The goop Magazine Cover Story: The Full Q&A with Gwyneth
For the premiere print issue of goop, Gwyneth sat down with writer Sarah Mesle to discuss starting the magazine, how wellness fits into the goop DNA, and what it means to be a woman right now asking questions and finding answers.
Their conversation took place over two days: It began over the phone, with Gwyneth stuck in traffic in the San Fernando Valley and Sarah standing outside of a yoga studio in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It continued the next day in goop’s Santa Monica offices. Following is a transcript of all they discussed. It has been slightly edited for length. The cover story, which emerged from this conversation, is part of the debut issue of goop Magazine—available on newsstands everywhere and here on goop.
A Conversation between Gwyneth Paltrow & Sarah Mesle
Sarah Mesle: Tell me about starting the magazine. Are you excited?
Gwyneth Paltrow: I’m really excited. I can’t believe we have a magazine. It’s really cool just to be able to hold it and for it to be a physical representation of goop. It’s pretty great. And to be able to leverage the Condé team for the creative direction—amazing. They’re just leagues ahead of us with that stuff, so it’s been really cool.
SM: It’s interesting to me, because the last time we spoke we were talking about how we both took on too much and got too exhausted. So when I heard you were starting a magazine, I just laughed. It was like, “Oh look, now she’s taking on another whole huge thing.”
GP: [laughs] I know; I’m crazy. But this is a really great project.
SM: This piece is going to be about your willingness to be a “guinea pig” for goop: trying out all sorts of treatments and procedures and products. Can you start by talking a little bit about how you got into that role?
GP: I think that it comes out of my insatiable curiosity about all things. That’s not just about feeling better, but it’s really the DNA of the business—wanting to know, for instance, is there a great place to eat in the San Fernando Valley?
SM: Is there a great place to eat in the San Fernando Valley? I’m really interested!
GP: I don’t know. I’ll find out for you!*
But yes, getting back to wellness: Long story short—when my dad got sick, I was twenty-six-years-old, and it was the first time that I contemplated that somebody could have autonomy over their health. So while he was having radiation and the surgery and everything, and eating through a feeding tube, I thought, “Well, I’m pushing this can of processed protein directly into his stomach,” and I remember thinking, “Is this really healing? This seems weird. There’s a bunch of chemicals in this shit.”
It was where I started to make the connection, or to wonder if there was a connection, and started doing a bunch of research on sugar and cancer and environmental toxins and pesticides and everything else. And I think what happens is, as soon as you test something and it works and you feel better, you really catch that “wellness” bug.
“When my dad got sick, I was twenty-six-years-old, and it was the first time that I contemplated that somebody could have autonomy over their health.”
It’s like, if you haven’t worked out in forever and you work out five days in a row—if you have five days of a really difficult class, and by the end of the week you see a bit of a difference—there’s nothing more motivating than results. Back in the nineties, when I first heard about the Master Cleanse, I was like, “What’s that?” And I did my first day of a three-day Master Cleanse, and I felt so different and so much better afterwards.
You can really gain initiative, and then from then on it’s, “Wow, I really need to watch what I’m putting in my body. I really need to take this further; how can I feel better?” And that’s very much what happened to me. It was anecdotal stuff that I tried, and felt amazing results, and I just kept pushing it.
SM: So the master cleanse that you did, was that one of the first guinea pig things that you remember doing?
GP: That’s the first thing I did. It was in the nineties, and at the health food store they had this little paper back book, The Master Cleanse.
SM: So you were standing there next to the vitamins or whatever, and you picked up this book and that’s where you got the idea?
GP: Yeah, from being in the hippie health food store in the Village.
SM: Do you remember doing that cleanse, what was hard for you or what felt good? What was hard to give up?
GP: It’s only a three-day cleanse, and also I’m very “all or nothing.” So I was very amped up on the idea of seeing it through to completion. My best friend did it with me and she ate a banana on the second day, and I was like, “You f%$ked it up. All results are off.” I felt very toxic and sluggish and nauseous on the second day, and by the third day I started to feel really good. And in the book, some people do it for seven days, ten days, thirty days. I was like, “I’m good with the three-day introductory cleanse.” And I remember the next day, I was like, “Oh wow, I just did this cleanse and I feel so much better, so I can have a beer and a cigarette now, right?” It was the nineties.
