Tara Reid knows what you think of her. But, for the first time ever, she doesn't care.
In the late 1990s, Reid emerged as one of Hollywood's brightest young stars, thanks to her breakout role in 1998's The Big Lebowski and a star-making turn in the 1999 blockbuster hit American Pie. And, for a time, she enjoyed the attention that came along with the "It girl" label. While her career began at age 6 with commercials and a regular role on a short-lived game show, she was 23 years old when she made the transition from actress to celebrity. And she can still recall the exact moment when it happened—seemingly, as it's been said, overnight.
"I remember one day I was walking in New York City, I look over at one of the deli shops and they have all the magazines on the side and I remember I had, like, five covers on the wall all at the same time," Reid, looking refreshed and sunkissed after a trip to the Bahamas, told E! News during an exclusive Zoom interview. "I went, 'Oh my gosh, this is happening.'"
Also happening: The start of paparazzi culture, which reached its peak in the early aughts. And Reid? She was one of their favorite subjects, along with a handful of other young female celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton and, perhaps most memorably, Britney Spears. Whether they were leaving Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with a Frappuccino in Los Angeles or climbing out of an expensive sports car in a short dress in front of Bungalow 8, it seemed as if there was always a camera pointed at them. And seeing as how an average picture of a celeb could net up to $15,000 from one magazine at the time, per the BBC, the photographers were, for the first time, an omnipresent fixture of daily life for a star.
Hand in hand with the paparazzi were the tabloids, which would buy those pictures and create a thousand-word story based on just one night out.
"When we first started, we weren't used to paparazzi. There was no such thing. There was no Instagram, there was no social media, but there were the tabloids," said Reid, now 45. "It was a different kind of bullying when it started coming up. To sell tabloids, what do you have to have? You have to pick a certain person that you're going to pretty much destroy so they sell tabloids every day. They almost make a cartoon character out of you and they keep going with it."
Reid's caricature became that party girl, the train wreck or, as celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton nicknamed her, Terror or Trashy (depending on which mood he was in).
The transition from subject to target happened "pretty fast," according to Reid.
"It went from everyone loving you, being the 'It' girl, doing everything and then the power of the media, even now, is very strong," Reid reflected. "It was tough, because you went from, 'OK, this is great, this is fun!' to 'Oh my gosh, what are they saying?!' It started hurting my feelings."
But in 2004, no one was talking about how they were being treated by tabloids while they were sitting at neighboring tables at The Ivy, even if, as Reid put it, "everyone is aware that it's happening."
"It's something that you keep inside because there's a part of you that's afraid to talk about it with other people because you feel like they're judging you too," she explained of the atmosphere at the time. "You don't want to say, 'Look, I'm in trouble. People don't think good about me or they think I'm failing.' No one wants to talk bad about themselves because they're trying to make themselves go through this and it's hard. It's not a conversation."
In 2021, however, it's even more than a conversation. It's a reckoning of the media's treatment of women, especially during that era, spurred in large part by the #MeToo movement and, more recently, The New York Times Presents' "Framing Britney Spears documentary," which Reid "felt really sad" watching.
"She definitely deserves her freedom back," she said of her friend. "I think she deserves control."
Taking back control is something Reid has first-hand experience with, stepping away from Hollywood after the Sharknado franchise's sixth and final film in 2018 in order to heal from the damage it inflicted.
"When I took a break, it was because I needed to for myself," Reid said. "I needed to get reinspired in a certain way. I traveled a lot and worked on myself a lot, to get more confidence in myself where, sometimes, when you've been kind of bullied and put down, it's like you get a bruise and you have to heal that bruise."
That contusion came from years of scrutiny, with every aspect of her life put under a microscope and dissected by the public, including her love life, her 2008 rehab stint and—perhaps most notoriously—her body.
In 2004, Reid underwent what she called a "botched" breast augmentation surgery and liposuction, which became public fodder and front page news after she suffered a wardrobe malfunction on the red carpet at Diddy's 35th birthday party.
After undergoing reconstructive surgery two years later, Reid was featured on the cover of Us Weekly with the headline, "My Plastic Surgery Nightmare." In an interview with the magazine, she reflects on her damaged self-esteem after the onslaught of coverage of her body following her surgeries.
"I was on the Web sites as having the ugliest boob job in the world," Reid said at the time, later adding, "I'll never be perfect again." The photographs taken after her 2004 surgeries "devastated" her, she admitted to the publication.
The plastic surgeon who performed the corrective procedures landed his own exclusive interview.
But in the fifteen years that have followed, Reid's media-driven pursuit of perfection has given way to learning "how to be happy" in her own skin, though she admitted "it takes time" and she still deals with commentary about her appearance.
