At first, the onslaught was more tempered, even slow.
“Hey,” my friend said as we walked past a billboard on Sunset Boulevard with Zooey Deschanel’s “adorkable” face plastered across it. “You look like her.”
I nodded and repeated the story I had told most everyone who had approached me since Zooey Deschanel went from being an indy darling to a more popular celebrity: in middle school, as I entered my thrift-store-meets-Audrey-Hepburn phrase, friends of my parents over for dinner told me I looked like their friend Caleb Deschanel’s daughter, who had a sister that shared my name. “You both wear berets with bows and cutesy dresses!” they told me. I was fourteen. I shrugged and asked for her name. “Zooey,” they replied, before returning to complimenting my mother’s chicken. At the time I was more impressed that they knew Caleb Deschanel (a famous cinematographer) than anything else.
The next day, I was at the grocery store hunting down popsicles. I noticed the women behind me tittering. I turned around and smiled at them.
“Why, you look just like that girl in that show!” they exclaimed. “The new girl!”
I laughed and informed them that sadly, I was not, though I’d love to get my hands on her wardrobe.
Then the show premiered, and my laughter turned slightly (only slightly!) more bitter.
Zooey Deschanel’s Jess was me. We were both weird. We both taught school. We both had mostly male friends. We both liked to bake, to sing to ourselves, wear quirky outfits, use silly voices. The woman had stolen my life.
My best friend for over fifteen years called me laughing hysterically. “That’s you!” he screamed so loudly my ears buzzed. “I feel like when I watch New Girl I’m hanging out with you!” Friends and family quickly echoed this sentiment. There’s an episode where Zooey Deschanel starts to recite her ATM pin code. It’s the exact same pincode as mine.
A minute amount of anxiety started to tinge all my actions and fashion choices. I had always taken myself to be unique, a quirky individual, but with the rising star of Zooey Deschanel outshining all my individual quirks, was I no longer me? Was I Zooey Deschanel? Or was Zooey Deschanel me?
Since “New Girl” has become a hit, barely a day goes by when someone doesn’t comment on how I look like her. Outside a movie theatre in Hollywood two gentleman ran up to me and informed me that they “absolutely adored” me before running quickly away. Tourists strolling the streets of Santa Monica take my photograph without permission. A trip this past summer to Europe with my mother ended with various French men sending me free drinks because they loved 500 Days of Summer. I have tried telling all these people that I am not Zooey - the onslaught of adoration is being misappropriated - but nobody believes me. They don’t want to.
And most of the time, I have to admit, I really don’t mind it. In fact, I kind of enjoy the attention. I mean, Zooey Deschanel is awesome! She’s cute and funny and has a damn fine singing voice (something, along with eye color, we actually do not have in common) and I love her site hellogiggles.com and what that’s all about. She’s obviously rather smart, and one talented actress. I just have to repeat to myself that I am a unique individual, I just happen to share the same taste as - and look like - a celebrity. Really, I had made my peace with it.
Then paparazzi mistook me for her and the Mail Online published incredibly unflattering photos of me all over the internet. Now, I’m a little less thrilled.
I never saw the photographer. I was simply dashing to look at an apartment in Burbank. I went in, I saw the property, I left. I vaguely remember noticing a gardener behind a bush. He must have been the paparazzo. I walked to my car; I drove back to work. That whole day I regretted my choice of outfit - I went with jeans (which I wear maybe once a month) and a flannel shirt and one of my preferred pageboy caps. It was too hot for that outfit.
Now I get to regret that outfit forever.
"The star hailed for her quirky personality and fashion style," writes the Daily Mail Reporter, punctuation free, "stayed true to her image by covering her head with a brown hat that looked like a prop from an Oliver Twist movie."
When I saw the article, a friend was searching for photos of Zooey Deschanel and that was the first article that popped up this past weekend - I was immediately horrified. Those photos were godawful! Not only did I not look like Zooey Deschanel, I didn’t look like me. Secondly, how had they found me? Did someone see me driving down Buena Vista Avenue and follow my car? Wouldn’t my car - a beat up old VW Jetta with a USC sticker - alert them to my non-celebrity status? Where had the photographer hidden? That’s one nice camera, it’s right up in my face, but the street was empty. Also, no offense to Burbank, but where I was looking was on the cheaper side, and unless Zooey Deschanel was involved in some ponzi scheme, the girl did not need to live there. How had no one noticed the photographer’s mistake?
While I had sometimes begrudged Zooey Deschanel her fame and fortune, the article made me rethink my envy. While the Mail was mostly complimentary, the comments about my/Zooey’s “au natural” look stung as I was actually wearing makeup. I just wasn’t wearing false eyelashes and heavy eyeliner (normally a fan of dark eyeliner, I had gone without it on that particular day). And the vivisection of my wardrobe was a bit unnerving. For the record - the shirt is from Madewell, the jeans are Levi’s, the boots Steve Madden, the purse Marc Jacobs.
As of today, the article remains up on the website, and the commentors are split fairly evenly as to whether or not I am Zooey Deschanel. For the record, I am not Zooey Deschanel. I am Emily Ansara Baines. I am a writer of fiction and cookbooks. My outfits are unpredictable. My humour, bizarre. I might meow at you, or attempt the Charleston in the middle of the street. I will sign autographs, but it’s going to be my name, not hers.