Some better questions for Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow

The New York Times interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow, CEO of the $250 million wellness site Goop. She’s a charlatan selling snake oil, but the Times can’t decide whether to call her on it or be nice. I can. So I wrote my own interview questions.

David Gelles’s interview for the “Corner Office” column highlights CEOs. Because there are few self-made female celebrity CEOs, I’m sure Paltrow was a good “get.” The interview is “balanced,” citing some of Goop’s problems along with the usual softball questions. Some excerpts:

Gwyneth Paltrow Is All Business

As an actress, Gwyneth Paltrow was embraced by fans and critics, winning an Oscar for her leading role in “Shakespeare in Love.” As a businesswoman, Ms. Paltrow has received decidedly mixed reviews.

Many deride her lifestyle brand, Goop, as little more than an overhyped e-commerce platform peddling pseudoscience and baubles. California regulators secured a $145,000 settlement from Goop last year after suing the company for false advertising, including claims that a $66 vaginal jade egg could balance hormones, increase bladder control and regulate menstrual cycles.

Ms. Paltrow is unbowed. Goop is now worth some $250 million, revenues are growing and Ms. Paltrow is looking to Disney for inspiration, visualizing a company that makes money through online retail, offline experiences, ad partnerships and more. . . . 

After that perfunctory nod to the problems, we’re off to the usual kissy-kissy interview:

We’re female. So we are kind of channeling the energy for the set and correcting imbalances. If there was ever any discord, especially between men, I felt it was my job to sort of balance the energy a little bit. Also, as in most industries, it’s predominantly male. Sometimes you would be the girl in a male cast, and could bring femininity and temper some of the male stuff.

Does that hold true in business as well? Is it the same at Goop?

Oh, completely. I think it’s both intentional and not intentional. The provenance of the company is such that when I went to go monetize it, the people who were drawn to it were not Silicon Valley males. So the great talent that I attracted was female. . . .

What have you had to unlearn?

When a start-up starts, it’s full of feminine energy, even if it’s an all male start-up. Right? Because it’s collaborative, it’s emotional, it’s passionate, it’s instinctual. Those are all feminine qualities. And then as it scales, you have to put some rules in place. And so that’s where the masculine comes in. And you have compliance and H.R. and all these things that are putting structure to the business, which is super important. So unlearning some of the old kind of feminine ways, trying to apply the right kind of masculinity, and seeing if it’s possible to really still lead from that feminine place, is what I think about.

And, delicately, Gelles probes the fakery with a single question:

But some of the things on your site stray into the realm of pseudoscience that may be not only unproven, but potentially dangerous.

When we were young and not even monetizing the business and just sort of creating content, we didn’t necessarily understand anything about claims. We just thought, “Oh, this is a cool alternative modality, let’s write about it.” Of course we’ve made some mistakes along the way, but we’ve never been prescriptive. We’ve never said, “You should try this,” or “This works.” We’re just saying, “Wow, this is interesting, let’s have a Q. and A. with this person who practices this.” And then that somehow gets translated into, “Gwyneth says you should do this.”

. . . and then we move on to more gushing.

I have a few questions

I understand that Gwyneth Paltrow is a celebrity, an actress, and a female CEO. And she deserves credit for what she has created.

But what has she created?

If you were interviewing the (male) CEO of Wells Fargo or The National Enquirer or Facebook, you wouldn’t gush and coo. You’d ask tough questions.

Isn’t this sort of gushing and cooing what allowed Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO and founder of Theranos, to convince everyone that her fraudulent company was legit for so long?

Let’s be clear. Goop sells snake oil. Gwyneth Paltrow wants you to steam your vagina. (Public service announcement: don’t steam your vagina. I’m not mansplaining — read this from a female author quoting a female MD.)

Right now, Goop is promoting “chews” and supplements for sleep, energy, and sexual health. There is, I shit you not, a chew called “perfect attendance” made from fermented elderberries for a dollar a pill.

