Celebrities — they’re just like us! They’ve all loved, lost, and gone through some pretty gruesome breakups (RIP J-Rod). But, of course, one of the main things that makes these A-listers stand out from the rest of us — in addition to the money, the fame, the access, and the privilege — is the way their breakups are publicly announced to millions of people worldwide.
Case in point: On August 5, Kate Bosworth Instagrammed a touching, black and white photo of her and her husband, Michael Polish, kissing. But the accompanying message turned out to be something far different than what the image portrayed. “Our hearts are full, as we have never been so enamoured and deeply grateful for one another as we do in this decision to separate,” she wrote. “In the process of letting go, we have come to acknowledge that our love will never end.”
The lengthy, six-paragraph-long caption includes sentences such as, “We hold hands as tightly today as we entangled fingers on our wedding day,” and “We believe the most epic love stories are those which transcend expectation.” In fact, you’d be forgiven if you missed the fact that this was a breakup announcement altogether. I’m not ripping on Bosworth here; her caption was beautifully written. But it also made me think about the celebrity split caption as a genre.
Bosworth’s post definitely fell on the personal, touchy-feely side of the separation announcement spectrum. But not all celebrity breakup captions are as effusive. Take Dove Cameron, who posted a statement about her split with Thomas Doherty to her Instagram story in December 2020. Although not a formal in-feed post, it still got the message across: “Hi all. We know there have been some rumours and confusion lately about the status of our relationship and we wanted to set the record straight,” Cameron wrote. “In October, Thomas and I decided to part ways. The decision was incredibly difficult, but we still have love for each other, and will remain friends. Thank you for allowing us our privacy in this time.”
These days, we’re used to celebrities communicating directly to their fans via social media. But before Bosworth was spilling her soul on Instagram and Kylie Jenner was documenting her entire life on Snapchat, celebrities spoke to the world through the press. They revealed their relationship status through direct interviews, calculated statements from PR reps, and the classic, maybe-staged paparazzi photoshoot — such as the renown 2005 US Weekly spread of Angelina Jolie, her son Maddox, and Brad Pitt on a beach vacation, which served to confirm the Brangelina rumours were true (and which some say Jolie and Pitt allegedly orchestrated themselves), just months after Jennifer Aniston and Pitt announced their divorce. Social media has allowed celebrities to reach their fans in a more direct, personal way, spilling their secrets themselves directly to their fans in the name of authenticity.
That’s the promise, anyway. But while Cameron’s and Bosworth’s statements seemed very different from one another at first glance, once you stripped away some of the fluff, I was struck by how similar the two really were. The purported dedication to remaining friends, the nod toward the love that remained, the use of the word "we" — it made me wonder if there was a template for celeb breakup posts. Or more accurately, it made me wonder whether the celebrities even write these statements themselves, or if they just play mad libs with a fill-in-the-blanks statement that was crafted by their "people."
When I ask Nina Irani Surya, president of UniqueSpeak consulting agency, who exactly is behind celeb breakup announcements, the PR team or the celeb, she says it’s a little bit of both. “It’s different with different people. Sometimes [the celeb will] just talk and I will write things as they talk,” says Surya, who adds that she can’t comment on which celebrity breakup announcements she’s helped craft. “I'm kind of wordsmithing it, and then I say, ‘Does this resonate with you? Does this feel one hundred percent true? Is there anything we should take out?’" she explains. “I'm really big on authenticity — and if they want to make tweaks, they will.” She adds that, “sometimes both parties write it together — if they’re on good terms.”
Melissa Morris, a celebrity publicist at Can We Schmooze Consulting, has consulted on some high-profile celebrity breakups (though she can’t specify which), and says that in general, she tends to suggest a straightforward, no-frills approach to split statements. “I'm one of the very few publicists that doesn't like to sugarcoat things because I'm just like, I'm not doing a piece just to give you press. I want to get my message across,” she tells Refinery29. “People are not stupid, that read all of this. A lot of people get turned off by [sugarcoating] and then they will lose followers.”
Some celebs are more hands-off than others, and let their reps write their announcements for them. Surya says sparer announcements tend to have less personal involvement. (Cameron’s comes to mind.) “When you read those ones that say, ‘We're separating, we remain the best of friends, we're thankful for our years together, our sole focus now is co-parenting the children as best we can, thank you for your good wishes and we ask for your privacy,’ — whenever you see something just really vanilla like that, chances are that it came from a PR person,” she says.
