Are We Really Mad at Gwyneth Paltrow for Admitting She Starves Herself?

Perhaps a little transparency as to the miserable costs of looking the way women are told we're supposed to look can spark a conversation we need to have.

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Are We Really Mad at Gwyneth Paltrow for Admitting She Starves Herself?
Graphic:Vicky Leta

The same few insidious questions seem to come up over and over again in interviews with thin, conventionally beautiful celebrity women:

“What do you eat in a day?” “What’s your workout routine?” “How do you stay looking so young?”

There was a time in our very recent pop culture history where not many people thought deeply about the unattainability of celebrity beauty standards. Indeed, the unattainability was the point. Some svelte, blonde starlet would brag about how much she loves eating hot dogs and cheeseburgers, or a middle-aged pop star with suspiciously perfect skin would insist her secret is just lots of water and olive oil, and suddenly people would eat hot dogs and smear olive oil on their faces every night, wondering why they still don’t look like Jennifer Lopez.

But things have changed. There’s a deeper awareness about how Western beauty standards are steeped in white supremacy and fatphobia, amongst other things. Appearance-altering shortcuts like FaceTune, Ozempic, and buccal fat removal are now permanent fixtures in our beauty lexicon. And while the cultural obsession with needing to know exactly how celebrities are able to look the way they look hasn’t dissipated, much of that process has been demystified and even democratized. Artists like SZA and Cardi B are admitting to their Brazilian butt lifts; Chelsea Handler attributed her rapid weight loss was to Ozempic; Bella Hadid said she regrets getting a nose job; Courtney Cox opened up about having gone overboard on face fillers. So I was a bit surprised when Gwyneth Paltrow faced such a strong backlash after recently sharing in a viral video that her daily diet basically consists of skipping breakfast, eating bone broth for lunch and then “lots of vegetables” for dinner.

“White Women Will Destroy Your Life,” one Twitter user declared. Jameela Jamil, who herself has been very vocal about struggles with body image and food, made a post on Instagram encouraging people to simply ignore what most celebrities say they eat. “Most of them have some sort of disordered eating,” Jamil wrote. “Not all. But fucking most. Just scroll on and talk to professional nutritionists. Not a bunch of traumatized women who are mocked and scrutinized over their appearance daily.”

On the one hand, I do understand why a celebrity “wellness influencer” like Paltrow admitting that she basically starves herself might be upsetting. For people like myself who already struggle with disordered relationships to food and their bodies, it can be genuinely triggering to see a diet like that framed in an interview as healthy and even aspirational.

And yet, I kind of think Paltrow should say more–not about the specifics of her diet, but about the reality of living under such intense pressure to deprive oneself. As The View co-host Sara Haines, put it, “I’d rather have someone say to me, ‘I starve myself and I eat bone broth to look this way,’ than someone that’s like, ‘Oh my god, I eat anything I want.’ Because to me, that’s what feeds the dysfunction, and I don’t expect Gwyneth Paltrow to be above the dysfunction that most people in this society suffer from.”

Instead, Paltrow quickly backpedaled in response to the backlash and insisted she mostly eats like the rest of us: “By the way,” she insisted in a follow-up Instagram post, “I eat far more than bone broth and vegetables. I eat full meals. And I also have a lot of days of eating whatever I want and eating French fries and whatever.”

Is that helpful or even believable? The truth is, despite any progress we’ve made as a society in terms of cultural awareness and acceptance, the mainstream beauty pendulum has begun to swing back towards thinness, whiteness, and able-bodiedness. And it’s crucial in this moment for highly visible people–particularly those with a traditionally aspirational (read: ultra thin) body type–to be honest about the literal and metaphorical costs of attaining said body type, so we can all confront the fact that our beauty standards necessarily thrive on exclusivity, inequality, and inaccessibility. Of course, having that conversation would require a certain level of nuance and a willingness to delve into uncomfortable questions beyond what a particular celebrity eats in a day to stay thin, and few seem ready to do that.

I think, too, something that isn’t discussed enough is the role that wealth plays in all this, the way access to money has increasingly become entangled with the currency of health and beauty. The eagerness to pay for enhancements, the eagerness to financially opt in to beauty, has created a new standard that dictates that the only way to attain wellness and beauty, indeed the only beauty worth attaining, is the kind one must be able to pay a pretty penny to acquire.

If I had the opportunity to interview Gwyneth Paltrow, instead of asking her about what she eats or her thoughts on dry-brushing, vitamin IV therapy, and “rectal ozone” therapy, I’d want to ask her how she feels about the fact that her 90s movie star image is part of the underpinning of unrealistic standards of beauty that even she must contend with to this day. I’d ask her if she has any interest in dismantling those standards as part of her mission to bring wellness to the masses, even though she has implicitly benefitted from them. I’d ask her if she feels there is any danger, as a public figure who many people look to for beauty/health guidance, in elevating forms of beauty and wellness that require vast amounts of money to obtain. I wouldn’t expect or even want any nice, pat answers–I’d want her to squirm a bit, and I’d want to squirm a bit with her, for us to sit in confronting silence. Maybe if we start asking better questions about what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be well, we can at least start to shift the pendulum in the other direction.

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