The XX Factor

How the New Vogue Profile Makes Gwyneth Paltrow More Sympathetic

A truncated version of the Gwyneth Paltrow profile that will appear in the new issue of Vogue hit the Internet Friday, which meant that it was time for another chorus of that recurring media ditty, We Hate Gwyneth .” Indeed, I have joined this chorus before. There are many celebrities who provoke such violent reactions, but I believe the Gwyneth we see in profiles and on magazine covers is so deeply disliked because she sits at the intersection of populist rage and the outsize expectations placed on working parents.

An old Vogue profile of Paltrow from 2008 called ” Gwyneth’s Guide to Life ” is a great example of why she’s got so many detractors. Writer Plum Sykes quotes Gwyneth as saying, “I keep everything very simple. I think the thing that drives most working mothers crazy is this idea that they can’t do everything: ‘I don’t know what to wear. I don’t know what to cook. I can’t work and do this and that and the other.’ But I find that as long as you’re not depressed, if you simplify everything, you can do anything.” The notion that Gwyneth has anything in common with the vast, vast majority of working mothers is absurd and infuriating; implying that she can understand the decisions that they must make is demented. It’s easy for one to “simplify everything” when one has a legion of assistants.

In a post about the new Vogue profile by food writer Jeffery Steingarten, Gawker’s Richard Lawson explains, “Gwyneth Paltrow is the product of a joint partnership between Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and Ina Garten to make us all jealous and want to buy their wealthy white folks summery breezy lifestyle products.” And this is why Steingarten’s profile makes Gwyneth more sympathetic: Because it does not pretend that she is just like us, the average working Jane just trying to put dinner on the table for her family. As Mediaite’s Glynnis MacNicol observes , Steingarten “is not a celebrity feature writer meaning Vogue readers could possibly be in for an celebrity article that had not been varnished to nauseating perfection by PR hacks.” So he includes details about Gwyneth’s several outdoor pizza ovens and her enormous backyard in London, which is actually three yards combined. He mentions her 10-hour chicken, which no regular person has time to make.

Steingarten also talks about Gwyneth’s coldness when he tries to ask her uncomfortable questions, and instead of thinking “Jeez, what a snooty jerk,” as I often do when I read about Paltrow, I felt bad for her. She had invited Steingarten into her home to talk about her new cookbook that she wrote in the aftermath of her father’s death, and here he is, asking about what body part she most dislikes. Because he was more honest about the space that Paltrow occupies in the culture, instead of pretending that she’s just a slightly more glamorous everywoman, as a reader I was more apt to remember that there is a human being underneath the media portrayal.