“It’s fucking weird to be talking about health,” exclaims actor and director Kevin Smith at Saturday’s Goop Summit. “Normally, [media] pictures me as the ‘before’ guy [in before and after photos.]”
Slacker icon Smith–of Clerks, Mallrats, and, Chasing Amy fame–spends 10 minutes divulging the comedic horrors of surviving a heart attack to a group of athleisure-clad women. Transfixed by the uncommon speaker at the L.A. wellness conference, they listen as the director recounts the gluttonous lifestyle that led him to be carried out of his home by firefighters. Mostly, they listen to him complain about getting his groin shaved (which, we learn, is a common hospital procedure).
With animated urgency, Smith, 48, details his journey through veganism and ultimately, optimal health. He started with something called the potato diet, even though he admittedly “hates vegetables,” before graduating to trendy intermittent fasting. (He initially thought the potato diet meant consuming French fries before realizing it was more like boiled potatoes). Now, 70 pounds slimmer, he raves about things like, well, legumes.
“Chickpeas? I’d never had that in my life! Now I fucking live off chickpeas,” he proudly states.
Smith, with his expletive-filled rants and iconic backwards hat, stood out among the sea of female attendees, the majority of them sporting designer purses and perfectly colored highlights. Most come to this alternative medicine wonderland to hear from fitness influencers, celebrity spiritual gurus, or A-listers like Jessica Alba. All the same, they sat riveted: Finally, they thought, a look into the male brain.
Smith, however, wasn’t there to promote some supplement brand or a new line of workout clothing. He was onstage as part of the new Goop men’s podcast, aptly titled Goopfellas. It’s the first foray by Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire into male territory. The brand also plans to launch a newsletter and a collection of G Label men’s clothing in the coming months. In addition, the team is contemplating an events series.
Elise Loehnen, chief content officer at Goop, did not provide growth details, though she did acknowledge that summits have seen a slight uptick in male attendees. At the L.A summit this past weekend, there were roughly two dozen males present.
‘I thought it was normal to feel like shit’
The brand’s first podcast spin-off is hosted by celebrity chef Seamus Mullen and functional medicine practitioner Will Cole. They were joined by Nutrafol “hair wellness” startup founder Giorgos Tsetis, who served as moderator.
Throughout the spirited discussion, the men discuss a number of topics that equally affect both male and female audiences. For example, Mullen, who nearly died from rheumatoid arthritis, talks of being consistently dismissed by traditional doctors who either discounted his pain or accused him of hypochondria. Instead, he was prescribed a treasure trove of prescription drugs that left him sicker, experiencing seizures, and battling a brain infection.
Over time, he simply accepted, “I thought it was normal to feel like shit all the time.”
Attendees nod in agreement, knowing all too well how the medical establishment has long ignored or misinterpreted female symptoms. Many here feel that traditional healthcare has failed them. Misdiagnosis is one the leading catalysts for the wellness movement.
Mullen was ultimately diagnosed with autoimmune disorder, which affects an estimated 50 million. Of those, 75% are female, according to the American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association. He is now a strong supporter of functional medicine, which advocates a more holistic health approach based on treating the root causes of symptoms. (It does not shy away from prescription medicine, rather better incorporates lifestyle changes through nutrition, exercise, supplements, and stress management techniques like meditation.)
Like the other men onstage, Mullen is on a mission to inspire men to take control of their health. He explains that men shy away from preventative care, oftentimes taking better care of their cars than their bodies. They also don’t go to the doctor. In fact, they’re twice as likely as women to go two years without a checkup, according to the CDC. Nearly half won’t make an appointment until they’re dealing with a serious medical issue. Oftentimes, managing health falls on their female partners.
“We don’t show weakness,” Mullen explains. “That vulnerability is something that has really been taught out of us. What ends up happening is the body says uncle, it gives in.”
Launching Wednesday, Goopfellas will share stories that encourage men to embrace their shunned vulnerability. The talent will interview notable male celebrities, like former NFL football player Keith Mitchell, as well as healthcare leaders and CEOs on topics such as addiction, trauma, nutrition, community, stress, and mental health disorders. Interviewees include men and women alike. (The hosts’ dream guests include the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama.)
Mullen, a James Beard Award-nominated chef, says he wants to spread the message that “it’s okay for guys to take care of themselves; it’s not unmanly.” With that, the audience erupts into applause. The woman beside me, donning a diamond-encrusted wedding band, enthusiastically claps. “My God,” she mutters, “please.”
A Goopy opportunity
Goop has expanded with precision focus in the last few years, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s empire venturing into designer clothing, events, fragrances, media, even supplements. In the next year, Netflix will debut a Goop docuseries. The lifestyle platform is now valued at over $250 million.
