I Got Goop'd: Inside Canada's First In Goop Health Summit
Hundreds of women attended Gwyneth Paltrow's controversial wellness convention in Vancouver. I was one of them.
My definition of wellness involves Pilates classes and cheese plates, not colonics and quartz stones, and I’m about as spiritual as a bath loofah. I'm not the world's biggest Gwyneth Paltrow fan, either — I've only seen Shakespeare in Love once. But last weekend, I pulled on my yoga pants and made the pilgrimage with 200 other women to the mecca of the self-care movement: the In Goop Health summit.
In case you’ve been in a meditative trance for the last two years, In Goop Health is the physical manifestation of Paltrow’s lifestyle empire. Held in Vancouver, this was the fourth iteration of the event and the first for Canada. Tickets were $400; they sold out quickly.
I had been sick for a full month leading up to the summit, a combination of too much work, not enough sleep, an ill toddler, and a sinus infection from hell. When the opportunity to spend a weekend of Gwyneth-sanctioned mind-expansion, skin-beautification, and smoothies came my way (all expenses paid for by Goop), I said, “Sign me up, and pass the turmeric water!”
The first thing you’ll want to know: Gwyneth was not there. Instead, the day was presided over by GP’s right-hand woman and chief content officer, Elise Loehnen, who, dressed in head-to-toe red, was easy to spot in a sea of Lululemons. Loehnen is sharp with a wicked sense of humour, and I got the sense that her star-power is almost as bright as Gwyneth's in Goop world.
Held in the ridiculously gorgeous Stanley Park Pavilion, the summit was part speaker series (guests included volleyball icon Gabrielle Reece and Dr. Alejandro Junger, endorser of coffee enemas and detox cleanses) and part spa day (there were yoga sessions, facial tutorials, and “breath work”). The breath work — so not my jam — involved panting to the beat of an instrumental number with our arms uplifted for two minutes. It was supposed to help us "show up," but I found it embarrassing and had to fight back giggles. The facial lesson — definitely my jam — involved a very bossy, very sarcastic British facialist named Anastasia Achilleos demonstrating a vigorous massage technique to decrease puffiness and increase glowiness — which it did.
There were non-toxic beauty supplements (drinks that looked and tasted like orange Gatorade), and you could spike your coffee with collagen powder. In her opening remarks, Loehnen braced us for vitamin B12 shots: “Prepare to take down your pants and get a shot right in the ass.” And after a lunch of wild salmon and roasted spaghetti squash, I pulled down my waistband, exposed my hip, and did just that. There were two types of B12, one to pep you up and another to calm you down — I went for pep.
I must have looked as uncertain as I felt, because as the syringe was inserted into my side, the woman waiting behind me in line, locked eyes with me, mouthed the word “breathe,” raised her hands in prayer, and inhaled deeply, encouraging me to do the same. “I was trying to absorb your pain,” she told me afterward. (It didn’t work: My hip was sore for 24 hours.)
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her. Early that day, we both sat in on a group medium reading, in which psychic Susan Grau connected people to deceased loved ones. My B12 friend had been connected with her grandmother, who was concerned both about the family drifting apart and about her granddaughter needing to take her car to the mechanic. One attendee had been connected to her mother, who died of a drug overdose; another to an absentee father. There were a lot of tears. The readings were bizarrely accurate — my B12 friend had moved away from her family and was indeed experiencing car troubles. I couldn't figure out just how we were being hoodwinked, but the grief the women felt was real. After the session, we took a 20-minute break to enjoy collagen-coconut smoothies before our facial tutorial. The woman from the B12 line wept in the corner.
I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to mix grief with Lean Green Colada smoothies and skincare. So when I saw her again at the end of the day, I asked what it was like to experience that kind of pain and then go have a facial. “It was amazing,” she said. The reading made her feel raw and open, and ready to fully experience the day.
The extent to which Goop is really about helping women was something I thought about again when I was at home in Toronto and googled Goop to review coverage of the event. The first thing that popped up was a story about the company being reported for allegedly breaching 113 advertising laws in the U.K. due to misleading statements about its products, including pre-natal vitamins. It was unsettling and made me wonder about the efficacy of the contents of my Goop goodie bag, which contained one month’s worth of its (brilliantly named) "Why Am I So Effing Tired?" vitamins. As far as I can tell, my Goop swag is all safe to use.
But just last month, Goop was ordered to pay $145,000 USD for unsubstantiated claims about its vaginal eggs — claims disproven by Canadian OB/GYN and unofficial chief Goop critic Dr. Jen Gunter. In fact, wrote Gunter, using the eggs could actually harm your vag. I read that the eggs were available at the Vancouver summit, though I didn’t see them. I did spy Goop’s “Medicine Bag,” a $116 satchel containing nine healing crystals — one of the items cited by the U.K. report.
I also read that there was a man outside the summit selling $38 “hot-dog water” as a statement on critical thinking, a clever way of pointing out that Goopies will buy into pretty much anything.
According to Loehnen, that’s not true. The thesis behind that kind of criticism, she says, is that women are lemmings. “The reality is that every woman I know is like, ‘Listen, guys: I’m perfectly capable of reading something, parsing it, and deciding if it’s relevant to me. I know how to make decisions that are right for my body.’” Men, says Loehnen, aren’t treated the same way. “You’ll notice a lot of the things we’re criticized for have to do with reproductive organs or sexuality, and there’s always this pretense of protection,” she says.
I do agree that there's a significant a whiff of sexism in the Goop shit storm. You don’t see men berated for their own protein powders and erectile elixirs. And nobody belittles guys for dropping $500 on Leafs tickets. It’s worth underlining that the hot-dog water dude is, in fact, a dude.
On the other hand, the wellness industry plays on women’s insecurities with our looks and exacerbates the need for self-improvement in a way that’s inherently sexist. And don’t women (and all consumers) deserve to be protected from misleading product claims? It’s up to every woman to decide whether medium readings, psychic vampire repellent, or any of Goop’s more recreational products are things she wants to experiment with, but endorsing supplements for pregnant women that go against international health guidelines is straight-up bullshit.
So why do we Goop? I think it’s about connection — maybe connecting to a dead grandmother, maybe connecting to other women — but mostly I think it’s about connecting to ourselves. I found the summit intoxicatingly selfish — a full day of thinking about myself, and only myself. I spent 40 freaking minutes looking at myself in a mirror, carefully applying melting cleansers, exfoliating masques, and enriching oils into my face and neck.
Since I've been home, I have kept up with a 10-minute version of this routine, massaging my face with Goop melting cleanser before bed. Most of the time, women end up as the last item on their own to-do list — carving out time for rituals (celebrity-endorsed or otherwise) give us permission be a just little bit selfish.
For the record, I think the cleanser is working — even after a couple crappy nights' sleep, my skin is glowy. "Don't I look so much better than I did a week ago?" I asked my husband last night. "Uh..." he responded. Whatever — I feel like I look better. I've also started taking the "Why Am I So Effing Tired?" vitamins. Maybe next week we’ll find out that they are the latest Goop product to come under investigation. Until then, I'm exhausted and every effing little bit helps.