New York, NY
Among all the key trends at Gwyneth Paltrow’s second “In Goop Health” summit this weekend, death loomed largest.
The celebrity’s lifestyle brand has taken off since its conference in LA last year, which was half the size of this year’s sold-out affair, held in an ultra-trendy warehouse space at Pier 17 in Manhattan. Floor-to-ceiling windows offered panoramic views of the Brooklyn Bridge, and guests—mostly middle-aged, white women—were greeted by a 12-by-20-foot “In Goop Health” sign made entirely of real vegetables.
But for a wellness summit peddling products promoting youth and vitality, the word of the day was death.
Goop has faced a barrage of criticism since its launch back in 2008. The brand is accused of promoting potentially dangerous pseudo-science on its website, where sex dust, goat-milk cleanses, and vaginal steamings are all touted as health go-tos.
Dubbed “Wellness adventures,” services of this nature were offered at the event, often by very young and beautiful people. I myself nearly went for a B-12 injection, but reconsidered after seeing the words “intramuscular” and “allergic reaction” on the release form.
In her opening statement Paltrow seemed to respond directly to the faux science criticism, painting a picture of the Goopie as an insatiably curious yet grounded woman: “We like to shine a light on things…” she said, “We love science and data, and we make a lot of our decisions using data, but we also love the unexplained and unexplored.” This sentiment was reflected in the careful menu of panelists selected for the day’s talks, most of which featured a doctor or scientist coupled with a psychic or astrologist. One woman who was at Goop’s first summit told me that this year seemed to be more focused on “neuroscience.”
But Paltrow—her rhinestone bindi glinting brightly—didn’t skip a beat before introducing the first guest of the day: Medium Laura Lynne Jackson. “There’s not always a double-blind study that can explain to us what Laura Lynne Jackson is going to do,” she said, welcoming a platinum blonde to the stage.
“When I look out on a room like this, what I see are these beautiful cords of light connecting all of us, and also connecting each one of you to everybody you love who has crossed to the other side,” began Jackson, gesturing with wide arms.
“When I open mediumistically, I also open up to anyone who’s connected to you through cords of love on the other side. So that’s how the process works for me.”
“Amazing,” Paltrow breathed.
Jackson began her live reading with a mother-daughter pair in the back of the audience. Speaking on behalf of the family’s deceased relatives, she addressed the daughter: “They’re telling me you’re healing right now… I’m supposed to tell you you’re not on this journey alone, and you shine a beautiful light in the world and they’re trying to help you see that.” The girl began weeping.
Jackson gave the second audience member a message from her mother, who we find out passed away from cancer. “This is real,” Jackson assured her, “your mom’s fine.” To the audience she said:
“Death doesn’t exist! We fear death all our lives, right? And then we cross and we’re like ‘oh my god, I wasted all that energy being afraid of death, there is no death.’
Shortly after, someone from the “other side” promotes his daughter’s online blanket business, and Jackson encourages people to ask their “spirit guides” for signs of their presence, particularly through the likes of birds and butterflies.
A woman next to me dutifully jots down “birds and butterflies.”
Jackson’s reading set the tone for the day’s panels, which largely revolved around the idea of death as a warm embrace. A talk called “The Other Side” was the primer for this, featuring Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, and author of Proof of Heaven, which details his trip to the afterlife while in a meningitis-induced coma. The best-seller—which was in Goop’s bookstore alongside such contradictory titles as Younger, Fulfilled, Dying to be Me, Coming Alive, and Taller, Slimmer, Younger—has been largely debunked.
Alexander, flanked by neurologist Jay Lombard and Laura Lynne Jackson, proceeded to explain what happens to us when we die:
“If you think that when you die everything goes blank and goes to nothing, you’re gonna be surprised. It’s actually the opposite.”
“This,” he says of life on earth, “is living in a murky, kind of dark realm.” “That realm,” he says of life after death, “is absolutely brilliant.”
He noted that there are certain things we can do—such as meditation—to connect with the other side, and praised Jackson on her performance. “We are all psychic,” he concluded, using the non-medical term alongside the rest of his jargon-filled commentary.
A conversation I had with New York City-based physician Dara Kass expressed the problem with this perfectly: “[Goop] interspersed smart enough people that are not really hawking bullshit—but also not being completely honest—with other people that are entirely hawking bullshit.”
