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A Few Words in Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow

A Few Words in Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow

I admire Gwyneth Paltrow. 

I know there are corners of the Internet where I could be taken out back and shot for that admission, but there it is. You could credit my affinity for GOOP to irony or good old fashioned contrarianism, but it’s much more sincere than that, really. 

The latest ill-fated Gwyneth folly is her participation in the SNAP Challenge, which encourages “ordinary” people of moderate to Karen Walker privilege to feed themselves for a week using the funds a person on government assistance might receive. After tweeting a photo of her $29 haul, the Internet erupted in outrage. She bought seven limes. Whither the limes?

“WHY ALL THE THE LIMES, GWYNETH?” demanded Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon. “Her grocery bag might make sense for an actress doing a cleanse, but most women with a physical body with beating hearts would be gnawing their arms off by the second day. One sweet potato? Really? And how expensive were these items that she got so little bang for her buck? It’s called Trader Joe’s, Gwyneth. They have them in LA.”

Yeah, be a better poor person, Gwyneth! Like the poor people who shop at Trader Joe’s. 

Nevermind that the purpose of the SNAP Challenge is to show that with $29 a week, most people wouldn’t have any idea where to start. Being out-of-touch demonstrates the goal of this collective activity. (Spoiler alert: We’re not supposed to crack the code to subsist on a preposterously small amount of money, because no one comfortably can. The limit does not exist.)

Writing that Gwyneth is wrong indicates that there’s a right way to live on $4 a day. Declaring “I could do it,” or “I could do it better than Gwyneth” sidesteps the struggle of low-income Americans—as if any reasonable person could figure destitution out. All of us but Gwyneth are possessed of a poverty compass that enables us to negotiate life below the line. 

Have any other celebrities taken the SNAP Challenge? I don’t know, because I’ve been too busy scanning headlines about Gwyneth Paltrow. Her audacity to do something positive with her platform has alerted more people to the cause than whatever nonprofit Twitter handle is promoting it. But she’s doing it wrong. 

Here’s where I feebly submit that I could probably stretch Gwyneth’s shopping cart over seven days, if pressed to do so. I would probably be hungry (and how dare I allow myself to get hungry during a hunger challenge?) but her selections aren’t ridiculous. Most of the major nutrient groups accounted for, minus unprepared meats, which are often priced out of affordability for people in poverty. 

I want to do the “cleanse” where I get to eat scrambled eggs and flour tortillas and rice and beans and cilantro and scallions and sweet potato. Is that the breakfast burrito cleanse? I am totally amenable to a breakfast burrito cleanse. 

So back to my admiration for Gwyneth. It’s so easy to resent her. It is the default setting for opinions about Gwyneth Paltrow: the Internet Explorer of opinions. It’s so automatic that people do it without considering an alternative. They read quotes ripped from their context, fixate on interview moments designed to reinforce her remoteness. Why would anyone ask Gwyneth if she feels “close to the common woman?” And how does one answer that question with any more grace than she did?

When Gwyneth appeared on Howard Stern, some of my friends expressed surprise at how warm and candid and down-to-earth she seemed, which is nothing new. I’d advise you to watch this lengthy walk-and-talk with Alan Cumming for more evidence. 

If Buzzfeed made a list of the 50 most terrible things Hayden Wright has ever said, it would be ugly and humbling and joyless. And it wouldn’t really say much about my life, character, values, or the better angels of my nature. If that’s not true of you, then I suppose you have every right to lambaste Gwyneth for her litany of gaffes. And also, congratulations. 

I, for one, am grateful GOOP introduced “I would rather smoke crack than…” into the vernacular. It comes in handy all the time. Almost as handy as her recipes for cheddar bread pudding, crab-filled avocado, and veggie dumplings. 

I can’t hate Gwyneth for buying the things I would buy if I had her bank account, or for talking about them. If $5,000 boots are out of your price range, she’s probably not suggesting them to you, anyway. Don’t flatter yourself by believing that GOOP is written with you in mind. Some of it is universal, some of it is not. We don’t hold any other aspirational fashion or lifestyle brand to the same demands about access and democracy that Gwyneth is subject to. 

I can’t hate her for having ideas about how to live. I have those sometimes, and I don’t feel bad about them. In fact, I’d posit they’re a pretty solid indicator of the self-awareness people say Gwyneth lacks. 

The depersonalization of Gwyneth Paltrow is all the more striking by how little it matters to her. I admire that she keeps doing what she’s doing despite the overwhelming negativity in her direction. By all accounts, she has a full life and a wonderful family and exquisite taste and long legs and an Oscar, so what difference does it make if she’s misunderstood?

Gwyneth will keep on living her best life whether you approve of it or not. 

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