“The Alejandro Junger cleanse was really instrumental in terms of explaining to me that, especially as detox goes, our bodies are designed to detoxify us, but they were built and designed before fire retardants and PCBs and heavy metals, so we have a much, much more difficult time, and the body needs some support.”
But I do remember feeling that that’s where I caught the bug. And then the Alejandro Junger cleanse was really instrumental in terms of explaining to me that, especially as detox goes, our bodies are designed to detoxify us, but they were built and designed before fire retardants and PCBs and plastic, so we have a much, much more difficult time, and the body needs some support, which is why cleanses can help. I just anecdotally felt great and so I started doing more and more. And by the time goop came around and we started writing about wellness content, then it started to get really fun. And the girls make me try everything. I’m always the one.
SM: Is there something that you’re like, “This is too crazy for me?” You tried it and you’re like, “Nope? Backing away?” Or are you totally gung ho all the way down?
GP: My friend Miranda Kerr, she’s amazing, she’s a beacon of wellness information. She’s turned me on to so much stuff. She has done leech therapy, and I don’t want to do that. I really don’t think I could do that!
SM: Because of the blood, or because of the live creature thing?
GP: Because of the live creature thing!
SM: Is there something that you tried where you feel like, “Yeah, that didn’t work?”
GP: Yeah, there are things that I’ve done. There’s this thing people swear by where you soak your feet in a tub of water and it’s got—I don’t know if there’s an electronic current running through it—there’s something that is supposed to really pull toxins out of the bottom of your feet? I felt unaffected by that. And I once tried a color light therapy thing where there were different points of light of different colors coming out of different pens, and it was supposed to balance your chakras or something like that, and I was like, “Yeah, no thanks.”
SM: Do you feel like there’s a particular perspective on wellness? You were just mentioning that this was supposed to align your chakras, right? So there’s a particular philosophy that is oriented around chakras, and there are different approaches to how the body uses energy. Do you feel like there’s one that you subscribe to or are drawn to, or find most useful? Or do you try everything? Or both?
GP: I mix things up. I believe in the overriding principle that there’s a strong mind-body connection. I don’t think our culture’s that good at understanding that life is a lot less concrete than we typically think—there’s a lot that’s unseen, in terms of energy and emotionality and psychology, and that all plays an important part in our lives.
And so I’m very curious about “what are those things”? What are those things that hold us back and that make us feel stuck? If anger comes out because something else is unexpressed, why are we afraid to express something in the moment?
“I don’t think our culture’s that good at understanding that life is a lot less concrete than we typically think—there’s a lot that’s unseen, in terms of energy and emotionality and psychology, and that all plays an important part in our lives.”
It comes from this attitude that I really want to milk the f%$k out of life, and I want to die having optimized myself to be the best possible person that I could have been and feel as good as I could feel.
I try and succeed and fail all the time in all kinds of ways, but it’s the pursuit—you know what I’m saying? But that pursuit is in me, it’s relentless, and I always want to live life to the optimal fullest and in every way, even in quiet, small ways.
SM: Give me an example of a quiet, small way.
GP: In communication with someone—in communication with a child or a loved one, paying attention when you’re reading a book to your kids. You’re as present as possible. You’re unguarded. Just in those ways. How can we just be here and do this to the best of our ability?
SM: You’re talking about an attitude towards life in general that now manifests as an engagement with wellness as well as other things. I’m curious how you think this attitude came out of your background or your family. How do you feel this energy in you is connected to where you came from?
GP: My mother was always very curious about health. She became very conscious of all that stuff when we were little. And we had wheatgrass juice and stuff like that, and she was always throwing our sodas into the garbage. She was very into environmental wellness. She started to wake up to that in my childhood for sure.
SM: It seems in some of the ways I’ve read you talking about your family, that it was really important to really serve good meals and make people welcome. And to me it seems like those things are contiguous—does that seem right to you? Or am I reading into it?
