Gwyneth, Ivanka, and the End of the Effortless White Woman
Women are increasingly rejecting the idea that they can follow their bliss into having it all
I used to have an image of the woman I wanted to be. It was one perfect, still moment in time: I would be out on a deck (I would have enough money for a deck — also, presumably, a house to attach it to) in the early morning (I would get up early), drinking green tea (coffee being too harsh for my by-then serene personality).
This got very detailed. I’d be wearing yoga clothes — I would do yoga — and my hair would be messy yet perfectly untangled and gleaming. I was not wearing makeup, signifying that I was confident and low-maintenance, but I also had clear and glowing skin, the (high) maintenance of which I paid for with the same money I’d used to build the deck. I don’t know where I got the money. This imaginary me seems much too relaxed to have a job. I do know that she meditates, which must be a nice way to fill all the time she spends not working.
This image seems to have just popped into my head, inexplicably. But deep in my grease-encrusted, black-coffee-pounding heart, I know its origin. It floated into my mind in the late 2000s, along with a recommendation for hibiscus-infused salts, and never floated back out. The woman in my fantasy isn’t me. She’s Gwyneth Paltrow.
Paltrow and her lifestyle brand, Goop, were the subject of a recent, excellent New York Times profile by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. You can’t understand Paltrow without understanding Goop, in part because it started as her personal list of product recommendations. This makes Paltrow a very smart businesswoman, whatever else she might be. Goop’s premise is now the basis of countless Top Shelves. But it also means that Paltrow has spent the past decade marketing herself as the ideal to which other women ought to aspire. Paltrow’s business, Brodesser-Akner writes, “depended on no one ever being able to be her. Though I guess it also depended on their ability to think they might.”
In fact, the ideal that Paltrow is marketing isn’t a new one, nor is it specific to her. She’s selling a feminine ideal that has been part of women’s media ever since second-wave feminism made it taboo to publish articles about…