to fall for anything TOO inexplicable. (Another big criticism of Paltrow is that she advocates questionable alternative medical theories and practices.) But as a longtime journalist used to this beat, nothing on offer Saturday really phased me. I had some relaxing facial cupping (no marks, natch) with acupuncturist, herbalist and author Aimee Raupp, whose new book “Body Belief: How to Heal Autoimmune Diseases, Radically Shift Your Health, and Learn to Love Your Body More” comes out in March. Then I bravely (and quite publicly) peeled down my ATM sweatpants to accept an immunity-enhancing antioxidant shot in my glute, the best place for it, according to the folks at The Hydration Room. Next up was a breathing meditation with Desirée Pais in the achingly chic Breath room.
Because I’d procrastinated on registering for treatments, I couldn’t get into the tarot-card readings (too popular), ayurvedic massages, mini-manicures, shoulder work or magnetic acupressure. But thanks to insider intel, I knew the only thing I really shouldn’t miss was London-based esthetician Anastasia Achilleos’s 15-minute Skin Transformation, so I circled her sheepskin-covered Hans Wegner Flag chair like a shark, waiting for my turn. Two minutes in, Achilleos’s deft hands and expert use of lymphatic drainage, acupressure and energy work (yes, you read right) had me swooning, and I slipped so far down in that iconic mid-century chair that I practically hit the Moroccan-carpet-clad floor.
Paltrow occasionally ventured out of the green room to grab a bite, greet friends, or try a treatment. (You could tell when she was near, as everyone in the hangar-sized room stopped whatever they were doing to watch her.) Paltrow confided that she was open to trying most things in the name of research, but has an aversion to anything to do with blood. “Blood stuff is hard for me,” she told me. “I actually had blood-letting; it’s like of like cupping, but they prick the meridien with an acupuncture needle and draw the blood out. I almost fainted. Anything like that–blood facials, leeches–they’re sort of off the table for me.”
See, she’s not as “out there” as you thought.
I spied actress Laura Linney in the crowd, taking it all in. A wellness-world newbie, Linney nonetheless staunchly defended the Empress of Goop (as Steven Colbert called Paltrow in a skit last week). “Gwyneth gets a lot of heat for this, which is unfair,” she said. “She’s doing a great thing for a lot of people, and doesn’t deserve to be bashed for it. You can take what you want from it, and leave what you don’t.” Linney was joined on the main stage later by Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Chelsea Handler, former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn for the last (and most anticipated) panel of the day, themed around what it means to be a woman in the #metoo climate of 2018. It was smart, funny and galvanizing.
I tend to agree with Linney. We’re grownups–we can buy into whatever we choose. And while it may have been difficult for me (and other attendees) to suspend disbelief during discussions on near-death experiences and spontaneous healing, and I definitely felt a little uncomfortable when medium Laura Lynne Jackson roamed the Chat Room, channeling the deceased relatives of audience members, I tried to remain open-minded (and not chuckle) as one after another, panelists told us that “we are love.”
Girlfriends (and hardcore Goop fans) Jordan Sandrini and Tiffany Ellingson flew in from Los Angeles for the event. They, too, dismissed the naysayers. “I think if you can go into a space and meet a bunch of powerful, inspiring women then why wouldn’t you want to embrace it?” asks Sandrini. “Like, there’s really nothing negative about it. These women are trying to better themselves. This is what we’re all working for. So let’s be there for each other.”
They wished they got to see more of Paltrow, though. “She walked around a lot more at the L.A. event in June,” said Ellingson wistfully. “And you could go outside at that one, which was nice.” Sara Murphy, who came in from East Hampton, enjoyed the day, but thought it could have been more condensed. “I feel like there should be something more, if it’s going to be a whole day. Maybe more fitness activities and classes, or something.”
Overall, everyone I spoke to was positive, if healthily skeptical, including Kerry Diamond, co-founder of female-focused foodie media company Cherry Bombe. “I’m a fan of what Gwyneth’s built, and I think she gets a lot of undeserved shit for what she believes in,” she said. “I find everything she espouses to be very interesting. I don’t necessarily believe in all of it on the same level she does. But I think it’s healthy to question conventional medicine from time to time.”
Added Kate Miller Spencer, Cherry Bombe’s Chicago-based publisher, (who started her day with a self-hypnosis session), “I lived in Los Angeles for a long time, so I really believe in all the voodoo, or at least I’m willing to consider it. And while some things on Goop have been sort of nuts, and didn’t end up being things we should all be doing, I think they’ve been ahead of the curve on a lot of other stuff. Some of the panel discussions today, like the one with the Harvard doctors about the God particle, energy, your conscious mind versus your subconscious mind, and how we live in the world–it’s all stuff we should be thinking about.”
If Paltrow has her way, more people may be thinking about it very soon. The actress and mogul is in negotiations with media outlets on a wellness-themed TV show, scheduled for end of this year, or beginning of next. “We talk about it being somewhere between Chef’s Table and Anthony Boudain’s Parts Unknown, but about wellness and for women,” she said. “What are the prescient issues, how are we dealing with stuff, and what are the modalities we don’t know about yet, that kind of thing.”
When asked if Goop helps women empower themselves through self care, Paltrow thought about it for a tick, and said, “We just try to find any angle, big or small, you know? Either by being really vulnerable about an experience like divorce, sexual abuse, personal pain, or postpartum depression, and using Goop as a platform so women can connect and resonate and not feel alone. Or, well, you know, there are so many little things we can do to impact our bodies, and our lives, positively. We just feel very proud that we’re a place that women come, that they feel this community, and this sort of invisible knitting together, and lifting up. We’re very focused on women entrepreneurs, and you know, we do a lot quietly. We’re not big grandstanders, but we do a lot. We be by doing!”