Throughout the panel, death was dismissed, as unreal, or simply irrelevant, because you have another life waiting for you on the other side. For example, when tragic death came up—specifically the death of a child—Jackson seized the opportunity to discuss the importance of living a meaningful life:
“It’s not about how long, it’s what you do in your journey here,”she adds, “and when you cross you know a 1000% that you’re going to get to see everyone you love…so you never feel a loss.”
And as far as the world’s tragedies go, Jackson introduced her own version of Oneness:
“These school shootings that go on… I see those individuals have disconnected from those cords of light, from those cords of love that tie them to God energy.” Uhm, ok—whatever.
Even Jackson’s explanation of life after death was received with nods: “When we leave our physical bodies we turn into light energy… We can connect in a millisecond to anybody else’s consciousness and download their entire experience.” According to Jackson, our interconnectedness is such that: “What you do in a coffee shop on a Tuesday… can save somebody’s life in Africa on a Friday.”
Later that afternoon, author Anita Moorjani shared the “near-death experience that changed the course of her cancer’s path.” After a four-year battle with lymphoma, she crossed to the “other realm,” where she meets her estranged father, who tells her it isn’t her time to die.
“At first I didn’t want to come back because it was so beautiful,” said Moorjani. “It was just so amazing on that side… I loved being in that realm of unconditional love.” Moorjani claimed that through her father’s encouragement, she was able to find self-love, which directly leads to her eradicating her own body of stage-four lymphoma.
“As soon as I saw myself deserving and worthy of good health I started to see that transform, and in as short of a time as five weeks there was no trace of cancer in my body—because I knew that I was meant to live.”
For people suffering from an illness, Moorjani advised them to: “Stop focusing on the illness… the chances are the illness is a wake-up call because your life was going in a direction it wasn’t meant to go.”
Moorjani’s recovery may have been medically remarkable. But what she never mentioned was that she had refused to treat her cancer for over three years using conventional medicine, and she received chemotherapy while in a coma in intensive care.
Despite the inspiring talks, the expert consensus is that there’s no such thing as coming back from the dead. ”You come back from being in a coma, or from having a pause in your heart. But when it’s over, it’s over,” said Dr. Kass, who attended the summit. Brain death can also occur, said Dr. Philip DeFina, who runs a neuroscience think tank, but said that advances in neuroimaging have led the neuroscience community to consider the possibility that a significant chunk of patients have been misdiagnosed.
“Is there life after death? Maybe. Is there an energy transfer? Maybe,” conceded DeFina, “But we can’t measure it, so we can’t scientifically prove it.”
Death is having a moment, and someone at Goop knows it. The WeCroak app reminds you that you’re going to die, a recent analysis found that even pop music is obsessed with death, and the Oscar-nominated film Coco challenges the way we think about death itself.
But Goop didn’t have to go there.
Framing death as a construct of how emotionally well you are, and plugging the idea of healing serious illnesses through self-love may be one of Goop’s most dangerous tips yet. The summit presented death as a symptom of self-hate, and sickness a byproduct of being out of sync with your body.
Dr. Kass said she felt similarly: “I was overwhelmed by the need for this room to feel that death is a warm hug that will let them out if somehow they want to undo it.”
The wellness movement has benefited some women, opening up avenues of health that are unavailable to them in traditional medicine. But ultra-luxurious wellness is a space for the wealthy, and often the white, and when you’re wealthy, white, and well—what does a company like Goop have left to pander to but fear of the final frontier?
The average person can have existential dread, to varying degrees, but other troubles precede society’s non-privileged. That “death isn’t so bad” resonated with many women this weekend—who have flocked to a brand focused on looking and feeling younger—isn’t surprising.
A conversation like this about death is appropriate in a palliative setting, for people with a life-limiting illness where it’s important to address the mental stress of a terminal diagnosis. But telling a group of 1000 well people that death is beautiful, easier than being alive, far from final, and somehow reversible—is not a useful conversation. In fact, it’s dangerous talk for people who are grieving or are physically unwell, especially the message that there is a benefit to being dead versus being alive.
But at Goop this weekend, self-hate was the biggest enemy, and self-love was the only cure. If you can find self-love in a Goop product, why not make death the next big wellness trend?