Blake Lively's new lifestyle website, Preserve, has been mercilessly mocked with fiendish, snarky glee since it debuted last Monday. And honestly, it's hard not to get behind the haters. The site -- with its skinny-girls-only ethos (one skirt Lively peddles comes in extra-small only), painfully over-the-top writing ("At once structured and chaotic, the great American BBQ is, indubitably, a rollicking repast") and ridiculously overpriced products ($18 jar of pickles, $400 travel bag) -- is an exercise in A-list pretension nearly as obnoxious as Gwynnie's notorious Goop.
Putting cynicism aside (for a brief moment), Lively does devote a whole section of Preserve to her philanthropic cause, The Covenant House, an organization fighting trafficking, youth abuse and homelessness. Splurge on, say, a wooden cutting board -- just $55! -- and a percentage will be donated to the cause. So there's that.
Still, there's something about the enterprise that makes us non-extra-small-wearing, not-filthy-rich peons cringe. Lively isn't the only one causing annoyance -- Gwyneth Paltrow and now Reese Witherspoon are also pitching themselves as the lifestyle gurus we never knew we needed. On some level, this makes sense. After all, we do idolize celebrities and trust them as arbiters of all things amazing. Hence, we flip through the pages of People to coo over their red carpet fashion, and tremble at the idea of (gasp!) meeting them in person.
But there's an implicit arrangement that sustains this dysfunctional relationship: We can treat celebrities like demi-gods, but they can't tell us they're demi-gods. Perhaps it's tied up in self-loathing; on some level, we hate ourselves for coveting the lives of people we don't even know, so this precarious dynamic only works if said stars allow us to preserve some modicum of self-respect, i.e. the adoration has to be on our terms. The moment they openly admit they're superior to us -- and ask us to pay homage by supporting their lifestyle -- the power imbalance becomes too explicit.
Psychologically speaking, envy is dangerously connected to low self-esteem; knocking those we envy down is a mechanism to protect ourselves from debilitating feelings of comparative inadequacy. Clinical Psychologist Mary C. Lamia, Psychology Today:
Fearing any eruption of inadequacy or disappointment in your self can motivate you to protect yourself by diminishing the importance of the envied other by devaluing them. You are engaged in devaluing when you have belittling thoughts about another person, such as petty criticisms.
Hence, we are quick to bash Lively and her highfalutin site, which seems designed solely to "preserve" her envied image as a gorgeous, rich, charming star with a Sexiest Man Alive husband and a fabulous manse in the countryside. Then again, damn she's beautiful, rich and charming.
I'd be lying if I said I won't be back to her site soon.