Sometimes, the gossip gods are kind. Right before Christmas, as many of us struggled to deal with the radical changes of a deeply compromised festive season, a Twitter thread went viral making the frankly hilarious claim that Hilaria Baldwin, wife of Alec and yoga teacher-turned-mommy influencer, was faking her Spanish origins. The engrossing series of tweets asserted that Baldwin, born Hilary Hayward Thomas, was not a native Spanish-speaker as she had frequently insisted over the years and that she had banked on the image of herself as an ‘exotic’ figure in ways that appealed to a fetishistic celebrity media. It felt like the kind of low-stakes celeb silliness that we could all gather around, laugh as needed, and walk away without feeling like we were going to be stuck in weeks of overdone discourse or ‘cancel culture’ whining. Truly, it was a Christmas miracle.
You have to admire Hilaria Baldwin’s commitment to her decade long grift where she impersonates a Spanish person— elena ilana alana alina elana (not) (@lenibriscoe) December 21, 2020
Yet, I still found myself rather surprised when I googled Baldwin and didn’t see any of the major news or celebrity outlets covering the story. Sure, it was a random Twitter thread, but content mills like the Daily Mail have put together articles on far less. Nobody seemed to be talking about it until Baldwin herself offered a bizarre non-explanation, one that was quickly spun as a ‘clapback’ by the likes of E! News. It felt particularly notable because Hilaria Baldwin stories are ten a penny every single week, whether it’s adorable pictures of one of her five children, shots of her impressive yoga poses, or some tidbit from her podcast. Search her name over the Christmas weekend and you’ll see that the biggest story about her her supposed ‘pushing back’ against comedian Amy Schumer’s supposed body shaming of her, a story that has been breathlessly covered from the usual suspects. Hilaria Baldwin may not be a Them by Who Weekly standards but she is the kind of famous person who occupies a specific but highly profitable slice of fame: she’s connected to a very famous man; she is a prolific social media user who positions herself as candid and ‘relatable’ despite projecting an image that entirely betrays such rhetoric, and she is exclusively centered in highly feminine terms, the likes of which are still heavily prized by the media, even in 2020. I’ve never given two hoots about her before this month, so why am I suddenly fascinated by this woman, aside from her pretending she doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘cucumber’?
Here she is pretending not to know how to say cucumber in English 😭 pic.twitter.com/g8xYNktsNY— elena ilana alana alina elana (not) (@lenibriscoe) December 21, 2020
There isn’t as much cache these days in being defined primarily as a ‘celebrity wife’ in the way that there was even a decade ago. Brits remember the inescapable era of the WAG, the perma-tanned bevy of footballers’ wives and girlfriends who became A-Listers mostly through expensive clothing and looking bored in the executive boxes of their partners’ matches. The closest approximation we have right now that garners the most press attention are the wives of British royals, but even then, they are expected to take on duties and public life in a way that the typical celebrity wife is not. Women who marry famous men often take a backseat, keeping their family lives private to the point where even the biggest A-Listers can guarantee a semblance of normalcy. Think about it: Do you know what Matt Damon’s wife looks like, or the names of their children? He’s undoubtedly a big deal, but his partner is not a Celebrity Wife in the expected sense. Hilaria Baldwin definitely is. She may do work separately from her husband, but her public identity, her status as a celebrity in her own right, does not exist without Alec.
Take a browse on Baldwin’s Instagram page — where she is a prolific poster for her 850k followers — and you’ll see the work of a classic mommy blogger, granted one on a higher pay grade than even the more affluent names. She does sponsored content for the likes of Bissell cordless vacuums and Fisher-Price baby gyms, typically with her quintet of very sweet kids in tow. Her podcast is named Mom Brain and promises that she and her listeners can figure out the wacky highs and lows of parenthood together, along with guests like gymnast Shawn Johnson. You can buy Hilaria’s signature edition of organic lavender calming ointment that offers soothing treatment for the whole family. Then there are, of course, drabbles of ‘inspirational quotes’ and Baldwin offering yoga advice, although the latter often seems impossible to follow for the average person. The content mill headlines write themselves with posts like these. It’s organized parental chaos but always with the sheen of glamor. Not a nanny in sight. It’s good press for Mr. Baldwin too, an actor with a, to put it charitably, tempestuous past who, to this day, still garners press for being a total pr*ck in public and private.
Projecting an image of supposed authenticity is still the default mode of celebrity in 2020, although COVID-related compromises fully exposed the artifice of that practice. There’s only so much one can take before hearing multi-millionaires whine about how much it sucks to be indoors all day makes you snap. Really, this was a year where the rules of celebrity seemed to shift, possibly irrevocably. Nobody has patience for the ‘I’m just like you’ shtick when it comes from people who most certainly aren’t. Hilaria Baldwin operates in similarly touchy territory, even before Spain-gate. How do you sell the image of yourself as a loving if somewhat harried wife and mother when your husband is Jack Donaghy?
The illusion crumbles in another, more physical, manner. Baldwin is a yoga instructor, and fitness is a big part of her brand. That typically takes pride of place on her Instagram in the form of post-partum body shots. There are a lot of posts of her focused not so subtly on showing off how quickly she loses her baby weight, to the point where Amy Schumer joked about it and Baldwin took great offense to it. Baldwin called it body shaming, but a lot of people reminded her that ‘skinny shaming’ is not the societal or cultural force that it is for fat people. Skinny is the default mode of beauty, to this day, and those who gave birth face enormous pressure to ‘get back to normal’ as quickly as possible. Making the point of showing off how skinny you are, in your underwear while holding your very young baby, and claiming that you’re being oppressed for it is simply not the same as fatphobia. It’s hard to find that relatable, despite Baldwin’s attempts to make it happen.
I was pretty surprised she even responded to the Twitter thread because, given the sympathetic press she garners, it would have been incredibly easy for her to just ignore it then change the narrative by posting more cute kid photos. She would only need to fight back if the press weren’t so sympathetic to her one-woman celeb content mill and actually picked up the story, but now she’s the one keeping it going. Indeed, she may have full-on Streisand Effected things. She may be the kind of celebrity you either ignore or are mildly irritated by, but she’s the kind of figure keeping the entertainment wheel spinning. This was a Summer where some extremely famous people had babies and we don’t even know their names, let alone what they look like. As some A-Listers retreat into privacy, sites like the Daily Mail rely on the Hilaria Baldwins of the world, who reveals everything in a manner that almost seems spontaneous.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.