For most of her life, Amanda Bynes was a star of kid television and teen comedy. When she retired from acting in 2010, she became more famous for her appearances in court—for charges related to a DUI, two hit-and-runs, driving with a suspended license, and, most recently, possessing marijuana and tampering with evidence of the crime (when cops arrived at her New York City apartment, she allegedly chucked a bong from her 36-floor apartment window). But these days, Bynes’ most compelling performance plays out on Twitter: That’s where she logs on to request that Drake “murder” her vagina, post dimly-lit bathroom photos of herself in tangled platinum wigs, and aggressively deny all reports of her personal life emanating from tabloids and law enforcement. She’s like the Horse eBooks of real people. And she rises above the typical crop of child stars turned tabloid train wrecks by her aggressive attempts to control the public perception of just how she's going off the rails.
When Britney Spears shaved her head in 2007, before Twitter blew up, zoomed-in photos of Spears shearing herself circulated through tabloid magazines and blogs. When Bynes buzzed half her scalp in April, she debuted her new look herself in a smiling self-shot on her own Twitter, her cell phone peeking into the frame. "No more old photos!" she wrote. "This is the new me! I love it!" In an age where endless information and photographic evidence of our personal lives is freely available on the internet, our online identities are created not by the sum of our tweets and pics, but by which ones get shared the farthest and widest. Bynes is our self-curatorial queen, and we are her followers, spreading her message.
I don’t know what’s really going on with Amanda Bynes, but every hour or so, I get a micro-update on the way she hopes to present herself to the world. Bynes picks through each paparazzi photoset of herself, then informs her 1.4 million Twitter followers which photos she’s deemed flattering (“I love this one! I don’t look so obese!”) and which are the product of devious Photoshoppers (“They superimposed my face onto someone else's body! I'm suing!”). She uses a service to extend her Twitter rants far beyond 140 characters. “Don't believe anything you read about me unless I confirm it on twitter,” she tweets to fans. “Only use photos from my twitter when writing an article about me,” she tweets to journalists. She is particularly insistent that journalists not publish photos taken prior to the nose job she had “to remove skin that was like a webbing in between my eyes”; non-compliance, she has tweeted, may result in Bynes tweeting unflattering photos of the tabloid journalists themselves.
Of course, many celebrities mount press offensives to protect their images. After Beyonce performed at the Super Bowl this year, her publicist famously requested that news outlets delete any photos of the singer she’d deemed less than flattering. Celebrities routinely sue tabloids over their most egregious fabrications. Angelina Jolie decided to tell her own story about her preventative double mastectomy to the New York Times instead of filtering it through a journalist’s byline (or waiting for a tabloid to discover the surgery first). And everyday social media users participate in this self-curation, too, carefully choosing their profile pictures and erecting privacy barriers between friends they don’t want to know too much. But Bynes’ reality construction is next-level. When paparazzi snapped photographs of Bynes snaking through New York in sweatpants and dyed pink hair, she claimed it wasn’t her. ("My hair is blonde I've never been a redhead! Somebody keeps posing as me!”). And when police alleged that Bynes threw a bong out of her 36th-floor apartment window, she claimed that was no bong (“it's clearly a clear and blue stained glass Ciroc bottle”). In the face of DUI and weed charges, she doesn’t just claim she wasn’t wasted—she says she is totally “allergic to marijuana and alcohol.”
To some degree, this social media strategy has paid off for Amanda Bynes. By railing against the celebrity media that has exerted ownership over her image (and profited from it) since she was 7 years old, Bynes has amassed a legion of young fans similarly pissed off at how others perceive their personal image—if not paparazzi, then friends and bullies and parents. The more Bynes protests about how the tabloids depict her, the more photographers gravitate her way. Her follower count just keeps ticking up. As Courtney Love tweeted at Bynes, “pull it together dude.” But as Gucci Mane said, “You must be doing it right.”