Oct. 15, 2019, will go down in the history books as the day elusive megastar Jennifer Aniston joined Instagram. Within mere moments of posting a photo with her “Friends” co-stars, Aniston’s new account crashed as millions of users tried to “follow” her. She eventually claimed the record for the account that reached 1 million Instagram followers most quickly, beating out Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s SussexRoyal channel.
After sharing that cast selfie, Aniston poked fun at her Instagram-breaking moment with a clip from her upcoming Apple TV Plus series, “The Morning Show,” in which she throws her cellphone. She captioned the post, “I swear I didn’t mean to break it… Thank you guys for the kind, glitchy welcome ❤️.” She also uploaded some content to Instagram Stories of her appearance on “The Howard Stern Show” and behind-the-scenes videos at “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
At the time of this story’s publication, Aniston had over 12 million followers and three posts, including one for throwback Thursday.
But why, pray tell, is this such a big deal for the internet? It’s that Aniston ― Hollywood’s tabloid fixture, America’s sweetheart and the self-professed “most reluctant” social media user ― decided to join the very public, highly addictive Instagram, opting to give ordinary admirers a more authentic glimpse into her life.
After evading social media for years — and being constant fodder for gossip magazines and news sites for decades — Aniston has a chance to take control of her publicly personal life. She can react to false stories about her changing body and private relationships. She can choose which bikini photo to share. She can maybe even break some “Friends” reunion news.
Since her star-rising turn as Rachel Green on the hit ’90s sitcom, Aniston has been chewed up and spit out by the celebrity news machine. Her name has been splashed across tabloid covers and displayed front and center on every gossip website in made-up headlines like “Dumped After 21 Days,” “Shattered World” and “I’m Finally Pregnant!” Aniston has been emotionally and physically shamed and humiliated. She’s been through the stardom ringer, more so than perhaps any other public figure in the world.
“I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Amendment’ and ‘celebrity news,’” Aniston wrote in a passionate opinion piece for HuffPost in 2016. “I used to tell myself that tabloids were like comic books, not to be taken seriously, just a soap opera for people to follow when they need a distraction. But I really can’t tell myself that anymore because the reality is the stalking and objectification I’ve experienced first-hand, going on decades now, reflects the warped way we calculate a woman’s worth.”
Aniston has faced enormous amounts of press attention beginning with her relationship and subsequent marriage to Brad Pitt in 2000. It only heightened following their divorce, which was surrounded by rumors involving Pitt’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” co-star and eventual wife, Angelina Jolie.
From there, Aniston’s every romance was documented, her every heartbreak dissected. In the last few years, she’s dealt with countless false reports about her now ex-husband Justin Theroux, her “hopes” of becoming a mother and her changing body. It all came to a head in 2018 when, after Aniston and Theroux announced their separation, she was once again linked to “Brangelina”, who also split following a decadelong relationship and six kids together. Many started rooting for an Aniston-Pitt reunion and freaked out when he was spotted at her 50th birthday party in February. The rumor mill has started churning once again; the machine is relentless.
Now, Aniston perhaps plans to put a wrench in it.
When Jimmy Kimmel asked Aniston what made her finally decide to join Instagram, she suspiciously told the late-night host, “I don’t know.” HuffPost also reached out to Aniston’s rep for comment, but didn’t get a response.
Particulars aside, Hollywood’s golden girl was welcomed to the platform by fellow celebrities who are also using social media to give fans a closer look into their daily lives.
Jennifer Garner, another tabloid mainstay whose marriage to ex Ben Affleck was given an enormous amount of media attention, has used social media to propel her off-screen personality further than imagined. The very private Garner joined Instagram in September 2017 and has been surprising her followers with snippets of joy ever since. A day-to-day that was once filled with out-of-line paparazzi and exhausting battles with gossip magazines has turned into a more controlled experience as she shares videos, photos and comments of her own accord. The protective mother of three has single-handedly steered the conversation surrounding her private life in a new direction ― one focused on her own personal brand of humor rather than her famous marriage.
Instead of being hooked by the latest salacious tabloid headline at their local grocery store, people can now relate to Garner in a new way ― and feel like they are truly a part of her tribe as she shares inspirational quotes, photos from her kitchen or videos of her dog. She even posts clips of herself praising Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” while high on laughing gas and Novocain after a dentist visit. You can’t get that kind of unfiltered access anywhere else!
The same could be said for Will Smith, a movie star who traded a personal life away from the cameras for one more in tune with his audience.
“In the shift into this new world, it’s almost like a friendship with the fans,” he told HuffPost in 2017. “The relationship is less like the time of Madonna, Michael Jackson, when you could make the Tom Cruise these gigantic figures, because you can’t create that anymore. The shift is to ‘we’re best friends’ … I love trying to make that shift and make that transition into the new demands of the fans in this business.”
Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, has connected more closely with her followers as well, launching the intimate Facebook Watch show “Red Table Talk” in 2018. Pinkett Smith co-hosts the show with her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, and her daughter, Willow, and created it as a way to journey “towards my healing and my need for more authenticity from within myself.” In one poignant episode, she and Will address the gossip-fueled reports of their open marriage and explain, for themselves, what it means to be in a “life partnership.”
There’s no doubt social media has stunted the circulation of tabloid magazines and websites. Tabloid culture, which was once a way to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip ― most of which is made up with help from unnamed “sources” and “insiders” ― is rapidly disintegrating. For instance, the monthly average circulation for In Touch Weekly reportedly dropped from 431,038 magazines in June 2014 to 266,441 by June 2018, according to Morning Consult. And paparazzi are certainly struggling to keep their jobs. A poll by Morning Consult and The Hollywood Reporter found that 44% of adults consider these kinds of photographers to be intrusive.
This new age of technology has further forced a necessary shift in the celebrity news cycle. Whereas Jennifer Aniston used to be hounded by the press for comments on her baby plans or chased down during private beach vacations, she now has the agency to decide for herself what she’d like to share with the world ― if she wants to share anything at all.