“I think she likes the word ‘ugly’ a lot,” Courtney Love recently said of Amanda Bynes. “It’s like, what’s that about?”
After Love tweeted “pull it together dude” at Bynes last week (some took this as a sign of Bynes’ rock bottom), the younger star dismissed the older one by tweeting, “Courtney Love is the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” Bynes’s descent into madness seems to have stripped her of impulse control, revealing (and perhaps feeding) an obsession with physical attractiveness. She browses her own paparazzi photos and begs bloggers to use the “much prettier” ones. Her arrest and police-mandated psychiatric evaluation last week was a wake-up call: “I need to get another nose job after seeing my mugshot!” Bynes’s reality has become a dark satire of Hollywood superficiality, written 140 characters at a time.
Yesterday, when Bynes subsequently (and perhaps dubiously) announced she’d gotten the nose job, she paired the news with an “ugly” insult for her father:
It’s unclear why Bynes attacked her father. (She does have his nose, though.) But as Love points out, “ugly” is Bynes’s favorite insult during perceived attacks. Perez Hilton is “an ugly gay bully,” “no one wants to suck [his] dick.” Us Weekly is an “ugly magazine” edited by an “ugly Asian editor.” In Touch employs an “ugly faced woman” who purchased “fake altered photos” of her apartment from an “ugly black man.” Lance Bass is “an ugly ex boy band member.” Kid Cudi is her “ugly ex.”
If a perceived attacker apologizes, however, she may be ruled beautiful again. When Jenny McCarthy tweeted about the NYPD intervening on Bynes, the starlet retorted, “You’re ugly! Police weren’t at my house old lady! Shut the fuck up! Aren’t u 50 years old? I’m 27, u look 80 compared to me!” After McCarthy apologized Bynes replied, “Thanks! I’m sorry I offended you! You’re beautiful!” Perez Hilton was later ruled “not ugly” in a tweet where Bynes begged him to “please stop being mean on Twitter!” Rendering verdicts on beauty as a proxy for popularity and favor? Who does Bynes think she is, the editor of People magazine?
In Bynes’s unwell mind, ugliness is both the cause and effect of Hollywood aggression and victimhood. “Chris Brown beat you because you’re not pretty enough,” she tweeted at Rihanna. The singer’s perfectly Hollywood reply — “Ya see what happens when they cancel Intevention?” — drew a second attack on her attractiveness: “Unlike ur fugly self I don’t do drugs! U need the Intervention dog! I met ur ugly face in person! U aren’t pretty u know it!” (Etymology note: Fugly was popularized by Mean Girls, a movie widely considered to be grown-child-star Lindsay Lohan’s last real hit. The word appears when Rachel McAdams’s character writes “She is a fugly slut!” next to her own picture in the Burn Book, thereby avoiding blame for its creation by forcibly confusing aggressors with victims.) Bynes later tweeted a picture of herself with Rihanna and wrote, “I love @rihanna! She’s such a beauty!” Bynes wrote that the photo was “a mocked up image,” when in fact it was real. Bynes, like the public, has difficulty discerning which celebrity images are Photoshopped and which relationships are real.
As a creature of Hollywood, Bynes has likely weathered a great deal of beauty pressure. She went through puberty in the public eye, while walking red carpets and headlining feature films. Bynes even invoked her child stardom during a Twitter attack on Sports Illustrated model Chrissy Teigen: “Ur not a pretty model compared to me. I signed to Ford models @ age 13. … I’m far prettier than u! … not one man that wants me wants you and you are an old ugly model compared to me! You look 45! You’re not pretty so I’m not intimidated by you!”
But was Bynes obsessed with appearance before her late twenties? Her looks were, of course, the source of open discussion for most of her life: “While Amanda is pretty enough to be the ingenue, she’s not afraid to look silly to get a laugh,” She’s All That producer Dan Schneider said in 2002. But as Schneider notes, Bynes’s calling card was her willingness to shrug off beauty. When she played a female character who disguises herself as a boy in She’s the Man, Bynes told CosmoGirl she relished the chance to be plain:
I enjoy doing things that are scary or things that some girls might not like because it won’t let them look gorgeous. Every day they’d pin my hair back and I’d have no makeup. That’s when you start relying more on your sense of humor.
