Jennifer Aniston has unwittingly become a projection of what we expect from women, writes Claire O’Sullivan
I never loved Friends. I liked Friends. As a teenager, if I picked up the TV remote and it flickered on, I’d probably have slumped down on the couch and given it 10 or 15 minutes. Yes, Friends obsessives out there, I admit Phoebe was hilarious at times but Chandler, Monica, and Ross were too anal and self-obsessed; too cardboard-cutout American, too preppy, needy, and uncomplicated.
Rachel? She was a spoilt cow but I was superficial: She wore nice clothes, she was kooky, not afraid to make mistakes, and she would probably be enormous fun to go on the tear with.
And that’s where it began.
The problem for Jennifer Aniston is and always has been Rachel. Damned, loveable Rachel. If Monica and Phoebe were wrecking your head, you know you could throw a raised eyebrow to Rachel, slump down on that ubiquitous couch with her and snort laughing.
A whole generation spent years laughing at her, crying with her, and rooting for her and Ross. But a whole generation forgot that Rachel isn’t Jennifer and Jennifer isn’t Rachel and everyone forgot that the urge to see Rachel get her happy ending should have ended with the series finale.
OK, marrying Brad Pitt really can’t be described as a dark hour in her life and Brad really did seem to love Rachel, er, I mean Jennifer.
But what came next in Aniston’s life was to suddenly see her unwittingly recast from loveable pretty actress into hopeless victim; the all-American girl next door who had her gorgeous baseball team captain boyfriend lured away by a highly sexed, evil, blood-guzzling temptress, Angelina Jolie.
Brad somehow wasn’t berated for his inability to keep it in his pants, for his inability to remember that he had made marriage vows. Anyway, how the hell do we know Brad didn’t entrap Ange rather than the commonly held view that he was the enchanted mariner and her the scheming siren?
It was “poor Jen”, “lost Jen”, “Jen vs Ange”; those headlines must have caused mega clicks and sales in tabloid mag and rag land as Aniston would never be allowed forget what must have been one of the shittest times of her life.
The obsession with Rachel getting her happy ending went into overdrive as Brad and Ange appeared to morph into globe-trotting hippies who were going to save the world while still raking in national debt levels of money in Hollywood. All while being impossibly good looking,
Every man Aniston so much as had a coffee with was subsequently under the underflinching glare of the tabloid lens. Tabloid media editors wanted to get the picket fence happy ending whether she wanted it or not. She would not age, she would not put on weight, she would remain lithe, she would find Prince Charming and he would carry her off to have 2.2 perfect children which would become the best thing she had ever done in her life.
Except Aniston, after years of what can only be termed as emotional abuse, took to the Huffington Post this week and told them all to stuff it. That it’s gone too far.
“If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends, and colleagues,” she wrote. “The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing.”
I said that I liked Rachel: Liked in a “well, I don’t dislike her” kind of way. But when I read that post I loved Jennifer. You could sense the anger and forthrightness had been boiling up for years and enough was enough.
From when little girls are born, they are feted and praised for being pretty, for being beautiful. As they get older they are praised for their dress sense, for their gorgeous figures. Yes, school grades may be praised by adults but in the lionpit that is school, it’s appearances that matter.
Girls who look well, who are demure and undemanding, are championed from school to college to the workplace, whereas the plainer, dowdier, pudgier, “difficult” woman is ignored, is sneered at. It kills me to say this but ask most teenage girls if they’d rather be seen as smart or pretty and you all know what the answer will be.
As women hit their late 20s they are expected to be perfectly groomed, to be in a relationship or desperate to find one, to be compliant rather than difficult. They are supposed to be looking to settle down, dreaming of bridal magazines, and cooing at babies and husbands.
They are expected to remain lithe through pregnancy, pop back into pre-baby shape within six weeks, possibly run a marathon within six months, and never turn up at the creche gates looking like they haven’t had a wink’s sleep even though they haven’t. Christ, if mums turn up at the school gates in a tracksuit and without makeup these days, they are judged. Judged by other women.
If women are fat, they must “have issues”, a lack of self-confidence; it’s never that they just love food and hate exercising and don’t really give a rat’s ass if they don’t look like Millie Mackintosh in a bikini.
Our world is so crazy that if you are in a long-term relationship in your late thirties and not sprogged up, there will be the inevitable whisperings of “are they having problems?” or “are they getting on OK?” If you are single, it can’t be seen as a choice. It couldn’t be that maybe you like not having to answer to anyone, enjoy freedom — and more to the point, that you refused point blank “to settle”?
In contrast, single men in their 40s are never portrayed as “Lonely George” or “Heartbroken Hugh” — they’re fun-loving playboys, Jack-the-lad irrepressible.
“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, “ Aniston said, reminding people — mothers, fathers, friends — they are all tacit to these disgusting “agreements”.
“Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise. And it begins early. 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.”
Aniston can’t scratch and she’s photographed. She has unwittingly become a projection of what we expect from women. A successful TV and film career isn’t enough. Her finding husband number two isn’t enough. She must remain attractive and thin. She must pump out babies and remain attractive and thin.
The actress that began her career as the archetypal girl next door is expected to conform to how we expect women to behave, to how we expect women to feel. As she says, it’s not just the media doing this, it’s every woman casually looking another woman up and down, every man making a snide remark about that “16-stone wan that the tide wouldn’t take out”.
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