Some pop culture moments, as they age, feel more and more like bouts of collective madness. Why did everyone hate Anne Hathaway all of those years ago? Around 2013, despite winning a slew of awards for her role in “Les Miserables,” it seemed the actress couldn’t catch a break. Despite a lack of scandal or outright offensive behavior, she was “the star we love to loathe,” “the bad kind of theater kid,” “the kind of person who inexplicably bugs people.”
Since then, the criticism has all but faded from public consciousness, a half-remembered Hollywood fever dream akin to the time everyone ragged on Taylor Swift for writing about her exes or that one 2009 concert when everyone body shamed Jessica Simpson.
Hathaway hasn’t forgotten, though, and she’s not the only one reminding people that ruthless celebrity criticism – a treasured and lucrative Hollywood pastime – is not as fashionable as it once was.
At Elle’s 2022 Women in Hollywood event this week, Hathway commented on the bygone “Hathahate” with painful intimacy, saying the outward hatred only increased her inner hatred of herself.
“When your self-inflicted pain is suddenly amplified back at you, it’s a thing,” she said. Her experience taught her to not “hold space” for such language, for herself or anyone else. She also urged others to do the same.
“You can judge behavior. You can forgive behavior or not,” she said. “But you don’t have the right to judge – and especially not hate – someone for existing.”
Hathaway’s discussion of mental health highlights a relatively new addition to the conversation. Stars have been speaking out against bullying for quite some time, but it has only been in the past few years that we have seen abundant conversations about how fame affects their mental health.
In her new memoir “Making a Scene,” actress Constance Wu writes about struggling with her identity, and balancing the person she is with the person she thought she had to be to make it in the entertainment business.
“I write about wanting to be the cool girl in my 20s, not wanting to make a scene,” she told Shondaland. “Because I thought that’s what would make me cool and loved and valued. But it doesn’t work because it’s not authentic.”
Wu also writes about the sexual harassment she hardened on her sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.”
“I hardened all this harassment and intimidation and abuse the first two years of the show, but then once it was a success, I no longer talked to my sexual abuser, and I was able to continue my job professionally and even joyfully,” she says. “So, I thought I handled it. But I realized that repressed abuse and feelings don’t go away just because you will them to.”
While the particulars of being a celebrity may be remote to most people, working through trauma and contending with damaging expectations are universal experiences. By discussing these issues head-on, women like Hathaway and Wu are indicating a sea change in celebrity culture.
Of course, ruthless celebrity gossip isn’t just a favorite pastime of the masses. It’s a profitable cog in the Hollywood machine. Entire franchises, like Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series, are built around the sport of pitting women against each other in rivalries both real and imagined. But in the same way that some stars are pulling the curtain back on the real effects of bullying and criticism, others are severing these traditions closer to the root.
Social media had a minor meltdown recently when Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber posed together for the first time at the Academy Museum Gala. To those outside the sphere of Hollywood gossip, this means absolutely nothing. But to those in the know – those that know Gomez is the longtime ex of Bieber’s husband, Justin Bieber, the moment was close to iconic.
The two women have long been pitted against each other by fans, with Gomez cast as the one that got away and Bieber as the usurping, second-best wife. They have both used their platforms to warn against online hate and harassment, but the proxy feud fueled by their fans has been insistent.
To see them together, then, was as monumental as a photo op with, say, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie would have been in the early 2000s, when everyone was “Team Aniston” or “Team Jolie” following the former’s divorce from Brad Pitt .
In the present media environment, it is not necessarily some unusual for famous women to show solidarity with each other, or get personal about the damaging effects of fame. What’s remarkable is seeing fans so eager for and receptive to these developments.
The comments on photographer Tyrell Hampton’s Instagram post of Gomez and Bieber paint a clear picture of this:
“Is this what world peace feels like?”
“Everyone wants them to hate each other so badly, and for what?”
“I’m proud of them.”
They’re not dissimilar to the social media reactions that followed Hathaway’s recent comments.
“Why did everyone hate Anne Hathaway for no reason?”
“They were just being haters.”
It’s one thing for stars to reveal how cruel the churn of celebrity gossip can be. More often, we are seeing fans listen and agree, interrogating their own role in these obsessions. Together, both sides of the screen are searching for a more positive relationship with fame.