Jason Merritt / Getty Images for LACMA
Medical experts have long slammed Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s e-commerce wellness empire, for endorsing non-scientific and potentially dangerous products — from sex dust to silver nanoparticles — and pseudoscience personalities.
But on Thursday, Goop for the first time singled out one of its most vocal critics, obstetrician-gynecologist Jen Gunter, who routinely takes the site to task on her Twitter and blog. In particular, it defended the vaginal jade eggs that Gunter lambasted earlier this year.
“Since her first post, she has been taking advantage of the attention and issuing attacks to build her personal platform — ridiculing the women who might read our site in the process,” the company wrote in a blog post.
The post was called the “first in a series,” a sign Goop is taking a newly aggressive approach to its detractors. “When they go low, we go high,” Paltrow tweeted.
“I feel like I’ve fallen through the looking glass,” Gunter, a San Francisco doctor who has been writing about Goop since 2015, told BuzzFeed News by phone. When she first read the post on a train through England, where she is on vacation, she said she found it so “ludicrous” that she laughed.
“It’s just odd I have to defend myself against a website that passes on the idea that bras cause cancer or that people should listen to someone who talks to a spirit for their health care,” she said. “So I’m absolutely flabbergasted that they chose me as the center of their ire.”
No matter how much heat it draws, Goop continues to rise. Within the last year, it’s raised $20 million, hosted its first health and wellness summit in Los Angeles last month, and begun selling its own branded line of dietary supplements in the spring.
Gunter has dissected many of Goop’s products, but one of her most viral takedowns concerned its $66 jade eggs, which are designed to be inserted into the vagina. In January, Goop published a Q&A with Shiva Rose, a “beauty guru/healer/inspiration/friend,” who praised the eggs for their ability to “help cultivate sexual energy, increase orgasm, balance the cycle, stimulate key reflexology around vaginal walls … intensify feminine energy, and invigorate our life force.”
Gunter wasn’t buying it. “I read the post on GOOP and all I can tell you is it is the biggest load of garbage I have read on your site since vaginal steaming,” she wrote, referring to another Paltrow-endorsed practice. A woman could harm her pelvic floor muscles by using it, she warned, and get infected by bacteria.
Goop called Gunter’s post “mocking” and emblematic of media coverage of Goop that “suggests that women are lemmings.” “As women, we chafe at the idea that we are not intelligent enough to read something and take what serves us, and leave what does not,” it wrote. “We simply want information; we want autonomy over our health.”
Gunter disagreed that criticizing Goop is anti-feminist. “Writing things that are not scientifically based for women is the exact opposite of feminism,” she said. “You’re disempowering women. Giving them bad information hurts them.”
Goop also argued that the ideas it promotes should not be rejected just because they are outside mainstream Western medicine. “Studies and beliefs that we held sacred even in the last decade have since been proven to be unequivocally false, and sometimes even harmful,” it wrote.
Gunter says this is an oversimplification. “Of course science is changing, but that doesn’t mean you should doubt what is biologically plausible and what we know currently,” she told BuzzFeed News. For example, homeopathy — the Goop-endorsed belief that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people — “is not biologically plausible,” she said. “We don’t need to wait for any more science to tell us homeopathy doesn’t work.”
Goop’s post included letters from two doctors who write for its website. One was Aviva Romm, an integrative physician, midwife, and herbalist. Another was Steven Gundry, who believes that certain proteins in grains and beans cause disease, and who called out Gunter for criticizing his research and “throwing F-bombs.” A Goop spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “The purpose of the letter is to stand behind our doctors, and stand behind the readers who tell us that advice and guidance from these doctors has had a positive impact on their lives.”
But Gunter said she didn’t understand Gundry’s letter, since she’s never written about him aside from one seven-word mention of his work. “I was shocked to see Gundry mansplaining science to me,” she said. “I have four board certifications. I was a doctor when I was 23.”
“It’s just odd I have to defend myself against a website that passes on the idea that bras cause cancer.”
Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash, praised Gunter for holding Goop accountable.
“She writes in a way that is relevant to health care providers, to patients and to the public,” Caulfield, a health law and policy professor at the University of Alberta, told BuzzFeed News. “She doesn’t pull any punches, but she also makes sure what she says is evidence-informed. I think we need more and more voices like Jen to combat the noise on pop culture around health, which is often dominated by science-free celebrities.”