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Story highlights

Mel Robbins: Megyn Kelly's remark to Jane Fonda about her plastic surgery was passive-aggressive

Kelly was trying to get higher ratings at the expense of another woman, Robbins writes

Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, international best-selling author of “The 5 Second Rule” and keynote speaker. She is also a contributing editor for Success magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) —  

On Wednesday, NBC’s Megyn Kelly made waves across the internet when she told Jane Fonda she’d read that the Hollywood legend was “not proud” of her plastic surgery. Fonda raised her eyebrows, tilted her head, and gave Kelly a scolding look. Clearly annoyed, she snapped, “We really want to talk about that now?”

Kelly doubled down with a different tactic – an insincere compliment. “One of the things people think about when they look at you is how amazing you look,” she said.

Kelly’s start as the face of the 9 a.m. ET slot on NBC already wasn’t going well among viewers and critics – and now Kelly can add Fonda to her growing list of snafus.

Fonda handled it like a champ, redirecting Kelly to the movie they were there to discuss. “Well, thanks,” she said. “Good attitude, good posture. I take care of myself. But let me tell you why I love this movie that we did, ‘Our Souls at Night,’ rather than plastic surgery.”

After all, that’s why Fonda was on Kelly’s show: to promote her new movie. And she wasn’t there by herself. Her co-star, Robert Redford, looking surprisingly “youthful” at 81, was sitting right next to her while Kelly prodded only Fonda about plastic surgery.

As soon as I saw the clip, I had the exact same thoughts as actress Sarah Michelle Gellar: “So how come @megynkelly didn’t ask @RobertRedfcrd if he had any plastic surgery?? Way to stay composed @Janefonda #doublestandard,” she tweeted.

Not once was Redford asked to address the speculations that he’s had any “work done” or whether he regrets dying his hair.

Thanks Kelly. Way to show the world how women can be so passive-aggressive with one another. Sexism is bad enough when it’s men demeaning women. When women do it to other women, it’s even more deflating.

Why does the wrinkle count of a two-time Oscar winner and talented actress matter? Simple: because we are obsessed with how women look and even more obsessed with escaping the reality of aging. And research shows that our world today is indeed biased against older women.

In one remarkable study, researchers at UC Irvine and Tulane University, sent out 40,000 faux resumes for online job ads in three age brackets – but they focused on older men and women. According to an article about the study in the Washington Post, “using a sample of only female applicants, those age 49 to 51 got 29% fewer callbacks than applicants age 29 to 31, and workers age 64 to 66 got 47% fewer callbacks. Sales jobs, which had applicants of both genders, also showed a much greater premium on youth for women than for men.”

According to the researchers, there is “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women.”

In other words, as Denise Lewis, a gerontologist at the University of Georgia, sums it up: “As a nation, we have never embraced aging.”

I’d add another statement to that: we’ve never embraced aging in women.

In Fonda’s line of work, the discrimination against older women is particularly brutal.

Researchers from the University of Delaware analyzed prime-time TV programs broadcast over a nine year period. The findings? More women between the ages of 50 and 64 were classified as elderly rather than middle-aged.

Meanwhile, as men age, they continue to be cast in leading roles – with increasingly younger woman starring as their love interests. It happens in real life too. Hugh Hefner died on Wednesday, leaving a 31-year old widow. Hefner was a “legend” with a wife 60 years younger than him. I shudder to think what the world would say about a 91-year-old woman with a 31-year-old husband.

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And why is there such a fascination with youth and attractiveness, particularly in women?

Blame advertising.

While younger women are told to be thinner and prettier, ads for older women emphasize looking younger and wrinkle free – tapping into the insecurities that many of us have about getting older.

If you feel like ads for anti-aging products are EVERYWHERE, it’s not in your head. Procter and Gamble, the owners of anti-aging focused Olay (the #1 skin care line), spends more on ads than any other company in the world.

And those ads are working. The global anti-aging market was worth $140.3 billion in 2015 and is growing incredibly fast – it’s predicted to be valued at $216.52 billion by 2021.

There is no shame in wanting to age naturally or wanting to “age gracefully” with a little help from products or procedures.

What IS a shame is watching Megyn Kelly go for the ratings at the expense of another woman. Brava, Fonda, for keeping your cool. You handled it beautifully.