There has been a bounty of bizarre coverage concerning Katie Holmes since she split from Tom Cruise in 2012, effectively throwing a wrench in our collective understanding of Scientology. But perhaps her most brazen scandal was a high stakes Whole Foods shopping trip in 2015. Multiple outlets reported that Holmes had used a secret entrance to shop at the popular retailer, one available only to the escaped Dawson’s Creek star and her daughter Suri, who dutifully sat in the cart munching snacks.
While not particularly sensational for Scientology’s most suppressive person, Holmes’s Whole Foods escapade laid bare a tabloid industry hell-bent on mining the secrets of her life post-divorce, however mundane. This whirling storm of intrigue was fueled by a converging set of factors that dominate entertainment media. Namely, her appointed status as a “survivor,” particularly after rising to fame as the everygirl teen sensation Joey Potter. Never mind that she isn’t really that famous anymore for acting. Holmes is famous now for becoming an archetype, checking all the boxes a story like her’s demands.
I’d say that Katie Holmes is “back” in the news, but she never really left it. Another report on Holmes’s love life has surfaced claiming that, for weeks now, she’s been seen out and about in New York City, cozied up to younger chef Emilio Vitolo Jr., the pair kissing and snuggling their way across Manhattan. According to sources, they text constantly and are falling for each other hard. It’s her first public relationship since she split with Jamie Foxx in 2019.
Like her new romance with Vitolo Jr., Holmes’s relationship with Foxx was mostly told through grainy tabloid photos taken from 200 feet or more away. For a few years, it wasn’t even really that clear they were dating at all, save for a constant stream of photographic evidence and speculative blind items. But unlike the spectacle of her relationship with Cruise, tabloids found a sense of celebration in her relationship with Foxx. Finally, Holmes had found someone to love and appreciate her, after she “escaped” from Cruise, the tabloid narrative went. For her part, Holmes has remained particularly silent on matters of the split, but the stories told by tertiary characters—Leah Remini, mostly, and Scientology defector Valerie Haney—paint an ugly picture. There have been claims that Holmes auditioned to be Cruise’s wife or that she married him to protect her daughter. But, for a variety of unexplained reasons, Holmes (like Nicole Kidman) hasn’t said anything about her ex-husband or their relationship. So the media spins a narrative of a bruised survivor looking for her happily ever after.
This obsession with her interior life, something I have been frequently guilty of, is rooted in a label that Holmes has never used herself. She has never said that she’s a survivor, but it’s implicit in nearly all of the coverage of it, from People to Us Weekly. It’s a word that carries a host of unstated assumptions. Implicit in the term is some supposed trauma. There are secret contours to this trauma—contours that are clearly gendered (survivors are almost always women). As the tabloids understand it, Holmes survived her relationship with Cruise. She survived Scientology and single motherhood and the frenzy that followed both. This is, of course, all gossip, but in tabloid pages, that’s what Holmes largely is.
The overt concern for her is predicated on the image built for her in the early years of fame. Her breakout role on Dawson’s Creek made her an instant “girl next door,” in love with her best friend and battling all the typical trappings of a high schooler. As she is forever Joey Potter in the eyes of the public, Holmes is intrinsically bound to the ideas the tabloids built around her. Sweet, cute, small, vulnerable. A delicate young woman, soon trapped in a marriage with a husband and cult that lorded power over her, now pregnant, then a mother to daughter Suri, who she had to protect. Contrast it to the coverage around Nicole Kidman post-divorce. The photos of her, walking triumphantly from the signing of her divorce papers, stick in my mind. But Kidman does not live in the shadow of her marriage in quite the same way as Holmes, despite having more children with Cruise than Holmes does. (Two, who apparently don’t speak to her because of their father and religion.)
It’s understandable that people find intrigue in Holmes’s private life, having watched her seemingly triumphant arc after leaving Cruise. After all, this is a woman who, when news of her divorce was announced in 2012, was heralded as a warrior princess come to save herself and her child from the clutches of evil. Headlines at the time boasted of her “attack” strategy in divorce filings, claiming that she was taking a wholly different approach than Kidman took in 2001. As a result of this obsessive coverage, a need for Holmes to be publicly “happy” was born. This is the conclusion to her survivor narrative.
Then Foxx appeared, a year later in 2013, an altogether different kind of man than Cruise. Their early years together were kept a secret, allegedly because of a contract stipulating that she couldn’t date publicly for five years. Grainy photos of them occasionally surfaced, furthering suspicions that they were in fact dating. Another side effect was an utter explosion in the Katie Holmes tabloid rumor industry. Look through tabloid covers at the time, and stories about their “triumphant” relationship, upcoming nuptials, and even pregnancy abounded. It was a fairytale to the tabloids, marked by vacations and whirlwind dates to Manhattan eateries. It seemed all too fitting that the relationship was then confirmed in 2019 at the Met Gala, in the most dazzling fashion imaginable. She wore a bold, sweeping gown, with bright and cheerful makeup, and a wide, beaming smile. Foxx, for his part, looked effortlessly “cool,” going so far as to match his shoes to the color of her dress.
It would end, of course, that August. But unlike the brief time between her stint as Cruise’s wife, or when rumors of her affair with Foxx were just speculation, the Holmes that emerged in the press was carefree. She strutted around New York City in a bold cashmere bra and pumps pulled straight from Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahnik collection. Funny, then, that with news of her most recent entanglement with Vitolo Jr., she has once again been relegated to the swooning, love-smitten girl. However, even more than the tabloids are obsessed with Holmes’ survivor status, the gossip press is entrenched in the tired old trappings of marriage and a woman’s place in it. They are desperate for a traditional happily ever after.
Laughably, while the tabloids have imprisoned Holmes’s public image in that of sweet girl-next-door Joey Potter, in need of a man to hold her and keep her safe, she has continued to live the same life. She finds secret entrances into Whole Foods. She dodges paparazzi. This is her life, and she’s obviously living it. She doesn’t have to explain a single, goddamn thing.