After a breakup, you want to hide from the world. Sleep 14 hours a day. Eat an entire package of Oreos in a sitting while you binge Season Three of The Sopranos, again. Click through an endless slideshow of adoptable kittens without once mustering the energy to visit the shelter. You don’t have to be the dumped party to feel this way after a split — it’s likely both people would rather process the change in private. Later, you can rejoin the rude clamor of society.
But celebrities don’t have that option. Image is everything, and the incentive to appear the “winner” in any conscious uncoupling is, of course, quite strong. Still, it’s not like you can gloat. It’s a fine balance: show the world you’re moving on and thriving, just don’t turn it into a victory lap.
These considerations, I believe, are why stars have embraced a social media branding maneuver I’ll call the Nature Breakup. This week, Miley Cyrus gifted us with prime examples. Having called it quits with Aussie actor Liam Hemsworth (after what I guess were an illuminating eight months of marriage), the singer shared photos of herself in the Dolomites, a mountain range of northeastern Italy. “Don’t fight evolution,” she warned, as part of an elaborate geological metaphor, adding that “change is inevitable.” An athleisure outfit completed the vibe.
Compare this profundity with the images of Cyrus’ vacation that didn’t make it to her feeds, even as they conveniently spun a tabloid narrative of a possible love affair with Kaitlynn Carter, from MTV’s The Hills: They basically tell the story of a horny boat party. While the rugged mountain shots drew headlines with words like “empowering” and “inspiring,” the reality of her post-breakup recreation was closer to the idle luxury we associate with fame and fortune. That dissonance indicates, to me, that celebs are now acutely aware of the internet’s hyper-capitalist, ultimately destructive “rise and grind” aesthetic, which fetishizes constant work and challenge over anything remotely like rest and reflection. Miley sounds, in her Instagram captions, as if she’s doing some serious soul-searching, yet the photos say: I’m untouchable, moving on, conquering wilderness, never in doubt. They sell her as a guru of eternal ascendance.
And she’s hardly alone in this strategy. Days before the news of their separation broke, Hemsworth shared his own nature pic — a sparkling beach — with the caption “Rise and shine.”
Likewise, Brody Jenner, son of Caitlyn Jenner, and until recently, Kaitlynn Carter’s husband, offered an Instagram shot of himself on a cliff in Malibu, along with motivational poster wisdom: “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today,” he advised, to a slew of supportive comments.
Honestly, I understand why you’d seek to turn your heartache into a glow-up. And it’s clear that a celeb, more than anyone, needs to frame their personal journey as a sequence of triumphs instead of the usual ups and downs. But who’s really buying this? Hemsworth can keep his tone upbeat all he likes, but that won’t stop TMZ from reporting that he looked “sad” while grocery shopping.
Speaking for myself, I can only describe him as “Chris Hemsworth’s brother,” so it’s not as if he has to maintain some particularly heightened status. Whereas, had he posted a photo of himself crying in a bathtub full of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with the caption “my wife left me,” he’d be an overnight viral sensation — plus, way more relatable. I refuse to accept a world where any halfway recognizable public figure has to perform the optimistic take on romantic disillusionment (and never acknowledge hurt), always through the saturating filter of an app. In terms of emotional transparency, a Nature Breakup is about as authentic as a Notes Apology.
What’s worse is that these influential figures have set one more unrealistic standard for the normies who revere them. Sure, who wouldn’t want to gallivant around the globe in the aftermath of a wrecked union, going full Eat, Pray, Love to figure out what truly matters? Problem is, most of us in the same boat are scrounging for $400 to file the divorce paperwork.
I’m wasting my breath complaining that celebs pander to fans with utterly phony sentiment — again, lol at Miley finding the parallels between her quickie marriage and millions of years of continental drift — though in 2019, with civilization on fire, it’s wild how many remain allergic to saying they’re depressed, scared, lonely or uncertain. C’mon, gang, we’re in deep shit together; you don’t have to hide behind big rocks and dazzling blue waves when life doesn’t go as planned. Nobody’s here for this “high road” approach. Cut loose and give Mother Nature a break.
Or add her to the PR team payroll. Whichever.