Gwyneth Paltrow’s Claim That She (and Goop) Popularized Yoga Is, Well, a Stretch

Since launching Goop in 2008, actress Gwyneth Paltrow has been a divisive presence in the burgeoning wellness industry. Her comments in a Wall Street Journal Magazine profile, in which she claimed claimed credit for making yoga popular, may end up making that ambivalence even stronger.

Paltrow was a subject of a puff piece in the magazine showing how she “is living her best life—and believes she can help you live yours better, too.” To Goop’s many adherents, that may ring true. But Paltrow’s critics zeroed in on comments she made that appeared to take credit for popularizing yoga.

“Forgive me if this comes out wrong, but I went to do a yoga class in LA recently and the 22-year-old girl behind the counter was like, ‘Have you ever done yoga before?’ ” Paltrow said in the interview. “And literally I turned to my friend, and I was like, ‘(She has) this job because I’ve done yoga before.’ ”

While Paltrow’s use of “literally” may leave grammar nerds feeling as if their heads are about to explode, health professionals will surely be puzzled by another quote that seems to regard the age-old wisdom that food affects health as somehow radical in concept.

“That was the beginning of people thinking I was a crackpot,” Paltrow said about Goop’s founding in September 2008. “Like, ‘What do you mean food can affect your health, you (expletive) psycho? I remember when I started doing yoga and people were like, ‘What is yoga? She’s a witch. She’s a freak.’”

To be fair, the story notes that Paltrow’s conversion to a healthier lifestyle began after her father faced surgery for throat cancer in 1998. And the comments read like flippant, off-hand remarks made in conversation, rather than for an interview for print. Nonetheless, they don’t exactly mesh with reality.

For example, yoga has been popular in the U.S. for decades. According to Yoga Journal, Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to the U.S. in the late 1800s. It slowly but steadily gained in popularity over the following decades. By the 1960s, there were books about yoga that sold millions of volumes, dozens of yoga studios, and even a TV show featuring yoga workouts.

A Harris survey that Yoga Journal commissioned in 2003 found that between 15 million and 18 million people, or between 7% and 9% of the population, were practicing yoga. What’s more, the survey found:

more than 12% of the U.S. population, or 25.5 million people, is very or extremely interested in the practice of yoga; one in six respondents, or 35.3 million people, express the intention to try yoga within the next 12 months; and more than half of the general population, or 109.7 million people, has at least a casual interest in the practice of yoga.

What’s more, a Google search of Goop’s early web site—described by the Daily Beast as “a spare gray and white design and a vague promise of future inspiration”—shows only a handful of references to yoga before 2010, and most of those mentioning the practice only in passing.

Paltrow’s comments were also greeted on Twitter with more that a raised eyebrow.

By some measures, Paltrow’s Goop is a success: It’s 2017 revenue was reportedly between $45 million and $60 million, up from a range of $15 million to $20 million a year earlier. But that growth has come with some controversies, such as the $145,000 settlement Goop paid this year for making unsupported medical claims about “jade eggs for your yoni.”

If Paltrow wants to keep Goop’s brand healthy, unsupported claims about making yoga popular won’t help.

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