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Gwyneth Paltrow 'most beautiful' : A bad message for girls

April 25, 2013

It pained me to read that Gwyneth Paltrow was named People magazine’s “Most Beautiful Woman in the World.”

Great for her. But horrible for girls.

Paltrow is very blond, very tall and very thin. She is a talented actress, looks fabulous in clothes and has terrific taste. It’s her job to look good and at that she excels.

But what is the message to girls? The Barbie ideal, with a slightly smaller cup size, lives on.

From what I gather reading Paltrow’s website GOOP and the effusively snarky comments that it generates, she devotes an inordinate amount of time to maintaining her physique, her hair and to monitoring what she eats. Which never includes meat or gluten, just FYI.

On GOOP, and in her new cookbook, “You Will Never Look Like Me” -- No! I’m kidding. It’s called “It’s All Good” -- she pushes the aspirational fiction that if you eat what she eats and buy what she buys, you can have what she has.

Well, what she has are culturally celebrated genetics, fame, money and a rock star husband. So, no, you can’t have what she has. Sorry.

I certainly don’t blame Paltrow for the pernicious effect her People designation will have. Hollywood is the world’s most unforgiving place for a woman, so for a mother of two on the cusp of middle age, good for her to get the ego boost.

The magazine, in its quest for buzz, is doing a disservice to girls.

This was confirmed for me in a roundabout way on Wednesday, when I met with Kjerstin Gruys, a 30-year-old UCLA doctoral candidate in sociology and author of the new book, “Mirror Mirror Off the Wall.”

In an effort to explore issues about self-image and beauty obsession, Gruys decided in 2011 to stop looking into mirrors for a year. She blogged about the experiment, and her blog became the basis for her book. In that 12-month stretch, she also got married, all the while refusing to look at her reflection.

I wondered what she thought about Paltrow being named the most beautiful woman in the world, and was surprised when the question made her uncomfortable.

I knew that Gruys had an eating disorder when she was in high school, but I didn’t know that for more than a decade, Paltrow was her “thinspo” celebrity (for “thinspiration”), a term used in the world of eating disorders to describe the object of a girl’s obsession with thinness.

Later that evening on her blog, Gruys elaborated:

“There are hundreds of female celebrities who are very thin and stereotypically ‘beautiful,’ but Gwynie was the one I became attached to, almost 15 years ago,” Gruys wrote. “She was 25 and earning an Oscar; I was 15 and developing an eating disorder. We were both pale-skinned natural blondes with thick straightish hair. Sure, she had blue eyes and mine were brown, but I still imagined that she was the gracefully thin girl living inside of my unruly and not-thin-enough body, just waiting to come out….

“So I saw her every chance that I could. I tore out magazine photographs of her and pasted them into my journals. I watched all of her movies…. At first it could have been any teenage girl’s celebrity worship, but when I started restricting food -- during the same year as ‘Shakespeare in Love’ -- my worship of Gwyneth’s graceful physical perfection helped me get sicker, and helped me stay sick.”

I’m sure it’s unpleasant for any celebrity to hear stories like this. After all, Paltrow is doing her best to be a role model, however entitled. And she is not the only woman on People’s list. Even septuagenarian Jane Fonda made the cut, proving that beauty and age can coexist.

So beauty may come in all ages, but despite what we tell our girls ad nauseam, it doesn’t come in all sizes. The women chosen by People to represent the most beautiful in the world are black, white, young and old, but they all share one thing in common: They all look like they need a heaping plate of macaroni and cheese, with a big old order of fries on the side.

More from Robin Abcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com | Twitter: @robinabcarian

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