This is fakery. It’s part of the culture of fake news, fake company results, and fake health cures that pervades our culture. And if The New York Times is able to get the CEO of a company that promotes this crap in for an interview, the interviewer cannot let that CEO wriggle off the hook, even if she’s a willowy blonde actress and vogue cover girl.

So here are a few questions that would be in the interview if I were conducting it.

How do you balance the desire to sell more product with the need to be truthful about the things you sell?

You’re clearly a role model for many women. Do you feel any responsibility for contributing to a “no proof needed, believe what you feel in your heart” attitude in women, or are you ready to stand behind that philosophy?

At the bottom of all your wellness product listings, it says “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Even so, your site indicates that these products will help with sleep, or alertness, or boosting the immune system. Do these products actually help, or not?

Do you have clinical proof that anything on your site actually works?

There is a culture of credulity in America — people believe outrageous and harmful things without any proof. Do you think you are contributing to that culture?

How do you feel about Jen Gunter, the MD who has made it her work to prove that much of what you sell is fake?

Your “Goop Health” summits are a showcase for people selling expensive treatments that no one can prove works. Would you be willing to showcase people like Dr. Gunter with alternative viewpoints and nothing to sell?

Has anyone ever taken your treatments rather than go to the doctor, and as a result missed the fact that they were actually very sick? Are you sure?

You are creating a utopian vision of a world where all women are beautiful, healthy, and fulfilled just by following their own spiritual path. But most women can’t afford your products and will never look like your models — they have actual lives to lead and jobs to do. Is this elitist evidence-free dream-mongering healthy for the women of America who never had the privileged upbringing that you had?


8 responses to “Some better questions for Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow

  1. Tom Nichols does a great job of questioning what she and other charlatans are doing in The Death of Expertise. I actually use Goop as an example of the need for critical thinking. Just because an influencer says that you should do something doesn’t mean that you should. Scary times…

  2. I can’t figure out the attraction to this company that seems clearly targeted to wealthy, gullible, celebrity-addicts. Colbert spoofs her to her face and it either goes over her head or she expects it will go over the heads of her cult followers. Gushy interviews (Charlie Rose used to do some — remember him?) are not pleasant to watch and are not informative. They violate the mission of the interview.

  3. If David Gelles had asked the tough, hard-hitting questions you suggest, he would have been accused of brutality, of trying to put down an uppity woman.

    It would have been yet another example of toxic masculinity.

    So he would have lost his job – and very likely his career.

  4. Unfortunately, these charlatans, throughout history, have always understood their audience. Fame and glitter – even outrageousness – feed gullibility. We’ll never be free of this curse as long as people are willing to throw their money out the window for a snake oil approach to life improvement.

  5. I agree with Hokor Hekkus.
    There are 3 issues here: 1) Celebrities who seek/have influence beyond their areas of expertise, 2) desperation for self improvement, and 3) the “female issue”.

    Our society is hyper-sensitized to blatent or subtle suggestions of gender/race discrimination. Good that these issues are “on the table”, exposed for possible dialogue. On the downside, people fear making any statement that can be construed (even using convoluted logic) as sexist or racist. Could criticizing the actions of a woman be interpreted as sexist?; if so, one remains silent, fearing law suits and other consequences.

    We forget to distinguish the action from the actor. And we forget to separate the actor from the gender/race to which they belong; a “good” woman can commit a “bad act” and “one bad woman” does not imply that “all women are bad”. We conflate the action with the gender/race of the actor: Such overgeneralization blocks discernment and prevents dialogue. And, allowing someone to get away with crap, just because they’re female or non-white, is patronizing to women and non-whites. Equality means equal access to privileges, but also means equal responsibility.

    The same “bad logic” applies to the power we give celebrities; the celebrity wears a golden halo, which makes all their actions automatically seem brilliant. Actions on the silver screen were brilliant, expert and flawless. From there, we conclude that actions **everywhere** are brilliant and flawless. A false and dangerous conclusion: The “halo effect” shouldn’t effect our judgment of actions outside the actor’s area of expertise.

  6. Goop’s brand name says it all. It’s junk.

    Josh, your questions are (as usual) spot on, and would provide more interesting and useful insights compared to the interview the NYT published.

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