"I'm very comfortable with my body now," Reid told E! News. "When that was all happening, you do start listening and questioning yourself, going, 'Oh maybe this is wrong or that.' But you have to look in the mirror and go, I'm OK with myself. I don't care. You want to body shame? Body shame me. I'm in the place in my life where I am happy in my own skin."
Speaking with Reid, it was clear that she has done the work to grow as a person and a heal as a celebrity. She cited Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama several times. She unironically talked about her crystals and the vortexes in Sedona, Ariz., where she spent a transformative five weeks. She's traveled the world, this time without reality TV cameras documenting her every dance move, as they did for her 2005 E! reality series Taradise. But most importantly, she's spent time alone.
"In life, when you go through different things, you've got to learn to accept different things and move on to allow your door and window to open up to good people and good vibrations," Reid explained. "If you're scared of everything because you've been through some tough times and you close yourself off, well you're not going to let yourself open up for these great things that could come into your life again. You only can get good stuff if you allow it. You have to love yourself first, because if you don't love yourself, you can't love anybody else. And that's something you have to work on and it takes work, but at the end, you flourish and it's just an incredible feeling."
And after stepping away from the spotlight for several years, Reid is more than ready to return on her terms. One quick scroll through her IMDb credits prove she kept busy during quarantine, setting up projects both as an actress and a producer. Sixteen projects in total, to be exact, all of which she speaks about with passion and purpose.
There's The Prophecy of Troy, an action film inspired by Greek mythology that will require her to learn sword-fighting and horseback riding. There's the mafia movie The Fraction of a Hitman. She's finishing up production on Doggmen, featuring DMX's final onscreen role before his April death fter suffering a heart attack. There's also an adult LGBTQ+ animated series, Mikey and Miguel, a rom-com starring Rebel Wilson and a supernatural TV series Elderflower Lane, to name just a few. She's also working on a line of vegan purses with crystals worked into the design, which she's hoping to release in the fall.
Her passion project, though—her "baby," as she raves—is Masha's Mushrooms, a psychedelic thriller intended to be the first in a five-film franchise directed by White Cross, Reid's business partner. After being delayed by COVID-19, production is set to begin soon, with Vivica A. Fox, Beverly D'Angelo and Billy Zane rounding out the cast.
So, even though a 2018 profile by Paper Magazine once credited Perez Hilton for ending her career—"his criticism can destroy you (RIP, Tara Reid)"—Reid is primed for her second act.
"Hollywood is a game and you've got to learn the game and play with it and learn how to be part of it and not be hurt by it," the Sharknado star said. "Being in the business for so long now, I've learned a lot and I'm taking everything I've learned and using it in my career now to help and benefit me. Going from everything to kind of nothing for a while, it's a hard transition and that's why I totally turned it around and said, 'OK, I'm not going to be a victim anymore.' You can allow yourself to be a victim for so long and then you either stop it or you turn the tables."
Turning the tables for Reid meant she stopped waiting for her comeback to happen and instead, is making it happen herself.
"I'm not going to wait for roles just to come, let's go on the other side and let's create them instead of waiting because you could wait forever," she said. "If you want something, you have to go out and get it yourself. That's the only way because no one wants something more than you and no one can create something more than you and no one understands more than you."
As for that party girl reputation that has lingered far longer than the low-rise jeans trend? Well, she really doesn't care if people view her through that lens anymore.
"I had to realize, 'Hey, I'm OK. You guys can keep saying this, but after so many years, it's not going to affect me anymore,'" she said. "I mean it still affects, but not even near the same because they don't even know me, they don't even know what they're talking about."
And now, she's living life and navigating her image on her terms.
"Once I proved myself to myself and felt comfortable, I could show everyone else that," she continued. "They're going to look at me and go, 'Wow, you've changed.' A lot of people didn't realize how smart I am and how intuitive I am. And now I think I'm getting to show people that side of me and that's great because that's something that I never got to do before."
And the only thing Hollywood loves more than a downfall is a comeback, a sad but true sentiment Reid is well aware of.
"It's funny because people will bully you and shame you and go, 'Oh, she's never going to come back or she's never going to do this,' and then all of a sudden, as soon as you come back, they go, 'I knew she could do it. I knew she'd come back!'" she told E!. "Everyone loves a comeback and you're like, 'Yeah, where were you 20 years ago?' But it is possible and there are comebacks all the time. At one point I thought I was never going to get one and then I finally decided, well, I'm not going to get one unless I do it myself. I have to hit the reset button on everyone else and that's what I'm doing now. It feels good because now I'm in control. I'm not letting them control me."