Could Gwyneth Paltrow's 'Conscious Uncoupling' Change Her Public Image?

As much as people love Gwyneth Paltrow, she also has plenty of haters. So, while the Twitter jokes begin to die down, it's somewhat surprising to observe a new sympathy grow for Paltrow after her "conscious uncoupling" from husband Chris Martin.

For Paltrow, who built a polarizing empire based on informing women how to live (by way of a perfect marriage, gluten-free children, and duck-egg-omelet family brunches) peppered with cloying humblebrags such as, “I’ve always been told I have good skin” and “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year,” her impending divorce may actually improve her public image.

In the real world, divorce can be stigmatizing for women both personally and professionally. Within the generally sexist confines of dating conventions, a divorced man is regarded as a mature catch, having proven his ability to commit (thus becoming the ideal dinner party guest); a woman, especially a mother, with a failed marriage is often viewed as damaged goods with kiddie baggage. And if these women remain single, they can be subtly discriminated against at work. Studies show they experience less flexibility on the job (working longer hours and even taking home less pay) than their married counterparts.

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In Hollywood, the rules are different. Despite the fact that married female celebrities often exude have-it-all lifestyles (hot husbands, beautifully dressed children, thriving careers), when their marriages end, their work and personal lives continue to ignite curiosity. Newly single celebs become fodder for the media to churn out new storylines (Did she have an extramarital affair? Who will she date next?), and their all-around likeability can skyrocket, especially if their husbands were controversial. Take Katie Holmes: After her 2012 divorce from Tom Cruise, she went from being pummeled in the press as "brainwashed" and a "zombie,” and criticized someone who chose poorly received films  (“Mad Money” and “The Romantics”) to being known as a single mom superhero, fashion designer, and Broadway star. Then, there's Jennifer Aniston. After her highly-publicized 2005 split from Brad Pitt, she solidified her "America's sweetheart" status as every woman's fantasy BFF and a box-office queen, earning fourth place on the 2013 Forbes list of highest paid actresses in 2013.

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For Paltrow, public support for her split came through in tweets, with fans referring to the breakup as "heartbreaking" and "devastating." It was a surprising reaction, considering how far Paltrow has strayed from the beloved persona she embodied in the beginning of her career. Although Paltrow was born into Hollywood royalty as the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and the late producer/director Bruce Paltrow, she won our hearts in 1998 while accepting an Academy Award for her work in "Shakespeare in Love" and tearfully thanking her grandpa and her father, who was dealing with oral cancer.

The somewhat depressing truth is that divorce makes inaccessible celebrities more relatable. And Paltrow's biggest publicity problem has been her inability to relate to us common folk. Strip away the three-figure jumpsuits and backyard wood-burning pizza oven, and Paltrow will soon be another single ex-wife scheduling strained pickup times with her children’s father. Our newfound empathy is not so much about reveling in her grief as it is about finding common ground.

As Jezebel puts it, “Knowing that someone like Paltrow — with her perfect hair and perfect skin and perfect ability to wear sundresses without having armpit fat bulge out — can have a failed marriage means that failure isn't something that only happens to people who will never be able to afford a Birkin bag or grace a magazine cover or dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant on a Tuesday. Failure is part of the universal human experience no matter how much you work out or how much money you earn or who your parents are, and, in some contexts, it's the best way we have to relate to each other.”

And while her Goop-y separation announcement —  called “Conscious Uncoupling” — was a bit too "mindful," it was still more honest than the average Hollywood split press release. Paltrow and Martin spoke openly of their past commitment to work on resolving their marital issues and, unlike most celebs who claim to “remain the best of friends,” they didn’t paint an inauthentic picture of their feelings. Even if it wasn’t intentional, posting the announcement on Paltrow’s website, Goop, was a smart business move: It was so popular that the site crashed due to overwhelming Internet traffic.

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