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Plead the Belly

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Shoplifting With Winona Ryder

Shoplifting With Winona Ryder

In honor of Black Friday and all the retail PTSD I have from my years of working in Minnesota’s own Mall of America, I would like to highlight one of the most notorious shoplifting stories in history. You won’t be surprised to hear that I came across this story while sifting through click bait trying to research Black Friday crimes. Although, this story did not happen on Black Friday it has all the sensation one could hope for. Winona Ryder committing grand theft in a Los Angeles Department store. 

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In 2001 Winona Ryder stole $5,500 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. The details of this crime are at best ordinary. This wasn’t a heist years in the making. Tactically this seems like it was nothing more than an act of impulse. Which brings us to the more interesting question… Why?  Why would a celebrity with more than enough means to pay for the merchandise, or buy thrills elsewhere decide to shoplift on camera? 

In her own words talking about the incident Ryder says, “Psychologically, I must have been at a place where I just wanted to stop. I won’t get into what happened, but it wasn’t what people think.” 

Ryder was open about her struggle with mental illness in her 1999 interview with Diane Sawyer. In this interview, she talked about her movie Girl Interrupted and how she made it for “all the young women like her.” She talks about her journey with depression and anxiety as she tried to navigate her acting career in the '90s. She tells Sawyer that she felt like she was going crazy and checked herself into a hospital. After leaving the hospital she sought therapy and at the time of the interview, she said she did not want to let depression define her life anymore. She thought depression could make her a better actress and that she needed to be tortured to be good at her job, but realized she could also feel alive feeling joy. 

Two years later she was in a Saks on Fifth looking for a way out. After a publicized trial she was found guilty of two counts of shoplifting and vandalism and sentenced to community service. She later reflected in an interview that having a break from Hollywood was good for her. She reflected that acting and only doing one thing can be very isolating and over the last decade she has had time to explore. 

She has also been able to look back on the whole thing through the years with a little humor. In one SNL sketch, she declares “Stealing is Bad” as she plays a character who is shopping with friends and they all forgot their credit cards. 

She has made a comeback with her role in Stranger Things but is still having conversations about mental health. Her character in the Netflix Original, Joyce Byers, was treated like a crazy or anxious character. 

So much of the narrative around the Ryder’s decision to shoplift framed her as a spoiled Hollywood star who thought she was too good to pay for expensive items. But, as you look through her history in Hollywood, her attempt to create awareness for women’s mental health, and her statement in reflection of what was going on in her life at the time, it seemed like she was acting out. Maybe it was a subconscious cry for help, to escape the life she dreamed of once she discovered that wealth and fame did not bring her happiness. 

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