According to Rhea E. Skinner, a principal publicist at agency1408, an overly cheery caption is a sure sign that there’s a ghostwriter at work. “Normally when it's a publicist or an agency behind it, it's all rainbows and unicorns,” Skinner says. “Anything along those lines that sounds like a divorce from heaven normally means this was written by someone else. It's like, those celebrities that divorce and they're like, ‘Oh, we've come to this decision together, we want to deal with this privately,’ and it's like, okay, which one of your reps put this out? Because you two hate each other and we know it.”
Of course, Bosworth’s statement was very much rainbows and unicorns, and while she certainly may have consulted with a PR person or publicist before pressing post, Surya still says that the caption definitely “sounds like something [Bosworth] wrote.”
Despite the meteoric rise of the celebrity breakup post, plenty of stars don’t release breakup announcements, or don’t address the end of a relationship publicly until years later — if at all. The Kardashians, for instance, are often tight-lipped about the beginnings and endings of their partnerships (think: Kylie and Travis). This may be a publicity strategy in and of itself, since the constant speculation over what happened can keep the celebrities relevant to the news cycle.
Other stars still stick to the old-school route and release split statements through their representatives to media outlets. Most recently, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez used this strategy to announce their allegedly contentious split in a short statement they shared exclusively with Today, saying: “We have realized we are better as friends and look forward to remaining so. We will continue to work together and support each other on our shared businesses and projects. We wish the best for each other and each other’s children. Out of respect for them, the only other comment we have to say is thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and support.”
These announcements might be written in the first person or they might not, but either way they tend to seem less candid or personal than the captions posted via the Notes app or Instagram. The approach a celeb takes “depends on their relationship with their fans and their relationship with the media, because everyone has their own publicity machine,” Surya says.
While it’s clear that crafting the perfect breakup post is a lot of work, Morris says that finishing one typically takes her no more than two days, tops. The captions are short, but another reason the process is expedited is because they’re often written in a bid to get ahead of the news cycle and control the narrative of a separation, says Surya. “If [a breakup] is going to come out — which usually it does — then it's better to be the one to break the news,” she explains. “Whoever breaks the news is the one who owns the story.” Social media can give celebrities the power to do just that, scooping other more traditional publications or gossip-driven social media accounts.
Surya says that most of the time, when celebrities announce their breakups, the relationship actually ended weeks or even months before. They’ve managed to keep things under wraps, but fans’ suspicions may be mounting, or a tabloid has gotten ahold of the news and is about to make it public. “When [the news of the split is] about to break — when they can no longer hide it — that’s when they announce it,” she says.
Some even choose to acknowledge the need to take control of their own narrative — most notably, Solange Knowles. Following her separation with her ex-husband Alan Ferguson in 2019, she posted this message to her Instagram: “11 years ago i met a phenomenal man who changed every existence of my life. early this year we separated and parted ways, (and tho it ain’t nan no body business 😭) i find it necessary to protect the sacredness of my personal truth and to live in it fully just as I have before and will continue to do.”
Of course, just because a breakup isn’t super-fresh doesn’t mean the people involved aren’t still smarting. Those emotions can bleed into an announcement, and it’s the publicist’s job to determine what’s in the celebrity’s best interest and what’s not. One of Surya’s clients, someone with “a lot of followers” that is “very much in the public eye,” was anticipating that the news of her recent breakup was about to hit the press. “She was getting her post ready, but she was still just devastated and not thinking clearly,” Surya says. “She was just like, I have to get it out now, I have to be the first one. But everything that she was wanting to say… it was clear and it wasn't representing who she really was.” Surya, doing her job, convinced — and also “debated” and “cajoled” — the star to wait.
“In those two days, she got a chance to do some meditation — I actually taught her how to meditate,” she says. “She got to see her therapist a few times, and she got to spend some time with her family. She was able to write a draft, and I was just going to help her with the words. That's what we usually do together.” Surya describes her client’s second attempt at a breakup post as elegant, classy, and poignant — something that represented her that was no longer “going to stir up trouble,” and possibly make things worse.
Not to harp on the whole “just like us” thing, but who among us hasn’t sent an ill-advised text to an ex, or posted a subtweet we ended up deleting after a breakup? The difference is, of course, that celebrities have millions of eyes on them — so maybe it’s a good thing that they have publicists on hand to talk them through the best post-split social media strategy. “It's much harder for the people involved than the public generally realizes,” Surya says. “If you think about your worst day or your most painful day, and having to live that out in front of millions of people — it's devastating.”