By Zoe Bradbury
Gwyneth Paltrow is no stranger to controversial and obscure wellness hacks.
From putting jade eggs into vaginas to “increase vaginal muscle tone”, to candles that are designed to smell more like the labia than lilac (retailing at $75 US); the practices she promotes on lifestyle website GOOP often leave many head-scratching and curious.
And now, Paltrow has extended her Goop brand to a six-part Netflix series, “The Goop Lab”. Each 30 minute episode explores controversial concepts such as female pleasure and orgasms, psychedelics, cold therapy, energy healing and psychics and nutrition for longevity, via expert Q&A’s, interviews and anecdotes, often featuring Paltrow herself.
Despite each episode beginning with a disclaimer that “the series is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice”, many health experts aren’t convinced.
Chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has claimed the series promotes treatments that are “considerable risks to health” and “too-good-to-be-true remedies”. The show has also been gripped by claims it is promoting “pseudoscience” practices – “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method.”
Goop has transformed from an email newsletter in 2008 to an editorial and e-commerce site now valued at more than $250 billion US. With this new Netflix series, Paltrow’s wellness reach is set to expand. But what exactly are the practices she promotes, and is there science behind them? Let’s unpack.
The first episode heads to Jamaica, where Goop staff members laugh, cry, shake and discover magic mushrooms as a form of therapy.
Many are looking for different results – one staff member wants to be more creative, one wants to have a psychedelic spiritual experience, while others are looking to recover from childhood trauma.
Psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms that causes people to “trip”, has been found to have positive mental health effects. In January 2020, the US FDA approved the use of psychedelics in clinical trials, under doctor supervision, to treat conditions such as PTSD.
A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at NYU also found that a single dose of magic mushrooms provides long-term relief of anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Goop Lab also explores this, interviewing Estalyn, 72, a cancer patient who found relief for her cancer-related anxiety by taking psychedelics in a controlled psychotherapy trial. Her anecdote praises the practice highly.
The majority of studies conducted on psychedelics, which have received mostly positive results, have all been clinically trialled under scientific observation.
The show notes that psychedelics can often amplify painful memories and bring emotional pain and trauma back to the surface, “so that we can deal with them.”
As such, doing so without the right support and equipment can be dangerous, and it is not recommended to simply go out and (illegally) purchase the drug from untrusted sources.
Additionally, the effects of psychedelics on people with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is unknown, and there is the potential it could trigger symptoms.
In Australia, the use of psychedelics is illegal, so leave this practice to the “Goopers” on your TV.
The Wim Hof Method is unpacked by Goop members doing yoga in bikinis in sub-zero temperatures in Lake Tahoe.
Hof’s deep breathing exercises, conducted in freezing ice water and locations, are said to have an array of health benefits, including reducing depression and anxiety, improving the immune system and mental clarity and even help fat loss.
Hof himself appears on the show and claims, “a cold shower a day keeps the doctor away.”
His breathing techniques are essentially a controlled form of hyperventilation, breathing in and out in quick succession. The blood is then saturated with oxygen, which increases heart rate, adrenaline and blood alkalinity levels.
A 2018 study by Wayne State University School of Medicine uses an MRI machine to analyse Hof’s brain under pressure during cold water exposure and subsequent breathing techniques.
They found he had successfully tapped into the psychological system and activated his internal painkiller function. His mind then induced an artificial stress response, which allowed him to feel euphoric while under freezing distress.
While the method can have benefits for some, it’s also important it is done in a controlled and safe scenario, as improper breathing exercises can result in asphyxiation, fainting or death.
The promo image for Goop Lab sees Paltrow standing in front of layers of pink oval-like shapes, the headline reading “reach new depths.” Not ironically, it looks like an enlarged, albeit simplified, vulva – and that’s exactly what one of the best episodes of the series explores.
Episode three is dedicated to reducing shame and embarrassment about our lady parts and pleasure – and there’s no vagina eggs or candles in sight.
90-year old sex educator Betty Dodson is at the forefront of the episode, and she wants women to orgasm and love their vaginas. She’s coached over 7000 women how to orgasm since 1970.
The power in this episode isn’t in the scientific backing (there isn’t much), but it’s in the power of acceptance. Showcasing a range of different women’s vulvas (yes, you see real vaginas on Netflix) and naked bodies helps to dispel shame and bring the focus back to self-love.
As credited in the show, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery claimed labiaplasty surgeries increased by 45% worldwide between 2015 and 2016, with girls as young as nine requesting the procedure.
Should you try it?
In a particularly memorable scene, Betty guides a woman to examine every inch of her vagina, a mirror and light placed in between her bent legs. She’s noting what parts are where, and what feels good. The show is asking women to actually look at their vaginas and accept them for what they are – normal – and realize that pleasure can’t arise unless we know what we like and accept ourselves.
There is no “ideal” type of vagina, and Goop Lab looks at deconstructing this social ideal. It’s an important and discussion-worthy topic, and a step closer to women feeling pleasure, and realizing that they deserve it.
Episode 3 of The Goop Lab deals with nutrition for longevity, including the use of controversial facials such as the Vampire Facial.
While episodes 4 and 5 are perhaps the craziest offerings, with a so-called “body worker” entering the building to conduct energy exorcisms. Yes, you heard that correctly – Goop staff members are positioned on massage tables, as the man conducts them like puppeteers, pulling the air above their limbs as if they’re on strings, while they scream and moan as if they’re about to hit the big O.
The Goop Lab is a decisively modern, interesting show that explores topics that are commonly showered in shame or apprehension, such as female pleasure – and there is certainly power in bringing this into mainstream discussion.
However, the show additionally tends to focus on anecdotes and personal stories, which is important to take with a grain of salt – practices may work very differently for each individual.
What lacks is scientific backing to many of the claims and theories, particularly the episodes on energy exorcism and physics (although they are highly entertaining to watch), leaving some to suggest the show is “propaganda for the Goop company and for its ideas of magical thinking”.
Goop Lab titles itself as intending to “entertain and inform” – and the earlier certainly rings true.
To celebrate the launch, Paltrow has launched several t-shirts (RRP $55 USD) with phrases such as “It’s only a vulva”, “Cold shower?”, “Psychonaut” and “Can’t drain me of this energy,” each tee relating to a specific Goop Lab episode.
The best part? She’s donating 100% of the profits to the Australia Wildfire Fund. It means one can feel good about wearing a shirt that says Vulva any day.
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