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This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Apparently , somebody ran over Justin Bieber‘s dog. At least that’s what the expression on his face looks like in a recent Instagram post. Chloe Grace Moretz seems to be battling the blues, too, judging from the frowning selfies she posts. And what’s bugging Pharrell? Even before the “Blurred Lines” bad news, he was looking less than happy.
Come to think of it, nearly all of the celebrity photographs on Instagram are downers. Nobody smiles. Nobody grins. Nobody looks like they’re having fun. “I don’t like the way I look when I smile,” admits Kim Kardashian, the No. 1 celeb on the photo-sharing site, who regularly posts super-serious self-portraits to her 27.9 million followers. “Ever since I had the baby, my face got so puffy, and I hate the way I look smiling. Take 10 photos and I always like the one where I’m not smiling.”
Postbaby puffiness can’t explain away all the online frowning, though. There must be something deeper going on, some psychosociological phenomenon among celebrities, that’s making every famous person on Instagram look like they’re channeling Kristen Stewart. “Actors are super aware of how they look,” suggests David B. Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Wash. “So they control it more than the average person. And by withholding emotion in these images, they present a stronger personality. It’s the same as wearing black clothing or sunglasses. It’s a way of seeming more mysterious.”
Celebrity photographer Jeff Vespa has a different theory: “If I know you and I’m behind the camera, you’re going to act differently than you would if you’re taking a selfie,” he says. “There’s a lack of emotional connection when you’re interacting with a piece of hardware and not a human being.” As Chloe Sevigny (with 22,000 followers) puts it: “You have a mirror face and a photo face. We all do.” Except now, for stars, they’re one and the same.
What’s odd about all the public frowning is that it goes against everything Hollywood thought it understood about publicity — and human nature. A smile and eye contact once were considered essential to any successful celebrity photograph. But the ethos nowadays swings all the way back to Renaissance portraiture, when people were tight-lipped in portraits because holding a toothy smile for hours while sitting for an artist was too difficult. Just ask Mona Lisa (who’s practically grinning like a lunatic compared to today’s sourpuss celebrities).
Of course, there is one last theory worth considering for why the famous look so bummed. Jaime King, a model turned actress, sums it up: “People take themselves too f—ing seriously.”
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