GP: That’s absolutely right. This idea that life can be incredibly fulfilling in very simple ways. If you can optimize a relationship and make communication good and loving and non-judgmental, you open up—maybe in the moment it feels like an uncomfortable conversation, but then you open up this realm where you get so much juice out of life and togetherness and happiness and closeness and connection.
Those things don’t just happen. They have to be cultivated, and my parents were very good at cultivating togetherness and good feelings, and also using food as an expression of love, and using meals as an opportunity for us all to be together and laugh.
SM: Shifting gears a little bit, are there role models who you feel like are other guinea pigs, who put themselves out there? Are there people who you’re modeling this kind of pursuit after?
GP: I definitely have comrades in it. And I think that’s what goop is. It’s a bunch of like-minded people who are like, “How can we feel better? What’s all the information? Let’s try this. Let’s try that. Let’s share ideas.”
A lot of women friends of mine are very tuned into this right now. A lot of women in our forties are like, “We don’t want to age the way previous generations did.” Not necessarily physically, but we want to feel good. I think everybody is in pursuit.
SM: One thing I want to come back to is your use of the word “optimize.” And that word was interesting to me because it seems to come back to something we talked about last year—the quest to drive yourself and do everything the best that it can possibly be done. Isn’t there a point at which you put too much pressure on yourself for making it a job or a quest for perfectionism that’s counterproductive?
GP: Yeah. And I think that again is a very common underlying theme that I think a lot of women right now have. But I think the key is, it’s the pursuit of optimization but it’s not about self-flagellation. The idea that women are doing something wrong is dangerous. And I think we as a culture, we tend to do that to ourselves. We tend to say, “If I can’t do it perfectly, there’s no point in doing it.” I’ve definitely suffered from that kind of thinking in my life for sure.
SM: Can you tell me an example of feeling that way?
GP: Oh my god. Yeah. [laughs] Look, I could give you a thousand examples. What I’ve learned is that you can only be a perfectionist if you think erroneously that there is a finish line in life. “I’m going to do this perfectly and then it’ll be done.” As soon as you turn whatever age—for me it was around forty—you realize that there is no finish line. That whole system collapses. Life is a constant process of trial and error, and once you accept that, then that perfectionist system really crumbles.
SM: So, you’re starting a magazine, as we discussed. I love that the first picture from the cover shoot—what is this? My first thought was, “Is she vaping?”
GP: Yeah, it’s a vape pen. What’s really interesting to see, with all the legalization of marijuana happening, is how there’s evidence that it can be helpful in a medicinal sense for people. That it can really be an alternative pain management system, and, in some cases, helpful for depression.
I think there is a lot of pushback against [medical marijuana], because I don’t think we can monetize it with the same kind of margin you can with an anti-anxiety pill that you get from behind the counter. But it’s incredible to see people who can’t sleep, or people who have chronic pain, report really positive results, and it’s a natural substance.
SM: Right. But here you’re talking about people—“people do this”—which is true. But, I’m curious…
GP: [laughing] Oh, I’ve tried it, and yes, I inhaled!
SM: Marijuana has never been a drug that works for me. But lately I’ve gotten more interested—I sort of feel like, now that they can regulate it, maybe I can find something that won’t make me an insane food monster.
GP: That’s true. Especially that brand, hmbldt—apparently it’s very tailored in terms of its balance of THC and CBD. So, there’s one that’s for arousal, there’s one that’s for calm, there’s one that’s for pain relief, there’s one for sleep. And you don’t, like when you were a teenager, smoke pot and get blazed out of your mind.
SM: I feel like it’s a really interesting thing about this moment—being our age, at this point in life, at this moment in time, when, apart from whatever new hysteria Jeff Sessions has been talking about, there’s a lot of new acceptance of at least some drugs socially. It’s like, culturally, we can say: What it would it be like to have a less hysterical relationship to a whole range of pharmaceutical pleasures. You know?
GP: Right. So you have a complete opioid epidemic. And then we are as a culture, very resistant to more natural options.
