On the occasion of recently turning 49, a question raises its head; a question that instead of its recurring presence has interestingly still remained quite elusive over the years: Who is Gwyneth Paltrow?
Gwyneth Paltrow has amazed and captivated us through her several performances on the silver screen. Be it the tragic innocence and fragile beauty of Tracy Mills in the 1995 film Seven, or her poignant portrayal of Emily Bradford Taylor in A Perfect Murder, or her character of Violet in Shakespeare in Love where she animated a kind of passion on screen that can perhaps only be thought of in dreams. Paltrow has appeared on several productions and even in a behemoth of a franchise like the MCU and has yet somehow never failed to make her presence felt. She has also added a long list of awards to her name including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, two Screen Actor Guilds and a Primetime Emmy Award.
But are these big names what define Gwyneth Paltrow? Can she be put in a compartment marked “Actor” only? The truth is that Paltrow was never just an actor even when that was her actual profession.
Even when she was right in the middle of film productions she would strike up conversations with the crew about the best local things. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner mentions in her New York Times ; her stint in Italy for The Talented Mr. Ripley brought up questions about the best gelato. Thus, Paltrow was hardly ever uni-dimensional. The seeds of her now multi-million dollar business GOOP was already in the ideation stages right from her acting days.
Interestingly, the name has its origins in an idea that she came across that every successful company has a double “O” in its name. So borrowing from her own initials what we get is a quirky, unique but not in the least simple idea.
Paltrow started GOOP as a newsletter from her kitchen in 2008 with some recipes of Turkey ragu and Banana nut muffins. But today GOOP encompasses fashion, nutrition, health and that highly popular almost frenzy attracting term-“wellness”. From 2009-2013, GOOP really spread its wings. The idea of wellness perhaps started gathering speed when GP (as Paltrow is known to her employees) created the first GOOP detox in 2009.
Demi Moore once said about Paltrow, “In all that seems so perfect, part of her beauty is that she lets you see what’s imperfect.” Paltrow revealed her postpartum depression with a note from a psychologist in 2010, in GOOP. She has never really denied her privilege but she also puts in the work that helps her maintain that status.
Paltrow personifies wellness that GOOP sells. From attending movie premieres with cupping marks on her back, to selling an idea dressed as thousand dollar merchandise, Paltrow somewhere became the cool girl who had managed to monetize wellness. She can never just be an actor or even a conventional celebrity. The idea itself comes with its automatic disjunction – between “what can be” and “what really is”. But Paltrow’s GOOP seems to challenge it. It is almost like she is saying that the ideal is not unachievable anymore. It is true that not everyone can achieve it, but that does not mean that everyone cannot want it.
She was starring in a movie called Proof when she was pregnant with her daughter Apple. It was after the birth of her daughter that she decided to take a huge chunk of time off. When asked about going back to acting she now says that she can literally never because although she liked it, it just burned her out very much.
It was in 2014, that Paltrow and her then-husband Chris Martin famously “consciously uncoupled”. According to her there was no need to draw the finish line there, “ We have the best of each other. It’s really nice. It makes you feel like you don’t have to lose.”
That is perhaps what Gwyneth Paltrow means for the world: aspiration. She just turned 49 and yet she refuses to age and become one of the past. On paper, she is a rich white lady embodying every kind of privilege. It is perhaps not the absence of privilege that makes Paltrow popular, rather because of it. The higher on a pedestal she sits, the more aspirational she seems. After all, she is making beautiful things with beautiful ingredients that cannot possibly be mass-produced!
In 2018, GP and GOOP launched their first podcast with a very special inaugural guest, Oprah.
The philosophy is quirky at best and incredulous at worst. GOOP even faced its fair share of fury in the form of a 145000$ settlement regarding the controversial healing properties of jade eggs. It is not the hatred or the criticism that is spewed at her but the fact that she rises in spite of it. Whether it is the business acumen of the GOOPERS that can perfectly capitalise on the readers' aspirations or Paltrow’s enigmatic dualism, we will never know; but GP is here to stay. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner very aptly says, “ GOOP was a cause and GP was its martyr.”
In 2020, The GOOP Lab was launched on Netflix. It further cashes in on the atrocity value and the curiosity around the macrocosm of wellness alongside.
Gwyneth Paltrow is spearheading the ideal campaign; the aspirational one, irrespective of the mixed emotions or criticisms.
In her own words, “ Here I am. Okay. So what?”