by Tierney Bricker | Wed., Sep. 26, 2018 3:00 AM
Do you remember the first time you heard the word goop?
At first, you probably thought it was some sort of new slime Nickelodeon dropped on celebrities at its award shows. Or maybe it was an attempt at new slang a la Mean Girls' "fetch." In 2008, those were reasonable assumptions. But in 2018, there's no denying what goop is, thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, who launched the lifestyle brand 10 years ago.
What started out as a Paltrow-curated newsletter, filled with travel lists, recommendations and recipes, sent straight from her while sitting in her kitchen, has now grown into a global lifestyle brand worth a reported $250 million. It's also a verb, a way of life or the downfall of modern wellness, depending on who you ask.
"I just thought if I could affect one woman's life positively who was trying to do all the things I was doing, and I had one solution that worked for me that might work for her, it was worth it to try and share it," Paltrow, 45, told USA Today of starting goop and entering a new chapter of her career.
While just about every celebrity now has some sort of product line, lifestyle blog or side-hustle to hawk, Paltrow's launch of goop 10 years ago was downright revolutionary in the pop culture landscape…and made the Oscar winner, who had up until that point been leading a rather private life in London, somewhat accessible for the first time in her career. And man, did people have opinions.
From that very first newsletter in 2008, goop was ripe for backlash. Paltrow, who was a bonafide movie star with a privileged upbringing, to give out tips on how to live? How dare she tell us where and what we should eat? Isn't it enough that she's gorgeous? Isn't enough that she's rich? Isn't it enough that she's thin? Why did she have to rub her seemingly perfect life in our inboxes on a weekly basis? And WTF is cupping?!
For Paltrow, she's never cared if you loved or hated her; just that you continue to feel engaged or enraged enough to continue consuming her content.
After goop, an avalanche of other celebrities fell upon the wellness industry, with lifestyle brands becoming equally as enticing (if not more so) than winning a Golden Globe.
Jessica Alba's Honest Company (worth a reported $1 billion dollars) products now line the aisles at Target. Drew Barrymore once teamed up exclusively with Walmart for her beauty line. Jennifer Garner is crashing supermarkets to give you samples of her Once Upon a Farm baby food.
But in goop's 10 –year history, Paltrow has never shown an interest in selling attainability, refusing to go broad when her critics slammed her price points and her questionable wellness recommendations and claims.
Sure, GP (what her friends and employees call her) wants to feed (the recipes are all easy, right, G?), dress (G. Label), teach (attend an In Goop health summit, won't you?), cleanse (you, too, can try Paltrow's annual detox), nourish (don't forget to take your daily goop vitamins!), inspire (Flip through one of the many offerings from the Goop book imprint) and curate you.
She never said it would be easy. She never said it would be cheap—who can forget their $6 million dollar 2017 Holiday Gift Guide? (Will 2018's guide hit $7 million?!) But she does promise it will be worth it. And she's unapologetic about that.
"It's crucial to me that we remain aspirational. Not in price point, because content is always free," she told a class of Harvard students (a visit documented by The New York Times). "The ingredients are beautiful. You can't get that at a lower price point. You can't make these things mass-market."
But even more than their pricey products (though the $15,000 24-carat gold vibrator definitely landed its fair share of Internet curiosity), goop has a long history of courting controversy with their wellness tips and experiments over the years.
"We know who we are; our words and actions are aligned; and we take a curious, unbiased, open-minded, and service-centric approach to the work we do," goop's "Our Values" statement reads. "We test the waters so that you don't have to. We will never recommend something that we don't love, and think worthy of your time and your wallet. We value your trust above all things."
Let's be honest, sometimes goop asks its acolytes for a lot of trust in the quest to achieve peak wellness. Like when they recommended women use a $66 vaginal egg (still for sale exclusively through goop's commerce site, if your interest is piqued) for balancing hormones and regulating menstrual cycles, much to the chagrin of some gynecologists. And those claims ended up costing them more than endless think-pieces and parodies.
Earlier this month, the company agreed to pay $145,000 in civil penalties based on the sale of the products in California after a consumer protection action brought against them by the California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force.
goop is also now "barred from making any claims regarding the efficacy of its products without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence, and from manufacturing or selling any misbranded, unapproved, or falsely-advertised medical devices," a press release noted.
Aside from the yoni egg scandal, a non-profit group called in Truth in Advertising also went after goop, documenting over 50 examples of the brand selling or promoting products that "can treat, cure, prevent, alleviate the symptoms of, or reduce the risk of developing a number of ailments, ranging from depression, anxiety, and insomnia, to infertility, uterine prolapse, and arthritis, just to name a few."
Another mini-controversy came when Paltrow's go-to trainer Tracey Anderson laid out a "potentially harmful" diet plan and weight loss advice in 2017. Her tips included replacing meals with bars, cutting out gluten and going low-carb to lose up to 14 lbs in four weeks.
goop addressed the backlash in a statement, saying, "We would never advocate for an unhealthy diet or extreme routine. As Tracy said in the interview, you should make choices based on what is best for your individual body."