I think there’s a general reticence to this idea that we can be autonomous over our own health, that there are other options. So, that if you have arthritis or IBS, you can maybe, possibly, make a diet change that’s really impactful. There might not be board-certified physicians doing double-blind studies that can lay out the results in the same way; the empirical evidence is anecdotal. But, you’ll have people really resistant to the idea, like it’s better to be on five prescription drugs than to maybe cut gluten out of your diet.
So, we’re just at this very interesting, I think, paradigm shift, because, we can tell that culturally people are so fascinated, and they want to try ways to take control over their health and well-being. They want to be the steward of their own ship. There’s just a ton of really interesting back and forth, and it’s interesting to be at the crux of it.
“There might not be board-certified physicians doing double-blind studies that can lay out the results in the same way; the empirical evidence is anecdotal. But, you’ll have people really resistant to the idea, like it’s better to be on five prescription drugs than to maybe cut gluten out of your diet.”
And at goop, our job isn’t to recommend, or to have an opinion: We’re just like, this is fascinating. Let’s ask this doctor this, let’s ask this doctor that. I think we know that, for example, we’ve tried certain things that are more holistic, and they’ve had incredible effects. But it doesn’t behoove a pharmaceutical company or chemical company to spend lots of money on trials about whatever it is.
SM: I was reading a couple of things on goop, for instance the Q&A on earthing. At the end I was really interested in the—not exactly the disclaimer, but you know, the position statement where you’re like, “Our goal in putting this out there is to start a conversation.” Is that what you feel about what you’re doing on this?
GP: Yeah, from our lens, we see a ton of women being like, “I don’t feel well, my doctor is not giving me answers. This doctor is not either.” There seem to be really common complaints that women have in this day and age. Like, they have trouble sleeping, they don’t feel good, they don’t have good energy, they feel overstimulated, they have over-responsibility. We all kind of feel that way.
So, what can we be doing? We like to find different modalities where it doesn’t mean you have to go to a doctor and spend twelve hundred dollars. For me, taking off my shoes and taking a walk in the grass, or lying in the grass, or lying on the beach, is so healing. There’s no scientific evidence to prove, you feel like, “Oh, I feel good, I left my phone at home. I’ve recalibrated.”** But our goal is to say: You know, we’re interested in this new treatment. Sometimes it’s a practice that’s been around for a really long time, sometimes it’s something that people are starting to talk a lot about in the functional medicine world. So, we’ll just expose it, then start a conversation.
SM: Which I think is so great. Although, and one thing I just wanted to give you a chance to talk about in whatever way you wanted, is that it’s made you and goop the center of the pushback against some kinds of approaches to wellness. So, I’m curious what drives you to keep putting yourself in that crossfire? How you feel about it, and what strategies you have for rolling with it?
GP: I really do think that the most dangerous piece of the pushback is that somewhere the inherent message is, women shouldn’t be asking questions. So that really bothers me. I feel it’s part of my mission to say, “We are allowed to ask any question we want to ask. You might not like the answer, or the answer might be triggering for you. But we are allowed to ask the question and we are allowed to decide for ourselves what works and what doesn’t work. We’re allowed to decide for ourselves what we want to try or not try.”
“I really do think that the most dangerous piece of the pushback is that somewhere the inherent message is, women shouldn’t be asking questions.”
So that is what motivates me above all else. It’s always fascinating because there are so many aspects to it. Like, there are people who try to use us to build their own profile, and there are people who are trying to protect an existing industry. I was having a conversation with this incredible dentist who also does functional medicine—she’s an Ivy League doctor, but she brings this functional approach to it. And she was saying that she was on this Facebook page, and just suggested—like, was asking a question and sharing some of her anecdotal evidence. The vitriol was so extreme. She was saying, “Why are people so afraid of just positing the question that might broaden a perspective?”
I said, “Well, because a lot of times I think people can receive it like, Well if I’ve done it the other way then I’ve done it wrong or I’ve hurt somebody, or I’ve hurt myself.” But that’s not why we’re positing the question. The idea is, no judgment anywhere, but let’s figure out going forward, is there a way that might be different? Is there a way that might invoke more healing? So you see it all the time.
“I’m very accustomed to being the person who says, ‘Hey, what about this? This worked for me.’ And everyone having a freakout, and then you start to see, like, there’s yoga everywhere.”
