A More Cynical Theory as to Why Celebrities are Dissing the Mani Cam

Unless you’ve been smack in the middle of a digital detox over the past few weeks, you’re probably well aware that a bunch of A-list celebrities have been throwing shade at E!’s divisive mani cam on recent red carpets. Specifically, Jennifer Aniston (who responded to one host’s “let us see you nails” request with a whip-cracking motion), and Reese Witherspoon, and Julianne Moore who both shot down requests to show off their jewels and manicures for E!’s SAG Awards coverage, prompting applause from women everywhere.

The snubs by Witherspoon, Moore, and Aniston are but a small part of a full-blown movement called #askhermore, that is gaining momentum in showbiz, pushing reporters to ask women better questions on the red carpet (rather than “What are you wearing?”). #Askhermore recognizes that no matter how successful a female musician or actress is, there are some things she’s guaranteed to get asked on the red carpet that would never be posed to her male costars. Questions like: “What are you wearing?” and, “Who did your hair?” and, “How did you lose your baby weight?” and, “What’s in your purse?”

But, as Australian social commentary site Mamamia pointed out, perhaps there’s more than just feminist activism at play here. While your first impression might be to mentally high-five these women for championing gender equality in the entertainment industry, there’s something else to consider: Awards season—including all the dress-watching and inane questions about hair and beauty that goes with it—rakes in really big money for female celebrities.

So while it might seem silly, flippant, and even sexist at face value to pepper women with questions about their outfits and beauty routine on the red carpet, awards season is essentially an opportunity for celebrities to plug what they’ve been working on—and not just their TV shows and movies. This time of year means particularly big bucks for female celebrities (who already get paid less than their male counterparts) and is a platform for promoting brand partnerships—particularly with fashion and beauty brands.

But when a celebrity doesn’t have a brand paying them big bucks to talk about their manicure/handbag/dress/faux tan, you can imagine they might be less than willing to dole out free publicity.

Consider this: Neither Aniston nor Witherspoon have partnerships with brands that they could promote on E!’s mani cam, and both actresses have sued jewelry labels for using their faces in campaigns without permission. So you can understand why they might not have wanted to dish out free love to whichever accessory brand or nail polish they happened to have on at the SAGs.

Likewise, Julianne Moore fronted a Bulgari campaign back in 2009, and while there wasn’t a mani cam back then, we can’t help but think she may have been more willing to flaunt her jewels with a sponsor behind them.

It’s very possible these famous women weren’t just making a stand for gender equality when they turned down the mani cam on Sunday night, but were also thinking strategically about future sponsorship opportunities.

To be sure, no celebrity is paying for the clothes they wear on the red carpet, or the pricey jewelry they are accessorizing with, but some are doing a much better profiting off of brand relationships than others. Right now, asking Keira Knightley who designed her dress is an opportunity for the actress to plug Chanel, a brand with which she’s had a long and incredibly lucrative relationship with, rumored to be worth more than $750,000 per year back in 2007. But without that coveted ambassadorship, would Knightley be as happy to endorse the fashion house for free to reporters asking about her outfit? Probably not.

Keira Knightley

Photo: Chanel

Moreover, Lupita Nyong’o is often asked about her flawless skin, which led to a profitable partnership with Lancôme, the beauty brand she can now thank for her complexion on every red carpet. Seriously, think about it: If Kristen Stewart is carrying a bag on the red carpet, you can bet it will be from Chanel spring 2015—the line she is being paid big bucks to promote, and Julia Roberts didn’t just wear a Givenchy suit to the SAGs because it looked incredible—she’s also the current face of the brand.

While you have to give full credit to stars standing behind the #askhermore movement, a dash of healthy cynicism certainly doesn’t hurt when you are talking about celebrities and Hollywood. With the Grammy Awards set to take place this weekend, it will definitely be interesting to see how this theory continues to play out on the red carpet.

MORE: Watch Women Get Asked Dumb Questions on the Red Carpet