There are very few things in this world as polarizing as Gwyneth Paltrow. Last week, a viral profile of her and her much-maligned wellness brand, Goop, appeared in The New York Times. People either loved it or hated it, just like people either love or loathe Gwyneth herself. Anti-Gwyneth Paltrow stories are practically a journalism cottage industry.
Full confession: I happen to be one of those people who appreciates Gwyneth Paltrow. I think she’s genuine. Yes, she’s privileged and tone deaf. (“Wait, I don’t understand. Am I hated to the bone or am I the world’s most beautiful?” she wondered in the profile.)
But I also think she comes upon her attitudes honestly. I might not agree with everything she says, but I respect her approach to celebrity. She is who she is. She does not apologize for it or trip all over herself trying to telegraph faux normalcy when she’s clearly anything but normal, with en vogue compulsive confessions in the style of Lena Dunham, who is also actually a rich and connected New Yorker. (Did you know she recently broke her fingernail while shaving her bikini line? Just like you and me, that wacky Lena.)
No. Gwyneth exists happily in a land of manservants and conscious uncoupling, and she has absolutely zero shame about it. She lives well, and she makes no bones about it. I find it refreshing.
“I can’t pretend to make $25,000 a year,” she once said. Good for her. Don’t fake it. Don’t pander to the masses by pretending to be just like them. You’re not. Why lie? We’re not that dumb.
The Times profile was written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who now calls herself a Gwyneth laureate after her odyssey into the world of blanched kale and house managers. Brodesser-Akner is an Orthodox Jew who has written extensively about Jewish life. Gwyneth Paltrow is also partially Jewish, but really, all of this is neither here nor there, because Goop is its own religion, as Brodesser-Akner cuttingly, lusciously, makes clear.
The profile was peak Gwyneth, kissed with the blissful, unapologetic privilege of someone who lives in an organic cashmere bubble.
When I posted the story, consciously coupled with a quick line about how much I admire Gwyneth, on my own (much less robust) social media channels, you would have thought I posted that I hate puppies. Confessing that you actually like Gwyneth Paltrow is not a popular thing to do. She is elitist, she was born on third base as the child of show-business parents and she’s out of touch, the arguments go. Oh, and she’s dangerous. She profits from herbs, supplements and upscale dining recommendations!
And, look: Some might say that she’s made a lot of money by monetizing quackery on Goop, making dubious medical claims and advising women to do things like stick jade eggs up their vaginas. Certain therapies that Goop promotes, such as bee stings, truly can be downright dangerous.
Her recent In Goop Health Summit is perfectly captured in the profile, in all its kooky glory: “A woman called an akashic-records healer who reads your past, present and possible future lives sat me down and asked about my foot pain. I asked her how she knew I had foot pain. I wasn’t limping. She said, ‘You have flat feet.’ I nodded, incredulous. ‘I do,’ I said. ‘I have flat feet.’ She told me that 13 lives ago, my feet were chopped off as punishment for a crime,” Brodesser-Akner wrote, not coming out as dubious herself because her reporting did it for her. But she’s also just this side of enchanted. That’s the Goop effect.
Personally, I think if you believe that the stuff Goop peddles is going to help you cure cancer, that’s your choice. And if you want to pepper yourself with bee venom to ward off illness, well, you just might have bigger judgment problems than liking Gwyneth Paltrow.
Goop’s medical bona fides might be fuzzy, and this indeed could be seen as morally questionable. Many people are eager to paint her as a charlatan peddling snake oil to the masses. But in a series of tweets after the story (and quackery) claims came out, Brodesser-Akner seemed to defend her subject:
“But acupuncture used to be called voodoo. Now it’s covered by insurance,” she tweeted.
And: “…You can stop the anti-vax people if you take the crystals people a little more seriously. The internet has democratized us all, made us all experts, cancelled all elite status (which includes education).”
And: “In all these stories, people discuss snake oil. Can I tell you something I learned about snake oil? It’s real. Oil from the Chinese water snake contains omega-3s, and when men came from China to become indentured servants and build the American railroads, they also brought oil.”
And: “I know that’s not cynical enough for some of you, but I’ve just spent 10 months with a lot of these people. It was hard to see very bad intentions in most of them.”
The point being: There might be grains of truth buried in Goop’s crystals. Even the author seems to believe that Goop is genuinely trying to help people who haven’t been helped before. And, look, even if you don’t want to cleanse your aura with crystals, you might someday need a good restaurant recommendation in Barcelona. It’s not all New Age crazy over there.
So lets lay the jade eggs and the bee stings aside for a moment. What I really appreciate about Gwyneth Paltrow is the lack of artifice, or maybe the unabashed embrace of it. She owns her privilege in a way that few women do any longer, even on a lesser scale. There exists a reflexive guilt among middle- or upper-middle-class women to apologize for how good we have it: We post an awesome beach photo and then temper it with a post about how crazy life is. We discuss our anxiety, our depression, our loneliness, our messy houses and alienated lives to show how like everyone else we really are. We share it all. We throw down the Instagram gauze and then we yank it back. We’re still wrestling with who we are in a world where everything is now public, where even an anonymous suburban mom can become a brand, if she wants to. #beachvacation2018 #girlsnight #bookclub #lovethesekids. I do it too.
But Gwyneth doesn’t. She’s the mom you know who really does have it good: Adoring partner, other-worldly metabolism, loving children and oodles of money. But instead of feeling compelled to temper it, she flaunts it. She owns it. And, deep down, I think many of us really aspire to that boldness, too. She’s easy to hate because she gets at the basest desires of what so many of us crave: perpetual good fortune and absolutely no guilt about it.
Look, I’m sure Gwyneth sometimes wakes up with a zit or a hangover. But she doesn’t talk about that stuff, the way most of us do, celebrities and civilians. Even her divorce was goddess-like: conscious uncoupling, she called it. Everything is wrapped in an amber glow of serenity and actualization. And, admit it, doesn’t that life seem pretty good? I think it seems pretty good.
Right now, we’re living in a confessional world. But openness is pandering too, when it’s false and manufactured for the purpose of human connection, whether it’s on Twitter or in an article by a precocious 30-year-old comedy writer who thinks she has the makings of a memoir because she once forgot her lines in a school play. There’s a compulsion to scream, “Look at me! See how normal I am? I suffer, too!” To broadcast everything from one’s anxiety over commuting to failed lunch plans to existential dread. It’s all so available, so accessible, such a thrilling dopamine hit of connection. But just because it’s ordinary doesn’t make it real. Just because it’s available and accessible doesn’t make it authentic. Even ordinary woes can perpetuate a charade.
Elitism doesn’t preclude authenticity, is what I’m saying. Gwyneth has it good, and she knows it. The world knows it. And she doesn’t lie about it. In a world where so little is left to the imagination, in a world where a recent Chrissy Teigen tweet—”I do not poop! Never have and never will! Right, @johnlegend??—garnered nearly 10,000 likes, Gwyneth Paltrow keeps a little bit of old-school aspiration alive.
And aspiration, when it’s executed well, is not a sin. In fact, it just might be the most genuine thing we have these days.