You can’t avoid Gwyneth Paltrow. After a successful career as a Hollywood actress (Shakespeare in Love, Proof), she is now promoting her popular wellness and lifestyle formulas with her wildly successful company, Goop.

In the Netflix documentary series The Goop Lab, she investigates unorthodox ways to find a better life. It is a path with hazards. Paltrow is either admired as a visionary guru and half-saint, or is portrayed as an unscrupulous witch and a quack purveying pseudo-science.

Critics are quick to point out her mistakes. An egg made of jade, intended for Kegel exercises, appeared to cause vaginal infections. Steven Colbert ridiculed her on “The Late Show” as a huckster hawking nonsensical plasters that would supposedly balance body energy. There is a skeptical book by Timothy Caulfield titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty, and Happiness. With all her false claims, Paltrow drives science into a hole from which it may never climb out.

 

On the other hand, there are the millions of her admirers who buy her expensive products and faithfully follow her advice. Everything fits under the rubric: “I’ll have what they are having.” Or as Paltrow herself says: “We are here one time, one life. How do we milk that?” In her case, milking yields a fortune of around $250 million.

Paltrow is not the holy guru who shows us the way to paradise. She is also not a pathetic New Age lady who lives on herbal teas. But what then?

The mostly female, fashion-model-beautiful Goop employees let us share in their fear, sadness, anger, insomnia, inability to enjoy sex, or fear of attachment. Paltrow is there, not as an all-knowing or surprised outsider. No, she frankly shares her own shortcomings.

In Jamaica the team is under the guidance of a shaman. After some breathing exercises and the necessary pep talk from Wim Hof, the Dutch Iceman, they do yoga and breathing exercises in bikinis. The panic attacks are melting away. Common sense is being put to the test by a healer who manipulates the energy waves above the body with his hands. The people on the treatment table wind up in the strangest positions.

The most remarkable thing is the lesson from the 90-year-old orgasm expert Betty Dodson: First learn to achieve an orgasm yourself, only then can you teach your partner how to do it. With the rock ‘n roll method she devised, she guides a woman to get ready for the camera. On her site, in the cash register between the sheets, you can directly order a 24-karat gold vibrator on a chain. Cash or charge?!

These people come across as authentic, with their demons and the fiery will to defeat them. I feel their fear and want to dry their tears. At the same time, I have the feeling that something different is being pinned to me. The entire series seems like a big infomercial for Goop.

Paltrow is definitely not the holy guru who shows us the way to paradise. She is also not a pathetic New Age lady who lives on herbal teas. Or a malicious manipulator. But what then? At an age when most Hollywood actresses fall into the has-been category, Paltrow has reinvented herself as a successful businesswoman. Laughing all the way to the bank. Propelled by magical earth rays and a pulsating energy field.

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, Saving Charlotte, was published in 2017 in the U.S. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.