Actress Ashley Judd is known to speak her mind when she’s passionate about something, and considering she’s obviously well-read and informed about a wide spectrum of things, it’s worth taking a moment to listen. Or, in this case, to read.
Judd has written an essay for The Daily Beast regarding the media and our society’s obsession with women’s bodies/faces, and it came about because of some snarky comments made about her own appearance last month. When photos were taken of her during a press tour for the ABC show “Missing”, several media outlets reported that her face looked decidedly “puffy” and immediately jumped to the conclusion that she’d had plastic surgery. One site even went to the trouble of asking a surgeon–one not associated with Judd in any way–for his professional opinion on what she may have had done. Judd says she simply had a sinus infection and if there was any change in her visage it was due to the medication she took to clear it up, which included steroids.
“Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery?” Judd asks in her essay. “Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings.”
The 43-year old actress says she doesn’t make a habit of reading the things that are written about her, but in this case friends urged her to research what was happening after the rumors reached a fever pitch and went viral on the web.
One quote from the essay is particularly striking; as someone who shakes her head in the checkout line at all the ridiculous magazine headlines–Jessica Simpson’s “battle with baby weight” comes to mind–, I found this paragraph to sum up our culture in a sadly profound way.
“When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)”
The well-written essay is full of good points. Why does our society pick apart even the slightest change or flaw–whether real or imagined–in a celebrity? While it’s not limited to the famous among us, they certainly bear the brunt of ill-will because they are in a constant spotlight. Women are perhaps the worst perpetrators–we are our own worst enemy–but the media is certainly an accomplice. And while Judd is the most recent star to be thrown under the bus, there were many before her and there will be many after. So what is the solution?
As Judd says, we must change the conversation about ourselves and each other. Perhaps the first stop on the way to change is realizing that we don’t have to sacrifice our dignity, our class, or our self-respect to get it.