We’ve always been a lightning rod for that kind of thing. It’s funny, when I started doing yoga in the nineties, people were like, “What is she doing?” There was negative press about me doing yoga. When my cookbook came out, It’s All Good, with allergen-free recipes, there was such a vicious backlash about, “What is this gluten-free thing she’s talking about? She starves her children.” I mean, it was so intense. Now, every menu, gluten-free. I had the same with “conscious uncoupling,” I had the same with acupuncture. I’m very accustomed to being the person who says, “Hey, what about this? This worked for me.” And everyone having a freakout, and then you start to see, like, there’s yoga everywhere. But people initially were like, this is nuts.
SM: I think the other thing is: A, nuts, and B, well, I mean, there’s so many fears and insecurities that get wrapped up in the anger that it manifests as, right? A lot of them are around the idea that wellness is a luxury. Right? To be able to take care of yourself, or to ask those questions, or to have access to particular kinds of food.
GP: It’s not. It’s free to go walk in the grass. It’s free to meditate. We have to spend money on food; how about having a whole food as opposed to a processed food? Maybe that would affect our health in a different way. People are afraid of women, because when a woman gets an idea things change. Women are in charge of where the money is spent in a house—when that consumer behavior starts to change, industries change. So corporations want everything just how it is. They don’t want women asking too many questions. It’s a very misogynistic response.
SM: You made the point that so many women have chronic problems. Why do women feel so bad all the time? Why is there so much pressure? So, for me, one of the things that is clear is that these are not only personal problems, but social structures, that the US particularly hasn’t figured out how to deal with. We don’t have good childcare, we don’t have great support for healthcare in general; education is always strapped for cash. So, I’ll get these emails about, like, “Okay, we have to do this big fundraiser to, like, get an art teacher for the public school, ’cause otherwise we’re not going to have art classes.” And I’m like, okay, this is so great, but also, what we should all do is take all this energy and go to Sacramento and pass a bill to f%$king hire the art teacher so that everybody, all the kids, have art teachers. Right?
So, it’s that funny question of how to spend your energy trying to do what’s best for you and your family and the household that you manage, and then how to think about pushing that energy towards a broader change.
GP: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s our mission to empower women. Our mission is to support women with content, product, ideas, where they can get closest to their real identity and have the courage to speak and operate from that place. Whatever it is that they want to do in the world, whether they want to stay home with children, whether they work, whether they want to start a second career, whether they want to understand, like, you know, how an alternative health modality might benefit them.
“We know that the world follows the consciousness of women. So we’re just trying to create this environment where, really, women again, can just feel okay about getting close to themselves and working from that place.”
Our mission is to have a space where curious women can come. We are creating an opportunity for curiosity and conversation to live. That the knock-on effect of that conversation is that somebody might think to themselves, “Oh, wow. This is how I can manage a difficult relationship at work.” Or, “Wow, like, maybe I can improve my relationship with my mother or my understanding that this is her personality.” Or, “Wow, maybe if I up my vitamin C intake, let me try it, let me speak to my doctor or see if it’s something I should do.” You know, whatever it is. So, we know that the world follows the consciousness of women. So we’re just trying to create this environment where, really, women again, can just feel okay about getting close to themselves and working from that place.
SM: Yeah. Also learning from each other. Right? I think that’s one of the really threatening things. I was writing about this, actually, in another piece I was just working on for a different venue. About how remarkable it is that really what lost the election for Clinton—I mean, there were all these political issues and we know all that. But just, like, the issue that over and over again hammered home is, we don’t get to read Hilary’s emails. What is she talking about? Like, she’s talking to other women and we don’t get to know what she said. That fearfulness of women talking, especially to each other.
GP: Yeah, when we had our wellness summit a few weeks ago, it was so incredible to see all of these curious like-minded women congregating in a space, making friends, having conversations, exploring all these different avenues together. It was really powerful. You know, it’s like, how do you control that? If there is an inherent cultural fear of women getting together and talking, pushing boundaries, you control it by ridiculing them for talking to each other.
