How many times have you walked down the grocery store aisle and looked at the array of tabloid magazines, musing at which celebrity is reported to be “pregnant!” on any given day? Being more specific, how many times has Jennifer Aniston been that celebrity in question? We have no doubt many of our readers would agree with us when we say we are sick of tabloid headlines focusing on women’s bodies and magazines that scrutinize women based on such narrow ideals.
We we are not the only one sick of reading about what Jennifer Aniston is apparently doing with her ovaries these days, Jennifer herself is fed up with it. In an emotional and powerful op-ed for The Huffington Post titled ‘For The Record’, the award-winning actress, producer and director decided to speak out about the damaging and sexist ways the media treats women be measuring their worth according to how many children they have, what they look like, and whether they are married or not.
She begins by saying she does not make a habit of responding to gossip, but since this is an important an ongoing conversation, and she is not on social media, she wanted to set the record straight.
“For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Amendment’ and ‘celebrity news’,” she writes.
Jennifer goes on to say that the level of scrutiny and objectification we put women through, especially via the media lens, is “disturbing”.
“The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty. Sometimes cultural standards just need a different perspective so we can see them for what they really are — a collective acceptance… a subconscious agreement. We are in charge of our agreement. Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise. And it begins early,” she states.
She describes the decades-long obsession with quantifying a woman’s worth by such narrow means as warped.
“The message that girls are not pretty unless they’re incredibly thin, that they’re not worthy of our attention unless they look like a supermodel or an actress on the cover of a magazine is something we’re all willingly buying into. This conditioning is something girls then carry into womanhood. We use celebrity ‘news’ to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical ‘imperfection’?” she continues.
Before writing her op-ed, Jennifer says she really started paying attention to the way women in society are defined by marital and maternal status. Despite her award-winning work on television and film for many many year, not to mention her philanthropy, Jennifer is all to familiar with these concepts and her speaking out is on behalf of all the women who have felt the same way.
“The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children. In this last boring news cycle about my personal life there have been mass shootings, wildfires, major decisions by the Supreme Court, an upcoming election, and any number of more newsworthy issues that ‘journalists’ could dedicate their resources towards,” she explained.
She is also quick to point out that although she may become a mother some day, and the media will most definitely be notified, she is not in pursuit of motherhood in a way that she feels incomplete without it.
“Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves,” she stated.
Her entire piece is a major mic drop moment and should also challenge us as consumers of mass media to know how to spot “the toxic messages buried within these seemingly harmless stories served up as truth and shaping our ideas of who we are” as she wrote.
In fact, we as consumers have the power to dictate the media messages by choosing not to buy it, by demanding better accountability, and using our clicks and our dollars to focus on messages that empower women wherever they are at, not just if they fit into some narrow ideal of what an industry has told half the world’s population they need to look like and do to be “acceptable”.
This isn’t the first time she has spoken on this topic. In an interview with Allure magazine in December 2014, she candidly shared that she doesn’t like the pressure put on herself and other women, that we have all failed as females if we have no procreated.
“I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children. This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is,” she said, admitting that although she has allowed the narratives to just roll off her back, it does make her pause at times.
The conversation around how we value women is so important. We are glad that this is getting far more attention than ever, because it is the voices of many women speaking up which will eventually challenge and change the “norms” that were determined a long time ago. CBC News reports that Jennifer Aniston’s essay has inspired other celebrity women to speak out about sexism that does not belong in the entertainment industry, nor in the media.
“Entrenched ways take a while to change. but having the conversations and opening it up, objecting to it or seeing different points of view about it is really helpful,” said actress Marissa Tomei.
“I applaud Jennifer. I hate that she had to do it, but I think she just had enough,” said actress Allison Janney.
CBC also points to a recent controversial Vanity Fair article where a male writer used a review about the new ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ film to scrutinize actress Renee Zellweger’s face. Actress and badass feminist voice called the article “vile, damaging, stupid and cruel.” Vanity Fair also came under fire for opening up an article about Australian actress Margot Robbie by referring to her as “sexy and composed even while naked”, immediately stirring up the ire of women like feminist writer Roxane Gay.
It is time for women to raise their voices to demand being treated in an equal and respectful manner. Why can’t the media focus on a woman’s talents, her achievements, her passions and her philanthropy, and have that be enough? As Jennifer stated in her piece, it starts early. When girls grow up with the knowledge of social cues which tell them, everywhere they look, that their respect and dignity depends on their marital status, their appearance, and their ability to have children, how will they value themselves differently?
Thank you Jennifer for speaking out and being a “friend” (sorry, we had to!) to all the women everywhere who are sick of this.