The debut issue of Goop’s magazine is dedicated, Editor-in-Chief Gwenyth Paltrow writes, to “wellness.” That’s no surprise, as Paltrow and her brand have built a small empire on “wellness,” a word that—in large part due to Paltrow’s influence and Goop’s success—has popped up in nearly every woman’s publication in the past few years, rapidly replacing the far less expansive term, “health.” But for all of the buzz around wellness, it’s a word that’s meaning is equivocal, incorporating everything from weight loss to organic eating, exercise to alternative medicine, self-help to self-care, meditation, and sexual health. Wellness is simultaneously a concept, a verb, a noun, an ideology, a lifestyle, a feminist declaration, and a mode of consuming. Wellness is both everything and nothing; deeply meaningful and equally meaningless and, in the pages of Goop’s magazine, its meaning remains hazy.
Wellness, Paltrow writes, is “not only a buzzword that is dominating popular culture but also a movement inspiring us all to feel that we can be active participants in our health and well-being.” It’s also, “a state of curiosity and what that curiosity might lead to.” How do you know if you’re involved in the wellness movement? According to Paltrow, “If you have tuned into yourself enough to ask why you feel a certain way or how you might change a particular aspect of your life, you are participating in the wellness movement.” But if wellness is a movement, it is also a tangible and intangible location, “in which to ponder the existence of the mind-body connection.” By those definitions, wellness is simply the state of existing as a sentient creature. Better yet, it’s whatever Goop wants it to be. And, in the glossy pages of Goop’s magazine, the brand’s cultivated aesthetic and signature approach to wellness, grounded as it is in Paltrow’s appealing persona, is reiterated.
“Earth to Gwyneth,” the cover reads in fussy white script hovering over a photograph of Paltrow covered in French clay which, I later read, is “hailed for its detoxifying powers.” In the magazine, there’s a guide to the various healing effects of crystals written by Colleen McCann, “a certified shamanic energy medicine practitioner” who “emphasizes the importance of both the scientific and more mystical aspects of crystals.” The spread is visually appealing and, apparently, the mineral chrysocolla “lets women engage their divine power through communication and education.” There is also a spread on bento boxes, a Q&A on toxic “frenemies,” short profiles on three moms “who mastered school drop-off style,” recommendations for Reiki practitioners, a one-page guide to vaping, and a travel guide to India for those “tired of traveling to latte-based cultures.”
There’s a list guide to “clean getaways,” including a recommendation for a pricey Feminine Wisdom Retreat, a “women-only journey” for “mastering the art of self-care.” There’s a feature on the stress that “hyper-modernized American society” has rendered on the pelvic floor which, one Goop expert claims, is “where we hold our life’s stresses.” There’s also a terrifying feature called “Carefrontation Nation” that recounts a Goop staff “work session” with Habib Sadeghi, a Goop regular, in a “barn in GP’s [Gwenyth Paltrow] backyard...that is chicken-coop adjacent.” There, in said barn, the staff goes through a series of communication workshops that somehow improve their interactions with one another by identifying deep personal wounds.
But if barns, bento boxes, wounds, and crystals aren’t enough, there’s also short profile of a woman who calls herself a “Kitchen Healer” who reconnects women with cooking which is, I find out, part of women’s “primal instinct to nourish,” an instinct that’s been ruptured by both modernity and feminism. I read the profile three times and still can’t quite figure out what exactly a Kitchen Healer does. Scattered in between Kitchen Healers and shamanic energy medicine practitioners are two fashion spreads (sneakers and cropped pants are in) and a beauty spread. The spreads are appealing, reflecting the standard Goop visual aesthetic that lives somewhere between that millennial pink minimalism, straight lines that wink at the artistry of design, and Etsy. It’s a design aesthetic that ironically screams sophistication.
Goop’s magazine is, at its heart, a magazine about Paltrow, and a profile of their EIC anchors the issue. The profile reflects a new—or at least more pointed—image of Paltrow as an unapologetic health crusader and feminist. In the last few months, Paltrow has whispered in sympathetic ears that she faces more scrutiny because she is a woman CEO in a male-dominated field. As a result of her successes, there “came a kind of scrutiny that can seem strangely vitriolic,” the profile asserts. In response, Paltrow has cultivated a kind of defiant, fuck you attitude, one that she’s recently repeated in a handful of interviews and that’s reiterated here. According to the profile, that attitude is emblematic of Paltrow’s authenticity, her willingness to “discuss details others might find embarrassing.” The embarrassing detail Paltrow reveals is a cesarean scar. Paltrow is also refreshingly authentic because she is not perfect. “You can only be a perfectionist if you think, erroneously, that there’s a finish line in life,” she says. “I succeed and fail all the time in all kinds of ways.” The stakes for defiance and rebellion are low here as they generally are in women’s publications that treat empowerment as an individual and emotional aim.
In many respects, Goop’s magazine reaffirms that Paltrow is no longer just a celebrity but instead has evolved into something else: a brand. But since brands are now living and breathing personalities, inhabiting human form, they must necessarily have personalities to appear real rather than a lifeless automaton selling crystals and vitamins. Paltrow’s realness—her authenticity—is one of the magazine’s primary concerns. Not only is Paltrow flawed and curious, brave and vulnerable, she is also a feminist wellness guru and thinker. According to the profile, Paltrow is “insistent on a point that many other feminist thinkers have made as well: Women’s health, particularly women’s pain, remains understudied, and women’s experiences should matter.”
Goop’s niche has always been women, particularly women who have been made ill by the dizzying churn of modernity. That’s true in the magazine, but it print iteration teases out the class element of Goop’s brand even more clearly than its website or pricey products. At my local Barnes & Noble, Goop was stacked with magazines like Dr. Oz, Live Happy, and a host of others on clean eating and organic lifestyles and yoga and health. Compared to its competitors, Goop is a consciously high-end alternative marked by its cover price (a high $14.99) and aesthetic. The messy, overwhelming design of many of those publications is a stark contrast to Goop’s sleek design, expensive clothes, and Condé-worthy advertisers. The cheery bright pink font of Live Happy, a wellness magazine aimed at women, which this month includes the feature “33 Ways to Find Meaning in Life,” filled with meaningful quotes and the cozy inspiration of suburban living, seems lowbrow next to the sophisticated-looking Goop.
Goop magazine wants to be the Vogue of alternative health, and Paltrow the Anna Wintour of wellness. They are incredibly and depressingly successful at achieving their goals.