Athena turned Arachne into a spider. Queen Elizabeth locked her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, in a castle and had her beheaded. Joan Crawford nearly broke Bette Davis’s back while filming What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.
Feuds used to really mean something. But if I were to tell you, for example, that Hailey Bieber’s friend Kylie Jenner posted a photo about eyebrows, and then further have to explain that this was a devastating attack upon Selena Gomez, you’re probably going to need some more context. I’ll explain it, though, because women’s stories matter.
The long and short of it is that Bieber (married to Justin, ex to Selena) hates Gomez. But Hailey, an extremely photographed socialite, as well as celebrity daughter and wife, didn’t actually say that she hates Selena Gomez because her professions do not allow for that type of candidness. This, despite the fact that Hailey’s main job is being extremely popular on social media, making scads of money on the promise of being utterly candid.
Hailey is bound by the rules of Hollywood social media, which are simultaneously governed by two powerful decrees, the first being that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and the second being: “i do not support all women. some of you bitches are very dumb.”
And so, to get this point across, it seems that Hailey Bieber neé Baldwin has, in a roundabout way, made fun of Selena Gomez’s eyebrows. By itself, the act seems like a petty jab, but given the deep lore of their jagged relationship, it was so much more than that.
This is how famous people fight now. Not through traditional means of saying something nasty to the press, or trashing someone by all other identifiers except name, or purposely not filming with someone even though you’re both on a show that is contractually obligated to air 22 episodes per season. No. This is the Easter egg-ification of the Hollywood feud.
Like how the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand set the first World War into motion, the current Hailey-Selena war has a starting point too: Late last month, Selena Gomez posted a TikTok of herself in which she voiced mild concern that her eyebrows were too laminated.
Eyebrows, sets of hairs that lie in a space above our eyeballs, are usually innocuous. Brow lamination is a beauty process in which hairs are set in an upward position to make them look fluffier and fuller. Selena was worried that her brows were not laminated in a position that felt fashionable — perhaps too vertical, maybe not full enough, maybe too fluffy, only the old gods know.
Around three hours after Selena’s TikTok, Kylie Jenner shared a screenshot of her and friend Hailey Bieber’s eyebrows that was taken during a FaceTime call. If this had been any other two women on the planet, the photo of their forehead hairs would have been anodyne.
But this was much more complicated.
Selena famously dated Bieber’s husband Justin back when Barack Obama was the president of the United States. They were together on and off from 2010 until March 2018, before Hailey married Justin in September 2018. Since then, devotees have dissected every possible moment in these women’s lives to affirm that they, Hailey mostly, hate each other.
Fans have frisked every Instagram post for clues, flipped every lyric upside down and shook for hints (Selena’s, since Hailey does not sing for a living), inspected every TikTok for signs and symbols. They also flood the comments section of these women’s social media profiles, and prove their loyalty by fighting for their respective queen. As a person of lazy experience, it all sounds vaguely exhausting, but Selenators (fans of Selena Gomez) and Jaileys (fans of the Justin and Hailey pairing) call it devotion.
The back and forth looked to be squashed in 2022 when Hailey appeared on the comedy podcast Call Her Daddy and directly addressed questions about the reality of her marriage (Justin didn’t cheat on Selena with her), the optics of her marriage (bad), and her relationship with Selena (saying that they harbor no ill will toward each other).
But that armistice didn’t last.
Keen-eyed Selenators found a post of Hailey Bieber with friends lip-syncing the song lyrics, “I’m not saying she deserved it, but I’m saying God’s timing is always right” around the time Selena’s weight gain (reportedly a side effect of her her lupus medication) became a flashpoint on the internet. “I never comment on this type of thing but we were just having a girls’ night and did a random TikTok for fun. It’s not directed at anyone,” Bieber wrote after being called out.
This all ultimately brings us to the Kyle-Hailey eyebrow photo that appeared just hours after Selena’s eyebrow TikTok.
Despite denial from Jenner that the photo of her and Hailey’s hairs were posted with malice, and a reassurance from Selena that she was on good terms with Jenner, the kerfuffle revived the feud.
And on the same day as eyebrow-mageddon, hours after Selena and Kylie’s public peace, a six-year-old video of Hailey allegedly being secretly mean to Taylor Swift resurfaced, prompting Selena to defend her bestie: “So sorry, my best friend is and continues to be one of the best in the game,” Selena wrote.
To those engrossed in the mythology of these women, this was proof of faith, a crystallized moment that meant everything up until that point wasn’t just fanfiction or imagination but evidence that the world they observe is reality. The external world was reflecting, finally, presumed but unseen interiority.
The digging, speculation, investigation, and archival research into videos, photos, and TikToks has reignited to the point where Selena announced she was taking a break from social media. She deleted her TikTok entirely and reiterated that she is 30, too old to participate in this type of behavior.
Gomez going offline hasn’t stopped the fury of fans swarming and fighting in the comments section of Hailey’s social media accounts, and doubling down on investigating the feud. Selenators want Hailey to show some kind of remorse and to remind Hailey that she isn’t as famous as their favorite. Hailey’s fans want to show that Selena has always had something out for Hailey.
But despite the new wrinkles to this saga — Jordyn Woods, ex-bff of Kylie Jenner, posted a video recommending a lip liner from Rare Beauty, Selena Gomez’s makeup brand; fast food chain Whataburger has also signaled support for Selena (but no lip liner rec) — the Hailey-Selena feud isn’t about any kind of forward movement. There is no new information. The eyebrows, TikTok deletion, even Whataburger; these things do not matter. These women just probably, reasonably, do not like each other. And the cycle repeats itself until it finds you.
The Hailey-Selena war raises a lot of questions. Like: what does it mean to be a fan of Hailey Bieber? Is it an appreciation for an existence? Is it finding beauty in the way Hailey moves through life?
After existential examination and intensive Googling, I’m still unclear on the answer but I think one thing is very clear: Whatever one may think about Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez, this feud is really about the fans.
That shouldn’t be a shock.
There’s been an ongoing shift that manifests itself in the way we watch movies to the way we listen to music (especially music by noted Selena Gomez friend Taylor Swift) toward the hunt for Easter eggs. It’s the idea that you can consume things normally but, if you dig a little deeper, there’s some payoff, some kind of rewarding, secret understanding. The total thing is less interesting than the little clues, symbols, and hints that create it.
Celebrities and their feuds are subject to the same lens, with an added layer of parasocial tendencies. How Hailey and Selena actually feel about one another is somehow less significant than what their fans believe they feel. And it doesn’t matter who’s in the right or wrong in this fight because the only winners in this fight are the fans.
In a strange roundabout way, the treasure hunt to prove this alleged war between the two has also become a fruitful popularity contest, at least for Selena Gomez. Gomez and her Rare Beauty makeup company have gained hundreds of thousands of new followers on Instagram and TikTok, presumably from people who want to show their support, or have only been made aware that Selena Gomez even has a beauty line as a result of this well-publicized dust-up. Selena has also passed Kylie as the most followed person on Instagram. Supporting one or the other signals identity, and that’s the very basis of the deep, devoted fanaticism of stan culture.
As for Hailey Bieber, I have to believe that hating your husband’s ex isn’t some kind of unique and terrible sin. Though I have never been married, I have to think that wishing ill on your spouse’s ex is a completely natural, human reaction (especially an ex whose fans will remind you, often forcefully, often daily, of her superiority). Making petty social media posts, consequences and all, is just part of the 2023 experience. Some people in this universe are just not meant to get along. At this point, pretending to get along when you don’t, or posting like you don’t while saying you do, can’t be worse than actually admitting it.
It’s certainly more exhausting.