For Paltrow, the backlash seems to roll off her sculpted shoulders. "We're never making statements," she simply said in The New York Times profile that is a must read whether you are a G.P. disciple or defector (all are welcome as there is more than enough for either party to chew on. "We're just asking questions," Elise Loehnen, goop's chief content officer, added.)
And it seemed that as the once-radical recommendations and practices offered by G.P. & co. became more mainstream (even your mom adds CBD oil to her coffee these days), goop was OK with taking their new age approaches even further.
Speaking in that Harvard classroom, Paltrow referred to all of the company's mini-scandals and controversies over the years as "cultural firestorms," ones she could stoke the fires of to her advantage.
"I can monetize those eyeballs," she said. "It's a cultural firestorm when it's about a woman's vagina." (She then proceeded to yodel the word "Vagina!" in a moment that was criminally not recorded.)
It is worth noting that goop was looking to add a full-time fact checker to their team of over 200 employees this fall, with Paltrow calling the need for that addition a "necessary growing pain" as the site continues to amass over 2.4 million unique visitors a month and the goop podcast, can attract anywhere from 100,000 to 650,000 listeners per ep.
Paltrow also learned how to personal life and relationships to goop's advantage, which really began in 2014 when she and husband Chris Martin announced they were splitting after 10 years of marriage and two children (Apple, now 14, and Moses, 12).
Unlike many of their A-list peers, Paltrow and Martin we're citing "irreconcilable differences" or releasing a fill-in-the-blank celebrity couple statement about the love and respect they would always have for one another yet would never be photographed together again. No, no, no. "Conscious uncoupling" was what she and the Coldplay frontman were doing...and announced it in a goop blog post.
Years later, Paltrow admitted she and goop learned a lot from that experience and the media attention it courted.
"We did it in an inelegant way and we didn't give it enough content at the time," she admitted at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in 2015. "I'm really glad that happened because maybe it brings up there was a better way to do that."
However, she did admit, "In a media company, it's good when people are talking about your content. We believe in positivity and promoting." (Translation: All press is good press.)
So yeah, if Paltrow was divorcing, she was going to do it in an aspirational way, thank you very much. She and Martin are still spotted together. He often comes over for dinner. She attends brunches with him and her fiancée Brad Falchuk and Instagrams about it. He'll probably serve a key role at her upcoming wedding.
He's really like my brother,'' she said of Martin earlier this year on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. "We're very familial. It's nice, it's great."
Looking back at the infamous coining of "conscious uncoupling" on goop's latest podcast episode celebrating the 10-year anniversary, Paltrow admitted "the term is a bit dorky," but she doesn't regret it.
"I think I've learned so much through this process. I think, sometimes, especially when I look back at some of my most vulnerable moments, I was super earnest and sometimes that's just cringe-worthy. Where you're like, 'Oh, why did I do that?'"
Still, it set a new precedent for how celebrity divorces can be handled—for better or for worse. If G.P.'s ex and new beau can enjoy pancakes together every Sunday, why can't other celebrities be just as cordial?
But Paltrow knows how the public perceives her dignified divorce and how it adds fuel to the never-ending claims of her superiority complex.
"On some level, I think what some people heard was...'Oh, f--k you, you're going to have a better divorce than I did or that my parents did?'" she said on the podcast. "And what they hear is that they did it wrong or their parents did it wrong, which was not the intent at all."
For the second issue of goop magazine, Paltrow decided to break the news of her engagement to Falchuk, with the couple posing for the cover of the Sex and Love issue, beating the tabloids to the punch, controlling the narrative, and, oh yeah, promoting the new magazine.
And the folklore surrounding Paltrow's own eating and work out habits was often addressed on the site. Does she really smoke one cigarette a day? (She smokes two a year, she revealed on the goop podcast, and enjoys the hell outta them.) Do her kids really never eat fast food? (goop debunked this by posting a fast good guide!) Does she really work out two hours a day every day? (Sort of true! And she works really hard and is honest about it. But 15 minutes is OK, too.) Is she on a forever cleanse? (Nope. She eats healthy but will never part with her beloved glass of red wine and fries.)
So what does the next 10 years look like for goop, which now has brick and mortar shops, annual health summits (with tickets ranging from $500-$1,500), a furniture line and potentially a TV show in the works?
"I always have trepidation about answering this question on some level because I think goop has always really dictated to me who she is as much as I've tried to shepherd her into what she is," she said on the podcast. "Frankly, I think we're trying to build a significant business. We're trying to build a global lifestyle business that matters and that is impactful and new."
And that is the key to goop's success...and also the catch-22 for the entire wellness community: How do you keep continuing to inspire consumers to want to better and work on themselves by buying, using, promoting your products and content when said products and content are supposed to make them their best selves?
But if Paltrow continues to work on herself—"I love challenge...I love to see what's possible and I am very curious!"—who the hell are we to stop?
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