Her hair was wild and her clothes barely fit her. She sobbed, and her black makeup ran. She snapped her chewing gum. At one point, a fake eyelash fell from her face. And her answers to Matt Lauer’s interview questions were anything but polished.
Britney Spears’ by-now-notorious June 15 "Dateline" interview wasn’t the first time in recent months that the pop-queen-turned-mom has appeared in public with a letting-it-all-hang-out — some might say letting-herself-go — look.
Lately it seems as though she just can’t be bothered with Hollywood-style perfection, or any kind of primping at all.
“I don’t think it’s good because we get the wrong impression: she’s a mess, she’s sloppy, she’s lazy,” said confessed Brit fan and celebrity-watcher Melody Nourmand, 17, of Long Island, N.Y. “She is a role model. One bad picture and everybody goes crazy.”
Granted, Spears is pregnant with her second child with husband Kevin Federline and admitted to Lauer that she’s been “an emotional wreck” lately.
But she’s also a superstar, and the “Dateline” segment was planned. Couldn’t she have thought to at least comb her hair, wear something appropriate and try to hold it together while on camera?
Britney isn’t the only star who’s gone all frumpy on us, however.
The formerly perfectly-coiffed Jude Law has been pictured sporting a full beard. Julia Roberts has acquired an affinity for clogs and floral prints. Gwyneth Paltrow is rarely caught on camera dressed up nowadays — ditto for Nicole Kidman. And Katie Holmes looks totally haggard in the few photos snapped of her since baby Suri was born.
Is sloppy the new chic in the fairytale land of movies, where plastic surgery and Barbie-doll look-alikes run rampant?
Those in the celebrity gossip inner circle say the down-and-out image may not be the latest fashion statement in Hollywood, but it could be part of the larger fad of dressing down and looking human that stars have latched onto.
“This whole getting casual is a trend,” said In Touch Weekly Senior Editor Tom O’Neil, who also runs the awards Web site TheEnvelope.com. “[Gossip magazine] readers want to see reality-based pictures of their celebrity gods. They want to feel like they’re just like them.”
That’s why many celeb rags now have whole sections of photos devoted to stars doing regular, everyday things — like playing with their kids or going grocery shopping.
But there’s a fine line between looking like an average Joe and looking like a train wreck if you’re a member of what is essentially the American royalty.
“Normal is OK, but sloppy is a sin,” O’Neil said. “If the star looks cheesy, nasty or gnarly, the fan no longer wants to be them and look like them. They want to see Kelly Ripa buying her children ice cream cones in casual clothes. They don’t want to see Kelly Ripa spanking her children or looking like hell.”
Other Hollywood insiders think that in this age of insta-beauty, stars have just gotten lazy in between film shoots, awards shows and press junkets.
“Being neat and presentable has now become as simple as slipping into a gown for the Oscars, thanks to the number of diet remedies out there and [the ability to] hire a personal trainer,” said celebrity news guru Anderson Jones. “Stars cut corners, and are used to it. If you don’t have to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, why skimp on the cheesecake or another martini?”
Case in point: Just a few months ago, Janet Jackson was photographed with an extra 60 pounds on her frame (she says it was for a movie role). But by May, she was slim and trim in time for the release of her new single.
There's also a host of beauty aids, like hair extensions and hair pieces, slimming or enhancing undergarments and fake eyelashes (that don't fall out), to name a few. And the camera can be the best blemish cover-up of the lot, with various optical illusions and tricks when all else fails.
Speaking of the camera, it's all paparazzi all the time in the lives of many Hollywood celebs — another reason to explain why they look more thrown together than ever.
"The real problem is that people are being photographed 24 hours a day," Jones said. "Who has that kind of time — besides Eva Longoria — to get into full hair and makeup to go to the grocery store?"
Which brings up another point: A number of the celebrities who have toned down their looks, in some cases drastically, are parents of young children. In spite of the fact that the rich and famous can afford luxuries we little people can't — like multiple nannies, cooks, stylists, housekeepers, etc. — there's still more to do and fewer hours in the day to do it when a bambino or bambina comes into the world.
And besides, moms and dads have other priorities, no matter how much they're in the spotlight or what their salary-per-movie is.
"People may expect that you're supposed to look like a star all the time, but it's hard when you've got diapers to change and kids to feed in the middle of the night," said Jones.
Not all fans are put off by the off-kilter look of their favorite pop idols, either. Some are indifferent, and others applaud the fact that at least some celebrities are keeping it real.
"When I saw Britney [in the interview], I didn't really care," said Jessica Linton, 16, of Toronto during a recent trip to New York. "A lot of my friends think they have to look perfect and look like them, but they're not them. It's stupid."
Her mom, 42-year-old Elisabeth Linton, said it's refreshing to see the people teens admire acting ordinary.
"From a parent's perspective, they're such role models, and it's good to see them being human," she said.
And in fact, because it's now become commonplace to see stars in a more natural light, fans have lowered their standards for the ones they fawn over.
"There's a lessened expectation among the public of what the stars are going to look like," said Us Weekly Senior Editor Albert Lee. "They know they're going to see their favorite stars with their hair tousled, looking disheveled."
But celebs, too, have also relaxed their own rules on how they should look when they go out, often amid flashing bulbs.
"A lot of stars in the public eye have realized that the red carpet is not the only place where they're going to be observed," Lee said. "For this younger generation of celebrities, the era of Sophia Loren and Cary Grant is over. They know they're going to be photographed in their sweatsuits, going to get coffee or shopping at Wal-Mart."
And what about when an idol goes over the top with the underdog image, like Britney did in her most recent TV appearance? Lee thinks even that may have been calculated.
"It may have been a ploy on the part of Britney to generate sympathy," he said. "She's been in this business since she was a little girl and has done countless interviews. She knows what she's doing."