‘Forgive me if this comes out wrong,” said Gwyneth Paltrow in an extensive interview in The Wall Street Journal last week, “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?’
“And literally I turned to my friend and I was like, ‘You have this job because I’ve done yoga before’.”
Gwyneth, it did come out wrong.
Or, at least, it is heard in a way that is contrary to Gwyneth’s intention – unless her intention is to sound laughably arrogant.
The internet went wild with guffawing that Gwyneth thinks she invented yoga, and you have to question what she was thinking. Possibly, however, given how she prefaces her encounter with the young one at the yoga class, Gwyneth seems to recognise a degree of cockiness on her part. And if she does, then, clearly she doesn’t care.
The means, perhaps, justify the end for Gywneth. So she gets slated a little for imagining she created yoga, but as a side effect, her name is bound even more closely with the centuries-old practice. Which can only help the brand of Gwyneth, and that’s good.
The slings and arrows are part and parcel of being Gwyneth, a woman who treads a very fine line between boosting the confidence of the sisterhood and simply boasting. And often tripping far, far over into the latter.
The boasting, however, and the slagging she gets for the boasting, doesn’t seem to affect her overall popularity.
Her lifestyle website Goop is now a major money-spinner, and her full-time job, with acting now a sidebar. The site sells not only Gwyneth’s gorgeous lifestyle as something to aspire to, but has tie-ins with brands, its own lines of beauty products and clothes. There are actual Goop shops across the US and also in London, with pop-up shops here and there, often with gorgeous events to add a bit of desirability. It’s making her a fortune, this woman who grew up rich, who became richer through a successful movie career and is blessed with the gift of good looks that remain a commodity.
According to her interview in The Wall Street Journal last week, what Gwyneth is making a fortune from is the ‘art’ of seeming to lay bare the loves of her life and subtly, gracefully selling the idea that if you buy the stuff of her life, you’ll be a little more like her.
And it’s working – despite the fact that most people claim to find her annoying and off-putting.
According to her interview in Wall Street Journal, what Goop practises is “contextual commerce”. You put a lot of content around a commercial activity – which is to say you have photos and a story about Gwyneth’s summer in The Hamptons, and then you sell greige coloured accessories (it’s a mix of grey and beige), sarongs (as seen on her hen weekend last summer), candles and clean sunscreen.
“We sort of made it up,” Gwyneth said. “It’s the why of why you’re buying something.”
And just in case you haven’t got it yet, Gwyneth is the why.
Of course, this has been the commerce in which Gwyneth has operated throughout her career. The film business is just another version of this. Film stars are the why of most films. Even the best film is unlikely to make it without a name attached. Gwyneth grew up in that business, with her actress mother and film producer father and as an actress, she saw how one’s stock would rise and fall. She played the game and got her Oscars, not just on the strength of her talent but by being shrewd – but Gwyneth is no daw and she knows only too well what Hollywood does to women as they age.
In last week’s interview, she talked about how lucky she was to have been at the height of her film-star career in a time before social media and always-on media.
She mentions a conversation with Cameron Diaz about how relatively innocent the paparazzi were in their day – and it makes you realise that Diaz, who is also in her mid-40s now, has disappeared without trace.
The last big news of her was earlier this year, when her actor friend Selma Blair said that Diaz had retired from acting. Diaz denied it, but given her lack of work before or since, it rings true. It’s possible that Cameron Diaz is quiet because she wants to be – but the contrast between her trajectory and Gwyneth’s should make us admire the latter’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Hollywood spits out women when their youth fades. On Goop, she remains a figure of admiration, of envy, even. And the fact of her being in her 40s is a major selling point.
“[On Goop] we’re going to write about s**t that people haven’t heard of,” Gwyneth said last week. “It’s often women’s sexual health that is most triggering.”
It is for this, perhaps, that we should not slate Gwyneth. She is really good on women in the middle of their lives who are no longer young, but not yet ready to be old. Her site doggedly refuses to talk about sex in a “not now dear, I have a headache” style that is so prevalent when discussing women approaching menopause.
The Goop content is determinedly about reinventing, reimagining, embracing the sense of freedom that comes with age and the passing of self-conscious youth.
Of course, all of this is informed and infused with Gwyneth’s honeymoon-period first flush of love with her second husband, Brad Falchuk, whom she married only this summer. When she recently offered a shopping list for a dirty weekend away, of course you imagined that Gwyneth and Brad were bringing the whole basket with them – the vegan lubricant, the very expensive sex toy, the works.
And that’s where Gwyneth tips over into being too much. As if she just can’t help herself. Her “conscious uncoupling” from first husband, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, won her ridicule instead of sympathy, purely because that very phrase came across as so smug. She now acknowledges that her framing of the separation suggested that if you didn’t do it her way, you were doing it wrong, but there’s a greater, I’m-better-than-you tendency that scuppers a lot of Gwyneth’s efforts.
She sometimes knows how to claw it all back to reality, though. For example, last week, while explaining how she invented yoga, Gwyneth also explained that she and her new husband don’t live together yet.
He has teenage children, as does she, and her current situation with Chris Martin is that when she’s not at her main LA home, he moves in and takes over with Apple (14) and Moses (12).
Of course all of this is easier when you’re loaded and have a huge mansion where the ex has his own room – but come on, cut the woman some slack.
Further, she’s one of the few women talking openly about heading towards menopause and trying not to be terrified of it and that has to be welcomed. The image that menopause calls to most minds is not the sleek and stylish and glorying in her body and sex life that is Gwyneth. Really, we should forgive her everything if she can style up the menopause.
It would be easier for everyone to do that if she didn’t have the habit of saying and doing things that “sound wrong”, however.
We get that it’s gorgeous being Gwyneth and, as Goop’s success shows, we want in on it to some extent, but does she really have to gloat?
Apparently not – because much as the internet is laughing its head off right now at Gwyneth’s invention of yoga and her contextual commerce, it’s she who’s laughing all the way to the bank.
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