Sitting poolside at a stately home in the English countryside is probably not the best place to write this post. The sun is glowing across the grounds, I’ve got a gin and tonic, I’m fresh from a flower bouquet workshop, and I’m doing an excellent job pretending I don’t ever have to go back to work.
So, scratch that – it’s EXACTLY the right place.
I am in this stunning, landed-gentry-sort of scenario to celebrate one of my best friend’s weddings. She has impeccable taste and an international love story, one that brought her Canadian fiance’s family from Toronto and her own family from far-distant Perth, to the glorious compromise of Ardington House in Oxfordshire. I lucked out because I’m the only one that’s a train ride away from this summer countryside perfection – even Kelly and Scott had to fly in from Vancouver, where they met and live. Viewed selfishly, all those pieces together have given me the opportunity to spend four days knocking out a definite line of my bucket list. This is the kind of luxury that I’ll only get to experience a handful of times in my life, and watching other people get to live this life on the regular – which, in a more organic, fair trade, slime of snails on your face and catered couture raw food sort of way – is exactly what Gwyneth Paltrow has turned into a multi-million dollar brand. And that’s exactly why I love and hate her.
When I moved to London, I pulled a tourist move and picked a flat on the edge of Notting Hill. It was within walking distance of several old London stand-bys: ten minutes to Hyde Park, fifteen to Kensington Palace or Portobello Road depending on the direction you were heading, and five from two different Zone 2 tube stations that could take you essentially anywhere else in the city your heart desired. About four months into my stay in this particular neighborhood, Gwyneth opened her first UK shopfront, a cosy three floor shop in a terraced building a ten minute walk down Westbourne Grove. In the most embarrassing way, something about this THRILLED me.
Maybe it’s because I was born in enviable proximity to several film-worthy locations myself (Orange County for life), or because I grew up in one of the most celebrity-saturated moments of modern culture – I don’t know why, but I am one of many that’s fascinated by peaking into the reality of famous people. In equal measure because of both Shakespeare in Love and Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow was a pale, willowy particular point at the start of that fascination. (It also didn’t hurt that Chris Martin wrote Fix You for her. She’s CLEARLY amazing.)
Years on, being so close to a place that GP most assuredly has spent some time (I told myself, at least), was more exciting than I was willing to admit. I started parking myself at the bougie, farm-fed-organics grocery three doors down from the shop, writing at the tiny coffee bar seats they provided while I sipped a £4 mint tea and watched young mothers roll by with strollers that legitimately cost three times my monthly rent. I breathed in that West London air and envisioned myself blending right in.
I would, for lots of self-inflicted reasons, never truly blend into that West London, GOOP environment, and I’m a neat six-figure salary away from ever being able to purchase even one item from any rec list Gwyneth puts together. I don’t even like or want to live that clean granola lifestyle she exhibits, and really, she is SUPER ANNOYING. But why, then, do I still like her so much, with borderline reverence? She embodies so much of what’s irritating in the world, a level of inaccessibility and privilege that, 100% of the time, is downright staggering. That’s not even to touch on the nepotism factor, either. If she was even slightly more self-made, I’d bear her sufferance with a little more grace. But the older she gets, the more I see Blythe Danner every time she smiles, and I’m reminded far more now than when she was accepting her Oscar in 1999 that she had the luck of her birth on her side, and most of the world is not so lucky.
That lifestyle, though! Those retreats and cotton bathrobes and slick skincare routines, the girl trips to the Maldives and the ability (and audacity to encourage us) to maintain her own multi-million-dollar London home while her husband does the same. When it should be excruciating, her ability to talk about these things like the only barrier between us and them is a lifestyle choice, makes it incongruously appealing. It creates an illusion of accessibility that is just not true. What I have had to come to terms with – and I’m trying to push back against it – is that clearly, this is a flavor of Kool Aid I enjoy sipping on. From my own distant lifestyle, where even the smallest purchase from a GOOP shop would require advance savings spread across three paychecks, I have to admit I do enjoy it.
…I must, right? Otherwise the habit would have died off long ago. Even though I know it’s not the most healthy dichotomy, this digestible sort of masochism is so widely accepted and encouraged by social media that I just don’t even try to fight it anymore. It’s how we can hate influencers but follow them, enabling their entire lifestyle and berating their existence in the same breath. Where it matters, I’ve decided, is where you draw the line. Sure, it’s not the most healthy dichotomy – but is it the least healthy? Not really. I’m not actually even spending any money on the ridiculous products this woman saintly touts, so the only measurable loss is my own energy, which doubtlessly could be better spent elsewhere. But it’s a relative “better spent”.
My strange love/hate of GP isn’t hurting anyone, and when I take a deeper look at it, I find it’s just reflective of my greater desire to be more effortlessly luxurious. Or, at least, to have the ability to exude such an aesthetic. Because the truth is, I’m sure she’s trying. I am DEF-initely trying. We all are, and that’s why we follow and revere these people that seem like they aren’t. The real dream is not having to try, and that’s a helluva lot easier to achieve with lots of money.
Instead of actively trying to emulate her lifestyle, instead of ever even considering attempting channeling my inner Gwyneth, my aim is to have my own version. Everyone should have their own GOOP, the sense of self-assurance that people in her position resonate with from birth. Just because yours doesn’t come with that five star lifestyle and a shop with an average transaction value of $700 doesn’t make it any less valuable. It’s just a different (and probably better) aesthetic.
That’s what I tell myself anyway, sitting in my absolute temporary luxury, because cutting Viola de Lesseps and Fix You out of my life is an unattractive prospect. After all, on the one hand, I’ve literally got a tattoo of a quote from Shakespeare in Love. It hardly makes sense if with the other I’m giving its Oscar-winning actress the finger.