Almost one month has passed since Lori Loughlin was first connected to the nationwide college admissions scandal, but all paparazzi lenses are still squarely focused on the 54-year-old mom of two.
After the actress and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, 55, were accused of paying $500,000 to get daughters Isabella and Olivia Jade Giannulli into USC via the crew team (though neither were rowers), Loughlin has become the subject of online fascination. In part because, in her recent public appearances, she seems kind of happy.
Last week, for example, Loughlin was looking as chipper as ever while arriving at a federal courthouse in Boston where she heard the charges against her and surrendered her passport. She was photographed smiling, waving to fans, and telling onlookers, "I'm great!" The display drew ire from Twitter — users commented on her "out of touch" behavior. Her cheerful disposition, not to mention her preppy, polished wardrobe, also stood in sharp contrast to that of fellow indicted actress Felicity Huffman, whose demeanor could be better described as somber.
But a smile doesn't always communicate happiness, says body language expert Patti Wood, author of
"There are well over 50 different kinds of smiles, and the plain assumption that the smile means you’re happy or that you're joyous or that everything is fine is sort of a mythology," she tells InStyle, adding that Loughlin's grin was more likely a "mask of protection" for her underlying stress, which was also communicated by her body language.
STAR IN COURT: “Full House” star Lori Loughlin arrived at a courthouse in Boston for a hearing on the college admissions cheating scandal, one of several high-profile defendants appearing in front of a judge today, including actress Felicity Huffman. https://t.co/211MLyxade pic.twitter.com/E8KZLX9P7f— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) April 3, 2019
Reviewing footage of Loughlin's walk from her car to the courthouse last Wednesday, Wood says, "If you’ll look at the wave that she gave it started out with a blocking cue — the hand came out forcefully high and up to block and quiet them, and then it went into a shallow wave. It was a subconscious motion to quiet the crowd." The motion also blocked her head, crossed over her heart and drew her arms in toward her waist, which Wood noted was a move driven by the "limbic brain," in order to protect "the vital parts of her body."
Additionally, "As she’s walking away, her arms are tight to her body and her feet are kind of rushed. Her body makes a downward motion, protective and fearful."
But if Loughlin were feeling fearful, or even remorseful, why hide that with a "mask"? Two days after Loughlin's unexpectedly joyful appearance, the star's team appeared to be doing some course correcting. A source confirmed to E! that the actress is indeed "terrified," and "the uncertainty of the whole thing worries her," contradicting what the optics seemed to share to those with an untrained eye. "She was obviously extremely nervous and the actress side of Lori came out," said the source as a sort of explanation for her jolly behavior. "She doesn't know how else to be in public."
Wood backs up this idea that Loughlin's job had primed her for the spotlight. "She’s been trained to respond to the audience," she said of the crowds gathered that called her name. "[She thinks] 'these are my fans and they're excited to see me.' She was responding to people cheering with that smile ... She’s been so trained to do that. She always wants to appear likable."
Ah, the likability factor. Women know it well. "It’s fascinating to me that women are expected smile," said Wood, whose career includes years-long research on smiles. "So we often have a smile on to cover up our emotional state, whereas guys have to be somber. She's getting criticized for something that's made her entire career," she continued. "How many times have I as a woman smiled when I actually felt totally different?"
But outside of that courthouse walk, Loughlin's wardrobe seems to double down on the idea that she's playing a part. The Full House alum was photographed on numerous occasions playing the role of Southern California Suburban Mom, using a bouquet of flowers, a yoga mat, a massive raffia visor and sunglasses as props that are so on-the-nose, it's hard to tell whether she's intentionally playing a part or is woefully unaware of the pretentious, aloof stereotype she's representing to a tee.
Though it's not out of the realm of possibility that her athleisure attire was an attempt to appear relatable (there's no way she didn't know she would be photographed), the pieces she's chosen communicate something else entirely. To her, a pair of Birkenstocks (she's been photographed in three different styles, including Barbie pink and a glitter-covered versions) may read as casual — pedestrian even — but those sandals can cost more than $100 per pair.
Perhaps bribing officials for a name brand education for her daughters also felt run-of-the-mill, squeezed in between a trip to the farmers market and Bikram flow. Just something that people in her station would do. Some speculate she'll rely on an "I didn't know it was illegal" defense, and that tracks.
Though we may be able to empathize with her decision to smile her way through the nightmare (of her own making, to be clear), we're also faced with just the sheer volume of public appearances she's made — which seem to be at odds with her husband's reported wishes that they remain out of the spotlight.
In addition to her outings to the gym, she's also been attempting to maintain her "normal life" by having lunch with friends, and was even spotted out shopping while wearing a statement T-shirt reading, "We all shine on." But is it all a performance still? Lori Loughlin as Lori Loughlin in The Lori Loughlin show? As the paparazzi shots began to trickle in during the early days of the scandal, Vanity Fair remarked on the "uncanny forced normalcy" of the whole charade.
There's a reason, after all, that defendants (including fellow scammer Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, aka the SoHo grifter) enlist stylists that may help them come up with a look that's more appealing to a judge and jury.
"You want the judges to know you’re taking this seriously," former assistant U.S. attorney Mimi Rocah — who is not involved in Loughlin's case — told InStyle. "You may end up being acquitted or found innocent, but in the meantime, judges really expect the process to be taken seriously and respectfully. I didn’t see her behavior, but if she’s doing things that could be interpreted [as not taking this seriously], if I were her lawyer, I’d tell her to dial it back because it’s better to just be respectful."
Only one photo — the first to emerge after her arrest last month — seems to convey any kind of distress. The actress was photographed alongside her husband and possible literal partner-in-crime, wearing a cream colored cardigan, hair in messy chignon. Though wearing sunglasses, she appears to be staring forlornly into the distance, her back hunched in a curve of defeat. Her handbag, though likely designer as well, is dumped at her side.
In contrast to the gleeful courtside shots, this photo has an air of authenticity to it — it's almost as though you can feel the magnitude of her alleged crimes physically weighing on her shoulders. Lori Who Signs Autographs might be more appealing to fans, but this Lori might fare better in court.