Back then, at the age of 20, Bynes seemed to take interviewers’ interest in her body and appearance in stride. She discussed her weight in a 2006 interview with the blog Movie Hole with the aplomb either of a well-balanced young adult or well-rehearsed starlet minding her “role model” status. “I’m not in this business to show everyone how beautiful I am,” Bynes said before criticizing plastic surgery:
You obviously take care of yourself though – because you look great.
Oh, thankyou. I’m naturally thin, but I’m also very active – always on the go – and like to walk whenever I can, too. Not that I ever care too much of I gain a couple.
Is there pressure on you to main your figure though?
Not really. I’m not a supermodel anyway, and I’m not in this business to show everyone how beautiful I am – I simply want to entertain.
There is a lot more pressure on women to maintain their looks though, isn’t there?
Definitely. I think women look better and better as they get older, but there is some pressure on them to look a certain way. I personally think we should grow old gracefully. Like, my mum has great hair and it’s beautiful. It looks natural.
It is a little off-putting to see an actress on screen that’s had too much work.
Totally. When you can see it, it’s disgusting. It also takes you away from the film you’re watching. I saw an actress on David Letterman – who will remain nameless – and he was congratulating her on how great she apparently looked. She was trying to shake her head, and modestly say ‘no, no, I don’t’, but she couldn’t frown or anything – because of the work she had had. It didn’t move. It was so freaky. How can you be an actor if you can’t use your expressions? As you see in my movies, I use every muscle in my face.
Bynes’s self-esteem seemed to remain intact as she quietly logged milestones. She turned 21 with minimal fanfare; unlike comparable child-stars-gone-wild, she kept a low profile in Hollywood nightlife. At age 23, Bynes appeared in Maxim in her underwear, expressing for the first time a desire to be sexy. “I had the best time on this shoot,” she said in her 2010 interview with the magazine. “I think every shot I did was sexy. Some people still see me as a kid, but I’m a 23-year-old woman now.” Self-critique occurred only in standard down-to-earth actress humility: “There are times when I’m gonna look horrible, and that makes me appreciate when my hair and makeup is done and I look good.”
So is Bynes a victim of Hollywood, a victim of mental illness, or a victim of both or neither? Mara Wilson, who as a child starred in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, recently discussed the double-edged sword of child-star attractiveness in a Cracked blog post entitled “7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider’s Perspective).” The first reason is anxiety about aging out of one’s looks:
Years of adulation and money and things quickly become normal, and then, just as they get used to it all, they hit puberty – which is a serious job hazard when your job is being cute. It’s basically a real-life version of Logan’s Run. A child actor who is no longer cute is no longer monetarily viable and is discarded. He or she is then replaced by someone younger and cuter, and fan bases accordingly forget that the previous object of affection ever existed. Most of you reading this felt pretty disgusting and useless while you were going through puberty. But imagine that people you once relied on and trusted – as well as millions of people you’d never met, who had previously liked you – had told you then, “Yeah, it’s true. You are exactly as ugly and worthless as you feel.”
A survey of Bynes’s fifteen-year career in pictures suggests that she was one of those magical people who never really had an awkward phase. But the pressures of attractiveness weigh on these people, too, argues Wilson:
To be a teen idol is to be vulnerable. Brooke Shields has said that being a sex object led her to feel like she wasn’t in control of her own body, and is one of the reasons she didn’t have sex until she was 22. Natalie Portman has said similar things.
Wilson notes the frequency of child-star sexual exploitation, both at the hands of industry adults and overzealous fans. “Amanda Bynes hot” yields 148 million results on Google. “Amanda Bynes talent” yields 67.9 million.
“Amanda Bynes crazy” yields 88.5 million — more interesting than her talent, but still nowhere near as compelling as her body.