Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Peggy Drexler: Jennifer Aniston wrote piece in Huffington Post complaining about media scrutiny
She says sorry, Jen, you signed up for public attention, but Aniston is right about pregnancy speculation going too far
On Tuesday morning, the Huffington Post published a piece by Jennifer Aniston entitled “For the Record.” In it, the actress blasts the media for, she says, its constant objectification, over many years, of her personal life. Her commentary was fueled at least in part by recent tabloid speculation that she’s pregnant, at long last. Aniston is married to the actor Justin Theroux. It’s not the first time the celebrity media has announced her pregnancy, nor is she the only actress to be the focus of these sorts of rumors.
But she is one of the tabloids’ favorites, and she has evidently had it. “For the record, I am not pregnant,” she writes. “What I am is fed up.”
Celebs who have been body-shamed
She goes on to argue that celebrity news perpetuates a “dehumanizing view of females” that includes an obsession with physical appearance and marital and maternal status. “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,” she writes. “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’?”
And yet, isn’t the scrutiny Aniston endures the inevitable flip side of celebrity? Of beauty and fame? Millions of people who are interested in what you wear (in Aniston’s case Saint Laurent), what shampoo you use (Living Proof, of course), your favorite cocktail (margarita!)? This attention isn’t always a bad thing. One could argue that Aniston chose celebrity and that, certainly, the aspects of her life that make her an object of tabloid fascination have also made her very wealthy. They have made her, as an actress, employable and in-demand.
Best of 'Friends:' 20 classic episodes
And it’s not like she’s exactly refused to conform to the Hollywood beauty ideal. You could even argue that she’s helped influence it (who among us didn’t have, or know someone who had, the “Rachel” haircut?) Aniston, in fact, transformed her looks very early on, and pretty dramatically, and her career benefited. She’s far thinner than she was at the start of her career. She has admitted to a nose job.
What’s more she maintains those looks, and talks about them often in the press — as a spokeswoman for Aveeno skincare, in part, as well as a co-owner of hair product brand Living Proof. By doing so, she does, in a way, endorse the obsession with and expectation of how a woman should look both in Hollywood and outside of it. In 2014, she told Yahoo Beauty that she feels most comfortable at about “110 to 113 pounds,” which, not surprisingly, was not entirely well received by many women.
The fact is Jennifer Aniston is not a woman who does not care how she looks. In that way, it’s hard to ask everyone else to ignore what they see.
That’s not to excuse all the fuss about her body, or her “baby.” Aniston does have a valid objection. For one thing, “I resent being made to feel ‘less than’ because my body is changing and/or I had a burger for lunch and was photographed from a weird angle and therefore deemed one of two things: ‘pregnant’ or ‘fat,’” she writes. She’s referring to photos of herself on vacation with her husband that appeared, among other places, on the cover of In Touch Weekly along with the line “Jen’s Finally Pregnant!” an arrow pointing to her belly “bump.”
Celebrities who love being naked
For another, beneath these declarations is an underlying message that’s quite antiquated, and sexist; that she’s of course going to have a child because what woman doesn’t? That of course it’s so exciting, this “miracle baby at age 47,” as the magazine puts it, because what else could Aniston, now finally having “landed” a husband, want?
The magazines (and the readers who pick them up) may not even realize they’re body shaming her by misidentifying her belly bump as a baby bump; they’re just “happy” she’s about to be so happy, at last! It’s condescending, at best, and it’s old fashioned and perpetuates the idea that women aren’t women if they’re not mothers.
Of course, Aniston has traded on her body image – flat belly included – in the first place. But while the paparazzi and public obsession is something that, sorry Jen, you signed up for, the expectation that the role of wife and mother is one she should and does want is most definitely not.
Our gender does not dictate our goals. Or as Aniston herself puts it, “We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”