Poor Blake Lively. The Hollywood starlet just wants a normal life. Well . . . sort of. That's what she implied in last month’s Vogue, where she landed on the coveted cover.
After being propelled to fame by the hit series Gossip Girl, the blonde bombshell did the unexpected and stepped away from the spotlight that so many of her celebrity peers seek like ravenous wolves. And in the meantime, she traveled, vacationed, got married, and then launched a website.
But her website is not what one might expect from a blonde, twenty-something member of Hollywood’s glitterati.
It is not filled with pictures of herself, like Tyra Banks’ website. It is not full of beauty tips and fashion trends, like Lauren Conrad’s. Nor does it focus on shoes and handbags, with weird blog posts on the side, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s.
Lively’s website, Preserve, is something distinctly different. It is dedicated to finding and uplifting artisans and craftsmen still creating from scratch, be it food, jewelry, housewares, or clothing. As Lively puts it: “PRESERVE is all of us, together, championing the goods, makers and legends that instill meaning inside the moments of our lives.”
It's true many of the items on the site are overpriced for most of us non-celebrities. But a portion of every sale on the site goes to Lively’s charity of choice, Covenant House, a group that serves homeless, trafficked, and abused children.
And for all this, Blake Lively was mocked mercilessly. Critics slammed the website as ridiculous, pretentious, elitist, cringe-worthy, nauseating, and so on. And on top of that, critics slammed Lively specifically, asking some variation on the question, “Just what does she think she’s doing?” As Lively’s longtime friend Martha Stewart put it, “I mean, it’s stupid, she could be an actress!”
Because what on earth could be better that just being an actress? What the heck is Lively doing, trying to create something meaningful instead of smiling for magazines and soaking up the sweet Hollywood spotlight?
Our culture seems to so idolize “celebrity” that we are left dumbfounded when stars dare to deviate from the celebrity path. We grow confused, annoyed, and even angry when celebrities share their opinions, talk politics, start businesses, or show us what they care about besides the fancy trappings of their perfect little lives.
When it comes to the rich and famous, we care—but not really. We read tabloids and People magazine to learn what they’re up to, what they’re wearing, and who they’re dating but never to learn what they believe.
This is partly because we so often look at celebrities as simply two-dimensional caricatures of real human beings. We’ve come to accept that they have nothing to offer us but entertainment—the dirt, drama, and gossip we seek from them. As such, we have hoisted a set of not-so-high expectations upon celebrities, especially young female stars. When they make it in the Hollywood big leagues, it is as though we expect them to lose their moral compass, along with their clothes, their dignity, their intelligence, and their humanity—all that connects them to the rest of us.
So when Kim Kardashian releases a coffee table book of her selfies, we’re not really surprised—she’s doing exactly what her adoring public wants. When Miley Cyrus strips and twerks her way through another concert, we may shake our heads, but really, isn’t this what we’ve told her to do? When Lindsay Lohan gets another DUI and heads back to rehab for drug abuse, well of course! That’s what young starlets do!
How supremely ironic it is, too, that these girls all think they are doing something so unique, so different, so rebellious, when in fact, they are conforming perfectly to the mold we have essentially demanded that they occupy.
In this industry, what is truly surprising is the starlet who turns her back on this expected degeneracy—the starlet who rises above our shallow expectations and refuses to join the ranks of the vain, the empty, the self-obsessed. Perhaps it's no wonder then, that the industry is having a collective freak-out about Blake Lively, the oh-so-boring girl who doesn’t drink, who would rather stay at home and bake, and who now has the audacity to start a website that isn’t all about her.
But there are others, like Lively, who should be applauded for their rebellion. Jennifer Lawrence passionately refuses to conform to the idea of celebrity that was passed down to her—and has been adored for doing so. And amongst the up-and-coming stars, there are those like Brie Larson and Shailene Woodley who are bent on breaking the young starlet mold and remaining human in an industry that wants to change them.
Women like these are the true industry rebels. Indeed, these women are the ones threatening the Hollywood house of cards.
In the end, perhaps Blake Lively’s website, Preserve, is a sadly symbolic representation of her desire to preserve her own humanity in a culture that has stripped her of it. It’s about time we did more to applaud, embrace, and encourage other stars to be more Blake Lively and less Lady Gaga. We should support stars like Lively who show us depth, curiosity, and intelligence, rather than just the empty beauty and entertainment that we’ve come to want and expect.