“What maketh a lifestyle brand?” Shakespeare never asked, but surely would have, if he were still waxing poetic today. And, after surveying the increasingly crowded landscape that these brands comprise, he’d quickly take note of the common traits amongst the ladies helming these practice-what-I-preach companies: a spread of blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin.
What is it about this subset of women that leads to their shared audacity in placing an uber-particular way of life in front of us and asking us, if not downright telling us, to buy into it? Where does the apparent appeal of such how-to-exist evangelists stem from, exactly? These are questions that become harder to avoid as every few weeks brings the announcement of some new, doe-eyed celebrity capitalizing on their (perhaps fading?) star power via this apex of self-branding.
Martha Stewart was the guiding light of this movement, offering women both the tricks and the tools of the do-it-all trade, and her name remains highly lucrative in today’s market. It’s not hard to imagine that the current conceptions of having it all, as unpacked by leading ladies like Sheryl Sandberg, originated in Stewart’s brain, where women are counted on to run the show that is life in the confines of near—if not total—perfection. Stewart’s name alone evokes images of perfectly pressed shirts, neatly made (and expertly decorated) beds, followed by delicious Alice Waters-inspired meals on the table every night at 6 o’ clock, on the dot. It reeks of the cookie cutter nineteen-fifties female ideal, and yet, is still obviously attractive to many today, as evidenced by both her continued success and the onslaught of Mama Stew copycats.
The most obvious example of this mimicry resides in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kingdom of Goop, in which Martha-worthy concepts are cleansed with green juice, resulting in a fresh strain of ideal femininity that is founded on exercise-as-religion, Zen mantras, and an endless reliance on all things holistic. Blake Lively has followed in these footsteps, too—Lively being a lady of somewhat minimal screen-talent, but supposedly ample baking skills. So far her brand of living, which appears bent on a much less restrictive calorie count than good old Gwynnie’s, has been heavier on talk than action (no how-to books or website just yet). Nevertheless, she’s been seen baking in Vogue videos and featured in editorials that focus solely on her culinary skills, all whilst looking like a slightly chicer strain of Barbie come to life. If Serena Van Der Woodsen’s omelette du jour doesn’t appeal to you, you can look to Cameron Diaz for a less PG outlook on properly tackling womanhood. For her recent, and fairly unexpected, project, The Body Book, she slaps guru onto her acting oeuvre, championing the retirement of razors and the freedom that comes with the resulting wilderness down low. Coupled with this are, of course, pro-tips on how to score the body of a twenty year old, regardless of a woman’s actual age. The message strains to be decidedly feminist (long live pubic hair!), but it’s hard not to feel that, ultimately, it’s just another harbinger of what most of us non-famous females lack.
The most recent iteration of these brands is looking to be a Sweet Home Alabama how-to, as established by the world’s favorite Southern Belle, Reese Witherspoon. Though it has yet to materialize into anything other than a press release, the forecast is one of down-home cooking and manners as commoditized by one more Hollywood-dwelling doyenne.
I have to wonder how many of these self-promoting sages the world really needs? And what we’re really buying into when we indulge in the repeated imagery of the idyllic life as one held strictly by women of a very specific background? It’s vaguely uncomfortable when anybody, regardless of their skin tone or tax bracket, profits off of the idea that their shit, essentially, stinks less than everyone else’s. So it’s even more discomfiting that, in the world of women, one very exclusive type is still privileged above the rest, so much so that influence itself appears more directly connected to a blonde-to-blue ratio than to having anything really profound or original to contribute to our culture.