One story caught my attention this past week in the land of celebrity gossip. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine (published March 17), Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she suffered a miscarriage during her third pregnancy. She said: “I had a really bad experience when I was pregnant with my third. It didn’t work out and I nearly died.” She goes on to describe the void she feels in her life because of the absence of a third child.
I was instantly struck by the frankness of Paltrow’s revelation. A miscarriage is a profoundly sad event for anyone to experience and it is a profoundly personal event for a celebrity to share. Although about 1/4 of all pregnancies result in a miscarriage, few celebrities are forthcoming about having had a miscarriage. This fact alone makes Paltrow’s revelation noteworthy; her candor will certainly help other women dealing with their own grief.
But we should immediately question why a celebrity shares revealing personal information. Celebrities might lead public lives and want us to respect their privacy but they also depend on us – the fans and consumers – to buy their products. Thus when a celebrity is promoting their latest movie, album, book, or product, privacy becomes a relative term. So why did Gwyneth Paltrow choose to discuss this personal experience that happened several years ago? The (somewhat cynical) answer is that Paltrow is currently promoting her latest cookbook, It’s All Good and she is attempting to rebrand her public image.
Now it is unfair for me to assert that Paltrow’s sole intention is self-serving. She is hardly the first celebrity to discuss a miscarriage during a promotional circuit. In the last four months both Hugh Jackman and Beyonce discussed the experience of having a miscarriage. When Jackman addressed his wife’s struggles with infertility and their decision to adopt on the December 18 episode of Katie, he was in the middle of promoting Les Miserables. Meanwhile Beyonce confirmed her miscarriage in her recent HBO documentary, “Life Is But A Dream”. But when compared to Jackman and Beyonce, Paltrow’s revelation feels inauthentic. Unlike Jackman and his wife, Paltrow’s story is not framed within the context of surrogacy and adoption after experiencing the grief and trauma of a miscarriage. (Celebrities who adopt and use surrogates are less stigmatized by the public if they are also open about infertility.) Unlike Beyonce, Paltrow does not fiercely protect her privacy by systematically releasing personal photos on her Tumblr page and a behind-the-scenes, self-produced documentary.
Somehow these incidents seem less self-serving than Paltrow’s revelation. This is because the celebrity involved is Gwyneth Paltrow and Gwyneth Paltrow has a carefully crafted public image. She has spent the last five years selling a specific brand: herself. Her newsletter, Goop promotes the best ways to lead life, if you can afford a privileged lifestyle. As a result, Paltrow and Goop are constantly mocked for being over-the-top.
Interestingly enough, It’s All Good has its own constructed backstory, just like its author. The story goes that two years ago, Paltrow realized her need for perfection was making her sick and that she needed to relax. This cookbook is an attempt to capture and reveal the new and improved 40-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s older and wiser now. She relaxes in fields while wearing hats and sporting messy, bleach blonde hair. In simple terms, she is attempting to rehab her public image.
This all goes hand in hand with the central issue issue surrounding Paltrow and her public image. Paltrow is not seen as a likeable star. If Anne Hathaway is the latest member of Hollywood’s most hated female celebrities club, then Paltrow is the founder and president. Whenever she promotes herself via her lifestyle brand, Paltrow is widely criticized. She is known less and less as an actress. With this promotional tour for It’s All Good, Paltrow is attempting to make herself seem more down-to-earth and less over-privileged. Moreover, reminding the public that she is a mother who nearly died trying to have children helps. There is nothing more marketable about a female celebrity than motherhood.
But there is one small issue. Paltrow’s personal revelation has had little traction. The story broke on a Sunday night and in the following week, it was buried under other bigger celebrity gossip stories: Katy Perry and John Mayer broke up again; Lindsay Vonn and Tiger Woods are in lurve and took couple portraits to prove it; Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth are presently either broken up or still together.
Tgus past week two new celebrity lifestyle empires flexed their muscles. The women behind these empires are the Jessicas. Simpson and Alba. Both are young mothers. Both incorporate their children into their companies. Most importantly, both women are perceived as down-to-earth and therefore they have wide appeal. (Certainly wider than Paltrow’s.) As Paltrow was promoting It’s All Good, the Jessicas were also out and about. Simpson, who focuses on fashion, was joined by her Ashlee and baby Maxwell to promote her new clothing line. Meanwhile, Alba promoted her eco-friendly lifestyle company, The Honest Company and her book The Honest Life in the March edition of Women’s Health.
Paltrow’s frankness about her miscarriage, her new cookbook, and the emergence of the Jessicas all touches upon a harsh reality. Nothing Paltrow can do, not even a perfectly timed personal revelation aimed to make her seem more like us, can change the view that Paltrow is an overprivileged, white actress. Furthermore, she might be a successful businesswoman, but Paltrow has lost a certain level credibly to what made her famous in the first place: her acting career. Acting, except for the occasional Marvel movie, has taken a back seat to to her family and Goop. Now younger women with younger children are taking her place. Alba’s The Honest Life, in particular, is being billed as the non-Gwyneth lifestyle guide and the professional gossips have glommed onto to this SEO baity face-off between the two actresses.
I don’t care about the ridiculous gossip narrative/feud between Paltrow and Alba. What I ultimately see is that Gwyneth Paltrow’s career is probably fine but it’s also in a precarious place. How will her rebranding progress from here?