The Year I Became a (Total Fucking) Gwyneth

A year ago today I went on the only Tinder date that I feel like I was genuinely shitty to the date during. I’ve left dates early and exchanged curt words with some fuckers in my day but always felt justified being a shrill harpie when dudes were being taint sweat and I replied with cuntery in kind. But in the middle of drinks at Lavender Lake last year, my phone started buzzing with Twitter notifications that I checked in a state of abject terror when my date went to the bathroom. I knew that an essay I wrote was going live on BuzzFeed Ideas called, “Being Winona in a World Made For Gwyneths,” and I was entertaining worst-case scenarios of public reaction that included being personally confronted by Winona Ryder because my delusions of grandeur don’t take the night off for dates, OK? The essay chronicled a romantic relationship’s end alongside an exploration of what it feels like to identify with underdog archetypes like Winona Ryder:

For girls of my generation who were awkward or a little bit strange, Winona Ryder was both relatable and aspirational. The few recorded interviews she’s done reveal that she is a bottomless well of uncool and discomfort. She stumbles over metaphors and laughs sincerely at bad jokes. She is also a movie star who is unreasonably beautiful, but there was always a sense that she still belonged to the Island of Misfit Toys.

I had written it in the aftermath of a break-up that made me acutely aware of what I perceived to be a desirability based on my novelty rather than my inherent lovability. It turns out, a lot of people felt the same was as the notifications on my phone all indicated approval. Tweets and Facebook posts that kindly and enthusiastically shared the essay scrolled up my screen, first by friends and colleagues who knew it was going up and soon followed by hundreds of strangers.

LOL JK YES I AM.

In a moment of narcissistic glory just moments ago, I did an advanced search on Twitter of the link for the day it came out and the day after to revisit the kindness of these strangers. I’m not going to be gross and embed samples here because I am shameless but I am not fucking gauche. But anyway, they were overwhelmingly complimentary and I felt like I was on drugs. While I’m an admitted attention seeker, it is well-documented that even standard personal social media posts performing well trigger dopamine releases in the brain and many media professionals are observed as and admitted to having outsized emotional reactions to performance metrics so I don’t feel especially bad for being a lil’ high on my own supply. But I do feel bad that I became so distracted by the approval of strangers that I left my phone face up for the remaining fifteen minutes of the date and then made an excuse to leave so I could go home and obsessively refresh the page to see how many views it was getting.The essay was not just about what Winona Ryder represents but what she does not, as epitomized by her former best friend Gwnyeth Paltrow whom I described this way:

She has always represented a collection of tasteful but safe consumer reflexes more than she’s reflected much of a real personality. I imagine that she writes the GOOP newsletter, her laughably out-of-touch dispatch about vegetables and fashion, wearing overpriced clothes in colors like “camel” and scowling at her staff. That is, when she’s not referring to Billy Joel as “William” and seeking nannies that know ancient Greek and play at least two instruments.

I went on in the essay to explain the peculiar triumph of Winona Ryder’s more recent success after a rough decade and I empathized with Gwyneth for having the reputation for cold superiority that she does but the story was firmly in the camp of Team Winona.

I knowwwwww.

The essay’s success resulted in, among other things, the literary agent with whom I was meeting informally extending me an official offer of representation which resulted in me selling a book to Grand Central Publishing this year and being offered many more opportunities to write than I’d ever thought possible. The book includes a version of the essay among the 15 pieces exploring several iconic female celebrities, the way we mythologize them, and what it says about our culture’s relationship to the feminine when we deem them inadequate. I finished writing the first draft of the book manuscript on December 22 and had a really wonderful and affirming call with my editor yesterday during which we spoke at length about what an incredible time we’ve had putting the book together. But after a year of deep diving into celebrity profiles, tabloid headlines, and dark nights with my own fandom, I had to come clean to her about something.

A week ago, I calculated my income for 2015 and determined I could afford to buy a house this year on the same day as getting my roots retouched after going platinum blonde earlier this year. Having more money has meant an upgrade in my wardrobe and a strange interest in phytonutrients. I had been unceremoniously dumped not long before the Winona piece, but last week I went on promising dates with a man who has made a point of telling me that one of the things he’s attracted to in me is having my life together career-wise. I looked in the three-way mirror at the upscale salon and took inventory of these facts alongside the physical evidence. I looked at the expertly blown out blonde hair and a designer handbag and a complexion made dewy by the expensive acids and oils that I now anoint myself with in rituals that could be characterized as pious in their faith in the power of certain plant enzymes. I had become a total. fucking. Gwyneth.

It’s true.

There is no graceful way to admit such a thing, it sounds like you’re calling yourself perfect. Now I don’t mean that I relate to Gwyneth more than Winona now than before or that I shifted my personal and professional lives intentionally to be more like her. I don’t live in a West Village dream home or suddenly come from wealth and I still think macrobiotics and the idea of “conscious uncoupling” are elitist scams. I just mean that I can’t look at the tremendous shifts in my life over the last year and keep viewing myself as an underdog. There is solace in self-mythologizing that you’re chronically but poetically misunderstood like Winona. It is profoundly uncool to admit that you have your shit together but it’s more profoundly obnoxious to keep pretending that you don’t. In addition to all the kind words people had for the essay a year before, another thematic thread was people saying what unequivocal Winonas they were. As much as everyone assumes Gwyneth’s life is perfect, they are more reluctant to admit they crave anything she has or desire to develop any of the ways of being she inhabits. Among creative types, admitting any admiration for a Gwyneth type is like rooting for the house in poker.

The combination of more deeply felt empathy for women celebrities developed over the course of writing the book and the fact that I now hilariously share a publisher with Gwyneth now give me pause when I look at the original essay. Being over the relationship that prompted the story and realizing that I don’t have to flatten the second and third dimensions of another personality type to be a champion of my own also helped. I looked back at what I wrote about Gwyneth and am guilty of my own observation:

Because that thing about Gwyneth Paltrow that James couldn’t articulate is that there’s not really anything about her. Or at least there’s not anything about her public image that is especially unique or controversial. She’s a safe canvas onto which others can project their own desires…Such forms of protected and limited self-projection are calculated and intentional. And that seems like its own kind of solitude.

There are elements of Gwyneth’s public image that I willfully ignored in order to elevate a conflict between women that doesn’t need to exist. For example, she is pretty funny and self-aware:

She is lifelong friends since childhood with Maya Rudolph who doesn’t seem like the type to endure much fuckery:

She also played Margot Tenenbaum, the world’s actual coolest girl:

And finally, what the fuck did Gwyneth Paltrow ever do to me?

Fair.

I don’t hold out hope for a reunion between the one-time best friends and I’m not losing any sleep over how I talked about either of these women. And instead of ending on how these broads are both flawed and vulnerable in their own special ways, I’m ending on how it is cool that they’re both ultra-hot and interesting enough to talk about and how together they banged at least 85% of the A-list members of my sexual awakening and are probably now excellent at talking shit about them really well. Gwyno Forever.

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