She’s an Oscar-winning actress, a widely hated celebrity and founder of one of the most successful wellness brands in the world. And all your jade egg jokes make no difference at all, writes Sam Brooks.
A few weeks ago, the trailer for new Netflix show The GOOP Lab was released, along with a provocative image: Gwyneth Paltrow beaming while standing between the lips of an abstract vulva. The image wasn’t provocative because of the genitalia, though. It was provocative because a lot of people really, really hate Gwyneth Paltrow and don’t want to see her on their screen, whether they’re scrolling through Twitter or scrolling through the Netflix carousel.
The continued success of Gwyneth Paltrow feels like an elaborate troll upon the world, or at least upon the people who hate her. She won an Oscar almost ludicrously early on in her career, controversially beating fellow nominees Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, and went on to star in dark, little-seen indie films. She wins an Emmy for being in Glee and then performs at the Grammys with Cee-Lo. She stars in Marvel films and regularly gives the impression that she not only hasn’t seen any of them, but has no interest or inclination to do so in the future. She doesn’t divorce, she consciously uncouples from Chris Martin, and hangs out with him and his new girlfriend. She’s close friends with Jay Z and Beyonce. Her life is aspirational and objectively cooler than yours.
All of those things are enough to encourage scorn, but none of them have earned her as much scorn as GOOP, her wellness and self-care empire. What started as a newsletter of travel and lifestyle tips in 2008 (imagine The Bulletin but for what Irish pub you should go to in Paris) has turned into an empire worth at least US$250 million (though that figure is regularly quoted, Paltrow herself notes that it’s from 2008 and well south of the company’s present value) that sells wellness, self-care and luxury products.
It also regularly spreads misinformation, more commonly known as ‘lies’. Jade eggs, vaginal steaming, amethyst water bottles and earthing: there’s more pseudo-science wandering around GOOP than you’d find in a 16th century doctor’s office. This doesn’t make GOOP unique among wellness brands pushing various forms of alternative healthcare, some of which use the loosest definitions of the words ‘health’ and ‘care’, but GOOP is the only one with a famous person not just as its face, but with everything she represents baked into the brand. What do you think GOOP stands for?
So, yes, scorn is warranted. Misinformation is dangerous and the people who are most susceptible to it are generally the most vulnerable and desperate among us. GOOP’s audience is largely women, who have been roundly and regularly ignored or diminished by traditional medicine for years. Promoting alternative medicine that hasn’t been tested is dangerous. Doing so is worth interrogation and criticism. It’s worth a whole lot more than your tired jade-egg-in-a-vagina jokes.
But so often it seems like the scorn is aimed not so much at what she sells, but at Paltrow herself. And it’s layered with a venom that you can’t describe as anything other than gendered – can you name any non-Trump man that routinely receives the same kind of sledging that she does?
It’s easier to hate on the person everybody else is hating on. It’s easier to punch the punching bag that everybody else has beaten up on. It’s not just because she’s the head of an multi-million dollar wellness/scam empire. It’s because she’s privileged. It’s because she’s pretty. It’s because she’s famous, and seems to have a pretty easy time of it (despite being hated for the better part of two decades).
Truth be told, it’s easy for me to ignore the GOOP empire. While I would love to live my life like Gwyneth Paltrow, I’m pretty comfortably out of her target market, geographically and financially. Trust me, I’ve tried to buy an overpriced GOOP scarf only to find out they do not ship to New Zealand. I’m also, frankly, about as likely to get my wellness or medical advice from Gwyneth Paltrow as I am to get my Tom Waits fix from Scarlett Johansson.
It’s here that I have to say that I’ve always been a fan of Paltrow. She was one of those actresses who was always as talented as she was famous, even when she was increasingly dragged into projects that didn’t reward that talent (A View From The Top, Shallow Hal, so on and so forth). She was able to simply exist onscreen in a way that suggested depth and mystique, and despite her natural luminosity she always managed to bring out the complexity in her characters. She won her Oscar, fairly, for tapping into that luminosity, but it’s in her darker performances that she truly proved her worth. I’ll take her marvellous Margot Tenenbaum performance over many others, any day of the week.
But it’s not just her acting that made me a fan, especially as her performances became less frequent. And on that note, it’s worth nothing that she’s one of the few actresses whose fame has not dipped even as her actual on-screen performances have. It probably doesn’t hurt that she keeps on showing up – likely thanks to begrudging contractual obligation – in the biggest movie franchise of all time.
No, it’s her bizarre unflappability that I love. In a world where nearly everybody seems to crave validation, and stars make themselves more and more accessible, Paltrow continues to just… be herself. Some of that comes from privilege, the kind of privilege that comes from being an uncommonly talented, genetically gifted, third-generation member of Hollywood royalty. But some of it undoubtedly is the result of all the scorn thrown at her for things that are beyond her control.
In the thousands upon thousands of words I pored over to write this piece, some of them words with Paltrow, some of them words about her, the only time I saw her truly address the hatred aimed at her, and by proxy, her brand, was in the trailer for The GOOP Lab. During an episode where her team tries psychedelics, she mentions the one time she tried MDMA, and in an almost off-handed way, comes out with this pearl of… something:
“Being the person people perceive me to be is inherently traumatic.”
No shit! But if you can capitalise on it, then run away laughing to the bank, Margot.
If there’s anything that I find aspirational about Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s that she’s managed to actually capitalize on people hating her. As she herself said about her haters, in a lecture at Harvard Business School, “I can monetise those eyeballs.”
Paltrow is not the first person to capitalize on hatred. Hell, the GOOP show is on Netflix, the streaming service where your hate means the exact same thing as your love. But there’s something karmic about being the woman who was hated for winning an Oscar, hated for being the person for whom everything came easy, and then hated for the sin of recommending things to people, turning that hatred into success. Success at the expense of people’s health and wallets, but success nonetheless. The one chink in her GOOP armour – a false advertising lawsuit settled for $145,000, which is somewhat equivalent to the person who stole your car buying you a coffee – doesn’t seem to have stopped her at all.
The truth is your facile jokes do nothing to dent the GOOP empire. They actually keep GOOP part of the conversation. By engaging with it, even in the limpest way, you’re helping to legitimise it. And even worse, you’re legitimising something that has no impact on your life. You do not have to engage with GOOP, or with Gwyneth Paltrow. Nobody is making you watch her show. Nobody is making you buy her products. Nobody is making you do this. It’s a choice to do so, and one that does the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do.
She’s rubber, and you’re glue. She will remain Gwyneth Paltrow, world-famous uncoupler, and you’ll just be the latest in a thousands-long line to make a tired joke about jade eggs.
The GOOP Lab is streaming on Netflix from tonight.