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How the Latest GOOP Controversy Sums Up Why The Wellness Industry is Problematic

I’m a recovering Wellness junkie. When I hear things like clean, natural, organic and sustainable- I want to know more. I have to know more. I’m not alone in this. All of these things fall under the wellness category which is now a bonafide industry. Just like any big corporate industry, it’s run my dollar signs, sales, and finding clever marketing methods to get you to buy in. “Health and wellness” is no longer something we can blindly trust but an industry we need to be critical and mindful of.

In 2017, the wellness industry made a whopping $4.2 trillion. This industry has allowed companies to capitalize on trendy keywords, like sustainable, and repackage diets, like raw vegan, as “holistic lifestyle methods.” Many of the claims for popular products are based on pseudoscience and only accessible to a privileged demographic. Nothing sums this up more than GOOP, Gwenyth Paltrow’s controversial and all encompassing wellness brand.  

I’ll be the first to admit that many of the things GOOP promotes are things I am very much interested in, like “clean” beauty products, self care tips, hip workouts and delicious “anti-inflammatory” recipes. In order to effectively critique GOOP, and therefore the problematic nature of the wellness industry, we have to remember that everything is nuanced. It’s not that telling people to buy reef safe sunscreen is a bad thing. The problem lies in creating inaccessible $100 USD facial cream with ingredients that aren’t scientifically proven to be superior but telling people it is. The problem isn’t encouraging people to choose whole foods and cook for themselves when possible. The problem lies in telling people that they have to resort to extreme methods like Keto, or to buy $50 bone broth at Whole Foods, to be healthy but not acknowledging food deserts, privilege or that you’re just selling another fad diet.

Profiting from wellness and making it inaccessible to anyone who isn’t affluent and most likely White, is problematic. Appropriating ancient healing methods like Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, even fasting, without giving credit to where they come from, not having proper training, credentials, or expertise and/or repackaging these methods to sell at a premium price, is incredibly problematic.

So, now that we understand the context, let’s get back to GOOP. GOOP recently made headlines once again during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which runs from February 22-28th every year. Gwenyth Paltrow chose this week to get on Instagram and promote her new favorite diet and project, a book called Intuitive Fasting. The book promotes a 4 week “flexible” fasting plan created by Dr. Will Cole. She says this helped her reverse the effects of quarantine (i.e. weight gain) and reach her optimal health. She also credits Intuitive Fasting for healing her from COVID. Turns out she was never diagnosed with COVID. The backlash was swift.

Eating disorder activists, dieticians and everyone in between flooded her Instagram post with comments and they weren’t wrong. Many rightfully pointed out that this was just another extreme diet being repackaged as a healthy way of living to achieve optimal health. Others pointed out that using Intuitive fasting to describe forced starvation was not only incredibly tone deaf to promote during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but that she co-opted the popular Intuitive Eating movement.

Coined by RDN Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating is widely used in eating disorder recovery and diet culture recovery, as it helps people reconnect with their natural hunger cues and denounces any form of restriction. Intuitive Fasting would essentially be the antithesis of this, and therefore, not an appropriate book title. Finally, this plan was created by Dr. Will Cole, who has no formal expertise in nutrition. This moment summed up why the wellness industry left unchecked has become dangerous.

Now that diet culture is no longer cool to openly promote, all new diets like “intuitive fasting” or keto, paleo, etc, have instead been labeled healthy lifestyle changes. We would never describe Atkins or the South Beach Diet as anything other than what it is — a diet to lose weight. So why are these new diets considered ways of achieving optimal wellness?

Let’s continue to unpack the true privilege that the wellness industry caters to. Everything cheap is labeled as bad and everything expensive is labeled as clean, detoxifying, and healthy. Not to mention that many of these “superfoods” come from other cultures and countries. After gaining popularity in the West, the people whose diets are dependent on these very superfoods, and who have historically grown these foods, are being exploited. Many can no longer even enjoy their own food. They’re then resold in the West for a large profit. I’m looking at you quinoa, sacha inchi, and agave. Paltrow famously dismissed criticisms over her high priced products by saying “you can’t get these products at a lower price point.” What she actually means is you can’t profit this much if you sell things for an appropriate price.

We also need to get clear on the pseudoscience and non-expert claims that are allowed to run rampant in the wellness industry. For example, GOOP was sued for making false claims about the benefits of vaginal eggs but they still sell them for a whopping $66 USD. Paltrow recently made headlines for promoting her skincare routine. In her video, seen by millions, she says that she only puts sunscreen on her nose and cheeks because that’s “the only place the sun hits.” This caused a strong reaction from dermatologists and skin cancer experts, who condemned her for spreading false information to such a large audience. Additionally, GOOP promotes every detox and fad diet to cleanse yourself of toxins yet Paltrow drinks daily and promotes her organic wine label yet alcohol is one of the most toxic substances we can consume. It’s worth noting that wellness influencers like Paltrow usually don’t have any expertise in the things they are promoting and creating. The things they promote often lack credible research as well.

As more of us start to become aware of the problematic nature of the wellness industry, we can start holding wellness brands and influencers accountable. Many people are finding ethical and truly scientific alternatives to popular products and lifestyle fads. Even more are choosing to create movements and businesses to make the health and wellness industry accessible and transparent moving forward. As a consumer, we have the power to change this trillion dollar industry by voting with our dollar and supporting people that are truly doing good things in the wellness space.

Call To Action

–Alicia Briggs, Content Creator

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