Throughout its profitable journey, the aspirational brand has always zeroed in on women, specifically those of means. With the mesmerizing Oscar winner at its helm, it boasts a feminine, sophisticated aesthetic that can sell jade vaginal eggs alongside $650 jumpsuits.
But in the last fast few years, the $4.2 trillion wellness industry progressed beyond female consumers looking for (pricey) ways to feel better. Men got in on the action too: They put their stamp on the market with “bro”-centric ventures like biohacking, HIIT training, and meditation apps. Those seemed to all inhibit some sort of traditional masculinity. Now, that too is changing.
Today there are natural skincare brands, yoga apparel lines, fertility startups, and even wellness sites dedicated to the male audience. HIMs, which sells product solutions for hair loss, hygiene, and sexual health, is now a unicorn. The gender lines are blurring, and millennial men are taking a cue or two from the ladies. Goop now counts men as 20% of their audience.
“It feels like we’re at a point in the culture where men are rejecting that sort of toxic masculinity,” says Loehnen. She references actor and podcaster Dax Shepard, who garnered a cult following for touching on complex male issues. “We wanted to do something that was more about the emotional health of men, the importance of vulnerability, and this acknowledgment of how hard these things can be.”
The Goopfellas podcast will focus on personal health transformation, whether that’s mental health, addiction, or overcoming a condition like heart disease. It will differ from the main Goop podcast–which consists of more traditional interviews with experts– to let guests discuss hitting bottom and the recovery process. Intervention stories are meant to help men feel less alone and more comfortable with a process unfamiliar to them.
“I think men are really hungry for that,” stresses Loehnen.
Dr. Will Cole, who runs a functional medicine clinic in Pittsburgh, witnesses soaring interest in wellness from men across the country, not just coastal cities. He’s seen patients for the past 11 years, “but it’s never been this high [with men],” he tells Fast Company. More men now view chronic health conditions as wake-up calls.
“Our culture of guys being divorced from their bodies and their symptoms and thinking they can push through it–we live in a time when that’s shifting,” says Cole. “A lot of men don’t want to be put on another pill, but they’re told that’s the only option [in traditional medicine]…. They want to do something different.”
When asked why he specifically decided to partner with Goop, Cole says he respects the company’s fearlessness in exploring issues and therapies otherwise ignored by other outlets. That mentality, of course, led mainstream doctors and consumer watchdog groups to attack Goop for promoting theories or practices that lack scientific evidence. Goop stands by its reasoning, going so far as to fight back against detractors.
“I think they’re leading the way and ahead of the curve,” says Cole. “They have a sort of nothing’s-off-limits attitude.”
A whole new vertical?
Loehnen says Goopfellas will not shy away from popular men’s categories like biohacking, though it sees such trends through the prism of holistic wellness. The hosts will investigate physical health alongside spiritually, mental health, and relationships.
“It’s all connected, that’s where we come from,” Loehnen explains of the greater Goop philosophy. “I think men are starting to realize, I can go to the gym and I can put butter in my coffee, but I am profoundly unhappy or I feel like I have no purpose in my life. Wellness is really a combination that touches on all of those things.”
Granted, the wellness industry has been criticized for failing to include demographics that can’t necessarily spend $30 on a Pilates class. The exclusivity was discussed at the Goop summit, with Smith decrying the unaffordability of the market’s entry points. As he noted, “most men don’t have the time or money for self-care.”
In talking with Fast Company, Mullen concedes the wellness industry needs to be more democratized. He doesn’t want to talk to the “one percent of the one percent,” which is why he’s enthusiastic about the podcast (which is free to download). “It’s totally accessible,” he says, adding, “we want to speak to as broad an audience as possible.”
The challenge lies in that Goop positions itself as a luxe destination that famously blends editorial with high-end commerce. The site’s content routinely pushes products that target that very one percent. As Goop chief revenue officer Kim Kreuzberger recently told Glossy, the business is rooted in “slowly converting” readers into shoppers. It’s hard to sell Goopfellas as a venture with mass appeal considering its overall brand tactic. (Men currently constitute a considerable portion of their customer base by shopping for the women in their lives.)
Loehnen holds that Goop Men is more of an exploration into the category than a full-blown commitment. The company wants to gage interest before fully investing the same strategies it employs for female audiences. Overall though, they seem optimistic that they can suss out male wellness enthusiasts–or convert them to the Goop side.
“We feel like it’s like we’re at a point where we’re strong enough that we can be more inclusive,” says Loehnen. “If we can package Goop into a slightly more masculine package, then we can bring men into this journey too.”