When some media outlets started dissecting Ashley Judd’s “puffy” appearance on a Canadian talk show, they probably didn’t expect their comments to provoke a thoughtful discourse on the pressures and discrimination facing women as they age. Rather than back off and accept the useless criticism about her looks, Ashley Judd fought back with a brilliant article that examines the damned if you do/damned if you don’t nature of beauty and plastic surgery in North America. It is an issue celebrities in particular face at heightened levels.
In the article, she speaks of how a woman’s accomplishments “are regularly minimized and muted” in trade for her looks.
“We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification,” she wrote in the Daily Beast piece.
After her March appearance on the Marilyn Denis show to promote her new series Missing, the 43- year-old actress was described alternately as having aged badly and gained weight, or having had plastic surgery – with some media outlets even going so far as to consult surgeons on just how much work she’s had done.
Judd noted that as an actress, she made a choice early on to avoid reading media coverage:
“I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator.”
When her colleagues and friends told her she should be aware of what was being said this time, she decided the misogynistic comments were indeed a problem worth addressing.
“The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about,” she wrote.
If this controversy proves anything, it’s that the pressure on women to look young as they age is only getting worse, especially when something like a “puffy” face can be considered news by media outlets that supposedly exist outside the tabloid world.
Judd pointed out the hypocrisy in the criticism she was receiving. On one hand, some people were saying she looked awful and hadn’t aged well – while on the other, they were saying her skin was too flawless so she must have had work done. “It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public.”
Most importantly, she asks us to start a new dialogue with each other. “Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?”
If there is an upside to this whole situation, it is that she was bold enough to face it head on and point out the sickness that pervades North American views on beauty and aging. That the dialogue is just beginning means there is still a long way to go, but the more we see people in positions of power provide enlightening insight into what is really being preyed upon (the self esteem of the viewers and readers of these organizations), the more we are able to recognize it for what it truly is – advertising for the beauty industry.
Watch Ashley Judd discuss the criticism below:
What do you think about these criticisms of Ashley Judd and her response? We would love to hear your answers to the questions she posed in the comments below!
Sources: Daily Beast, CBC, NBC
Photo ©Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
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