In defense of Gwyneth Paltrow: Why we love to hate GOOP
My heart sank when I got the email: “A note from GP,” it read.
It was classic GOOP: clean, simple, and deceptively intimate, as if my good friend Gwyneth was personally notifying me of her decision to split from her husband. And almost as if it was a friend, I felt sad for Gwyneth Paltrow, whose cookbooks I’ve bought, whose cleanses I’ve tried, and whose abs I’ve coveted.
I also had to roll my eyes, because in true GOOP fashion, even her breakup announcement was totally, completely ridiculous.
GOOP, for those of you trying to understand what this word could possibly mean, is Paltrow's lifestyle website, which started as a newsletter in 2008. (She's said the name is a nickname she made up, stemming from her initials.) On Tuesday, after she posted the news of her breakup there, the site crashed, as millions of people who had never clicked on one of her recipes for paella or green juice desperately navigated over to read her letter.
But, even in announcing that she and Chris Martin, the Coldplay frontman and father of her two children, were splitting after 10 years, Gwyneth (it's impossible to think of her by her last name in this context) flaunted her trademark style: a little too earnest, and blissfully unaware of how pretentious she sounds.
Accompanied by an Instagram-worthy vintage photo of the couple and the infuriatingly buzzword-y headline "Conscious Uncoupling," the post also included pages of advice on divorce from a pair of GOOP-endorsed experts.
As if, even in crisis, Gwyneth was saying, I’m better than you. Here, do your divorce like mine.
It's this attitude that has made GOOP such a love-to-hate read, even for fans like me who relish getting our weekly newsletter and are unashamed of proclaiming our love for her food and fashion picks (yes, she's sold $290 sweatpants on her site, and endorsed $1300 pinky rings). She has amazing taste, fabulous friends, and an enviable physique, but she makes herself so easy to mock — and that's a huge part of the charm.
GOOP has been a punchline since it launched: No one could understand why this Oscar-winning actress from Hollywood royalty, who had abandoned America for England, given her children bizarre names and seemed ice cold and utterly unrelatable, was interested in doling out lifestyle tips. What kind of ridiculous advice could she possibly share with us, from her perch in the clouds of celebrity?
And the newsletters didn't disappoint. Signed "Love, GP," for years they were simply titled with different verbs, like DO, MAKE, GET, SEE, and GO — even her split wasn't spared the GOOP treatment: It's filed under BE. The typo-filled entries from Gwyneth herself also included treats from her inner circle of A-list buddies.
Nora Ephron, Tim McGraw, and Mario Batali gave restaurant recommendations (Gwyneth spelled Batali’s name wrong not once but twice in that newsletter), Gwyneth shared pics of Laurence Fishburne in his pajamas on a boat ride in Italy, Paul McCartney offered travel tips (and signed off “Thanks Goopsters! Thanks Gwyneth! Rock on ya’ll!") and was featured in an issue on how to host a garden party, which included pictures of him at Gwyneth's alongside Cameron Diaz and his daughter, Paltrow-BFF Stella McCartney.
There have been detox recipes, guides to shopping, "scrapbooks" from Gwyneth's glam life on the red carpet, recipes for making lunch that seem possible only if you have the entire day and a personal chef to prepare them, tips on home decor for mansions, travel guides for cities around the world, musings on Christmas from a Kabbalah scholar, and more recipes for cleansing. She even uses “imbibe” as a casual verb.
So even though it's always too long and there aren't enough paragraph breaks, getting a GOOP feels very relaxing — you can take a few minutes and scroll through her covet-worthy life, which is both an amusing and aspirational read.
Plus, it's fun to imagine Gwyneth Paltrow saying these things out loud.
On meditation: “My friends who do it say it’s really freakin’ brilliant.”
On a healthy bakery: “When I’m on the sugar-free/vegan/gluten-free tip I bust out this glorious hymn to the guilt-free treat and get busy.”
On a juice bar: “They make a cleanse easy with different degrees of gnarlyness.”
On travel: “I just took a very impromptu first trip to Marrakesh, Morocco where I fell in love with the place, it's magic.”
A restaurant rec: “It sounds exotic, but I promise the pigeon pie is a must!”
On drinks: “It’s not every day that you have 800 Euros at your disposal for a cocktail, so I’ve modified the recipe.”
On grocery shopping: “The shopkeepers know us by name and we buy most our groceries and fresh organic fruits and vegetables here.” Come on!
But, in defense of Gwyneth, if I ever took her advice, it turned out amazingly.
I bought both of her cookbooks to drool over the photos, in the hopes that I might be able to teleport myself into her body and life by making her food, and sure enough, every dish I cooked from it was a massive success. Sure, it took two days to find the ingredients and trips to multiple stores, and the recipes were so involved and expensive it would have been more effective to go to a restaurant, but the accomplishment at the end of it, knowing I was eating Gwyneth-approved food, was glorious. Plus, it tasted good.
When I tried the cleanse she swears by, giving up all food that tastes good for 21 days (dairy, sugar, alcohol, bread, pasta, tomatoes, shellfish, and nightshade vegetables, to name a few), I ended up feeling great, and was the happiest I've ever been with my body. Gwyneth is a genius, I told myself. We just make fun of her because we're weak, and because she's stronger than us.
And even though she's often ridiculed for giving off this impossible-to-attain image, Gwyneth has tried to be honest and self-deprecating, which is also pretty endearing if you believe it to be genuine. “This regime got me into the shape of my life and I continue to return to it when I have a specific event so that I can do ridiculous things like be a 37 year old mother of two and wear shorts!” she wrote in an issue on fitness.
Perhaps, in retrospect, we should have seen the signs. Last year’s Valentine's Day GOOP was all about “Heartbreak," and Gwyneth has also devoted many newsletters to self-reflection, like one titled "Perfect," in which she hints at the pressures she's under.
"Striving for achieving a sense of perfection has been a misguided belief in my life, often leading me down the wrong path," she wrote.
It's this kind of note (and her food porn shots of a perfectly-laid table) that keep me coming back to GOOP, for the hint of being allowed into a life out of reach, and for the brief illusion that it's not as different from yours or mine as we might think.
Here's hoping that, even though times are tough, Gwyneth never stops GOOPing.