Revisiting this story from CR Fashion Book Issue 14, in honor of the star’s birthday today.
Bella Thorne, the 21-year-old actress and social media influencer, has power. The kind of power that comes with having over 18 million followers on Instagram. (That’s more than Madonna or Starbucks or Prada.) The kind of power that makes paparazzi stalk her every move and tabloids report her every wardrobe malfunction. The kind of power that also makes her “a target for ridicule and hate,” as she admits when speaking on the phone from her Los Angeles home. “It also makes you this big red bull’s-eye, subject to people tearing you down and watching for your downfall.”
Ever since Thorne went from sweet teen star on the Disney Channel’s much-loved 2010 series Shake It Up to sexy, badass social media queen, she’s been feeling the negativity. There are widespread YouTube videos (“Why everyone HATES Bella Thorne”), an exhaustive entry on the Q&A website Quora (“Why do people hate Bella Thorne?”), and the malicious comments on her Twitter and YouTube pages, where words like “disgusting” and “cringe” are aimed at her like darts. She could have been another Rachel McAdams, to whom she was often compared, and continued to appear in benign high school movies like 2015’s The Duff or YA romances like the recent Midnight Sun.
But then she had to go and make “Bitch I’m Bella Thorne,” a music video that dropped last May,, in which Thorne lampoons herself as a trashy starlet (“Yes, it’s supposed to be funny,” she explains) and the more explicit “Pussy Mine,” which has lyrics like “Got my hands on your hips, you all on top of my dick / That shit so tight, I didn’t think it could fit.” And when Thorne posted a music clip on Instagram called “I’m a Hoe 2,” in which she lathers whipped cream over her nude body, the Internet lit up with millions of views—and plenty of opinions.
Thorne recognizes that there’s a double standard when it comes to women expressing their sexuality versus men. “I do know that if Justin Bieber posts a photo of himself shirtless, nobody’s giving him a hard time, but if I post a picture of myself in a bikini, they’re like, You’re a whore.”
Of course, Thorne has her avid champions, too, from all those Instagram devotees to millions of Twitter followers and adoring fans, who embrace Thorne’s attempts to redefine her identity and show off her body—armpit hair and acne and all. “It’s about owning your own shit, and not listening to what other people tell you you should be like, or dress like, or talk like,” she says defiantly. “There’s something amazing and wonderful about watching a woman who’s like, Fuck all that.”
Considering all that Thorne has already endured in her life—the pressures of child stardom, the horrors of sexual abuse, the tragedy of losing her father when she was nine—Thorne’s balls-out attitude has become a strategy for personal and professional survival. “There is nothing like being a powerful, confident individual,” she explains.
When she was on the set of her revenge thriller, Leave Not One Alive, Thorne found a kindred spirit in her tough-as-nails costar, Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo. “She made a speech to the cast and crew where she said people need to care as much as she does or they can walk off the set. And that’s how I feel,” she says. “My dad always said to me, If you’re going to do something, you’re going to be the fucking best at it, or you’re going to die trying,” she continues. “Maybe I’ve brought that mentality too heavily into my life, but when I’m exhausted and don’t want to get out of bed and I’m dying on the inside, that’s the thing that pushes me.”
And Thorne has been pushing herself. With a handful of new movies that she’s booked through May (including a “fucked-up” Western and another production in London), TV shows (BET’s hip-hop anthology series Tales and Paradise City, a spinoff of the movie American Satan), music recordings (she has her own label and she’s signed with Sony), a new makeup line called Thorne by Bella, and an upcoming book of poetry-based stories about her life, she’s trying to realize her vision of becoming “a mogul,” she says.
But as much as Thorne is trying to forge ahead with her brand, she’s also in an ongoing tug-of-war between down-to-earth Bella and Kardashian Bella, between what she wants and what her audience wants.
“Look, I’m a businesswoman,” she says, “so I can only stick to what I believe in only as often as it doesn’t interfere with me getting deals or getting work.”
To illustrate the point, she cites the public fixation on her hair. “Everybody loves when my hair is red,” she explains. “When it’s red, you read, She’s so beautiful, blah, blah, blah—they fucking love that look. And obviously, I can’t help but want people to accept me, and like my photos more and follow me more. But at the same time, the red hair isn’t me. I’m the girl with weird-colored hair or the girl who puts her hair in a bun because I don’t have time to brush it. But I can only do that for so long until I’m like, Okay, give me the red wig, I want some ‘likes’ on Instagram.”
Thorne acknowledges that it can be difficult to separate her private self and her public personae when she’s always on display. “I think I do,” she admits, then adds wistfully, “then sometimes I don’t.”
And even though Thorne has built her career on social media, she still recognizes its dangers. “I totally see how it will become the downfall of civilization, because it has already,” she stops herself, considering what she’s going to say next. “People will give me shit about this, but freedom of speech became the freedom of hate so quickly, and that’s something that you can’t control. When will people say enough is enough?”
“I don’t know,” she answers herself, “but I hope I’ve made enough money by that point.”
PHOTOGRAPHS AND FASHION TORBJØRN RØLAND
HAIR DENNIS GOTS
PRODUCTION TOMMY ROMERSA FOR JOY ASBURY PRODUCTIONS
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