I’m in Los Angeles at the moment, where Californian wildfires are raging with such intensity that a short trip down the freeway has started to resemble the opening sequence of a disaster movie. Residents are being evacuated, beloved pets are being put into shelters and firefighters are working day and night.
But, as always in this topsy-turvy town, some people have more pressing things on their minds – namely, losing 14lb in four weeks.
Step forward, Gwyneth Paltrow. For the uninitiated among you, Paltrow is the founder of Goop, a lifestyle website that evangelises about healthy eating, organic skincare brands and sells 18-carat gold “pinky rings” for $US1295. It’s the kind of website that talks relentlessly about things “having a moment”, and advocates whipping up a quick cauliflower black bean bowl with kale guacamole for a “virtuous lunch”. You get the idea.
Anyway, last week Goop ran an interview with Paltrow’s personal trainer, a petite blonde woman called Tracy Anderson whose abdominal muscles are so defined, they deserve their own dictionary entry.
Anderson was ostensibly promoting her new “Ultimate Clear” 100 per cent organic protein bars, but also found the time to advocate an extreme diet for anyone who needs “to shift weight fast”.
She then proceeded to outline a diet plan that consisted of such mouthwatering delicacies as “tea with protein powder” and “a poached egg and small salad with rice wine vinegar for lunch” and absolutely no carbohydrates at all, if you could possibly help it. Oh, and at least a solid hour of dance/cardio workout a day.
The diet was roundly derided by a Harley Street nutritionist, who called it “extremely damaging”. Quite apart from the health risks, it also just sounds exhausting. Who has time to make their own “bone broth”? (Also, isn’t bone broth simply a trendy name for what we used to call “stock”?)
But this sort of fame-endorsed diet plan is indicative of a pervasive wider trend, whereby “ordinary” women are relentlessly measuring themselves against film stars, supermodels and celebrities.
We live in an era of constant comparison, where our relationship with these dazzling creatures is more direct than ever before. In the 1950s, movie stars were packaged by the studio system in order to create an aura of unobtainable mystique. Now we can follow Paltrow on Instagram and watch her apply under-eye concealer before the school run.
That has its benefits, but it also means we are more likely to see these other-worldly glamazons as “just like us”. The less removed they seem, the more the rest of us believe their lifestyles are within our grasp.
If they can do it, the subconscious reasoning goes, then we should, too. And so, we start putting pressure on ourselves to be like them. We buy their cookbooks. We wear their clothing lines. We order their make-up ranges.
Our aspiration is mixed in with envy, so that we begin to believe that eating no-gluten, carb-free food or doing hardcore cardio workouts or substituting protein powder for milk in tea will make us better, happier, more fulfilled and beautiful people.
But, let’s be honest, most of us are struggling to find the time to wash the cereal bowls in the morning, let alone to squeeze in a two-hour session on a Reformer Pilates machine in the latest Stella McCartney for Adidas athleisurewear.
As it happens, I was once commissioned to write a piece about what it was like to live as Gwyneth Paltrow for a week (listen, it was serious investigative journalism). For seven days, I hared across LA going to “sound bath” appointments, getting microdermabrasion laser peels and having my vagina steamed.
That is not a euphemism. I actually sat on top of a commode and had Korean herbal unguents steamed into my nether regions because it was meant to be good for hormonal balance. I even went to a two-and-a-half-hour Tracy Anderson masterclass, taken by the lady herself, which was a veritable miasma of sweat, ankle weights and teeny-tiny women in crop-tops.
My key finding? It was a colossal ballache being Gwyneth – a full-time career in its own right. The day-to-day maintenance is all-consuming. But, of course, Gwyneth can spend her weeks doing this because she’s wealthy and can pay other people to carry out menial tasks for her, and also has a career that does not require a 9-to-5 desk presence.
Besides, it’s actually part of her job to look as good as she can on screen. She is professionally obliged to keep in shape, just as Victoria’s Secret lingerie models are paid to look phenomenal in bras and pants.
There’s no point in comparing ourselves to these women, no matter how relatable they might try to seem. Their relatability is also part of their act, and most of their Instagram pictures are curated by their “social media managers”.
Isn’t it better just to let these wealthy celebrities live their demented existence without feeling we have to copy them?
Instead, let’s think how lucky we are not to have jobs that require us to drink bone broth and lose six kilograms in a month. Let’s celebrate how different we are, rather than rushing to be the same as someone who steams her own vagina.