“If there is an inherent cultural fear of women getting together and talking, pushing boundaries, you control it by ridiculing them for talking to each other. “
SM: It’s completely minor compared to this, but I love that you mentioned orthodontia, because this is totally an issue for me, because my kid, my older kid who’s ten, has kind of messed up, beautiful teeth. It’s like a misalignment thing. So, they’re like, “Okay, you gotta get your braces.” I’m having such a hard time trying to figure out if this is really necessary.
GP: This doctor that I was talking about, she is so brilliant, and she’s thinking about things so differently. You know, she says that the way that we do it now, it’s just forcing teeth back. So, she puts braces on much later—she likes the jaw to develop, she likes the cheekbones to develop, she’s watching, she does a CAT scan to see where your glands are, how far along you’re developed, where there’s pressure. She’s really, like, another level.
It’s funny because one of my son’s best friend’s dads is an orthodontist here, this fancy orthodontist in Beverly Hills, and he was teasing me for driving out to Agoura Hills to take my kids to Doctor Sami. He’s like, “This is bullshit with the pituitary. This is all bullshit.” I was like, “You know, you might just want to have a conversation with her. It’s really interesting. It’s just, why not? What are you afraid of?” You know? He was like, “Hmm. It is kind of, yeah, I would be open to having a conversation.” You know what I mean? So, once you take the threatening piece out, you just say, “Are you not curious?” Like, maybe airways are affected by braces! And people can say, “Hmm, maybe.”
SM: Right. And it’s such an example too, where it’s cosmetic treatment. It’s a cosmetic treatment that got shifted into this health idea. If you start asking your orthodontist, “Okay, why are we now having braces twice?” And they’re like, “Oh, well, you know…”
GP: It’s twice as expensive. You could pay for college.
SM: I know. Like, what’s the goal, what’s the standard that you’re living to? I’m not opposed to braces, I had really f%$ked up teeth and my kids will too, and I know we live in a culture where it’s actually hard to get a job if you have really messed up teeth. So I get it! But I also hate this logic of perfection. That it’s not okay unless everything looks exactly the same, and we’re going to do all these things that may…
GP: Well, that’s a whole other conversation. We are in a really interesting point in time where the visual representation of what we’re supposed to look like has never been more pervasive. At the same time, we are moving away from “you have to look like Barbie.” There are now other models.
SM: Even Barbie is changing.
GP: Right, so there are other models of what beautiful is. Which I think is great. Even though now, there are different examples of what’s beautiful, and there are all kinds of colors, shapes, sizes, everything. So, at least it’s becoming more inclusive now.
SM: Or getting there, anyway.
GP: I think it’s definitely getting there. I really think it is. One of the upsides of social media is that people can really connect to different paradigms of beauty and they can find resonance in all different kinds of ideas of how women look, and we’re not all after this one specific paradigm.
But, look, we live in an extremely capitalistic culture. The idea that there is a “supposed to” is still very, very strong. Who’s the person that decides that straight teeth—how many hundreds of years ago did we decide that that was an attribute, and that we all had to start trying to emulate that? What are those things? There are billion-dollar industries around people looking like they conform to x, y, or z. So, that’s just where we are.
SM: Okay, changing gears, but I wanted to ask you about being in the mud on the cover. Did you like it?
GP: I did like it. I remember once, years and years ago, I went to this desert spa called Two Bunch Palms. You literally get into, like, a tub of mud. But, like, dirt mud. When I was getting into it I remember thinking, “This is so disgusting.” But about halfway through lying there I was like, “Something really amazing is happening.” I didn’t know at the time about the detoxification properties of clay, and being in the earth and all those minerals, and how grounding it is. I don’t think I have been completely in mud since my twenties, when I went to Two Bunch Palms.
SM: Yeah. Now it’s on the cover.
GP: Now it’s on the cover.
SM: I love it. That you’re all in dirt.
GP: I do too.
* These are our picks to the Valley, though we’re always in the market for more (email us at editorial [at] goop [dot] com).
** In the time since this interview took place, we’ve found several studies that support “Forest Bathing,” which is what they call the concept in Japan, as a means for lowering blood pressure.