Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t for Actresses

It’s striking to see the juxtaposition between Jennifer Hudson’s declaration in the pages of Self that “I’m prouder of my weight loss than my Oscar! I hope it has inspired people,” and the news that Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and Rachel Weisz have jokingly formed the British Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League, with Winslet declaring that plastic surgery “goes against my morals.”

I feel incredibly conflicted about both of these statements. I think plastic surgery often becomes a way of removing distinctions that make people unique and in extreme cases can become a tool of self-hatred, but I don’t think it’s immoral to have it. My assumption is that fillers in particular are going to keep improving, so by the time I want to erase a wrinkle or two, I won’t have to risk freezing my face permanently, who knows? Maybe I’ll do it. Similarly, if someone wants to lose weight for health or personal esteem reasons, as long as they’re not making themselves sick, I’m perfectly fine with that though I am deeply in sympathy with the goals of the folks who advocate health at any size. And who am I to say what goes in Jennifer Hudson’s head? But I can’t help but feel sad that Hudson feels proudest of ridding herself of the thing that made her unique, that made her a fit for the role that won her an award in the first place.

In Hollywood, men’s bodies signify so much less. Jonah Hill can lose a bunch of weight and nobody questions his integrity and self-image. Christian Bale can starve himself for roles twice in a way that’s sufficiently dangerous that he says he wouldn’t do it again, but everybody trusts that he knows when to stop. When Rupert Murdoch has a bunch of cosmetic surgery, folks might think it’s a bad decision or silly, but no one feels a need to describe it on moral terms, or as a sign of self-harm. But anything women do to their bodies or think about their bodies is presumed to have great meaning for both themselves and others, the subject of infinite speculations and judgements. There’s no way to do the right thing for your career, yourself, and other women.