Inspired by the experience of a recent and nasty spike in conversation about whether or not she’s had plastic surgery, and if she has, whether she’s lost her looks, and if she is, whether she ought to get on it lest she lose her husband, Ashley Judd’s published a column in the Daily Beast about the conversational cycle that produces these kinds of judgements:
I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. 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. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).
There’s something fitting about the fact that Judd’s piece came out at the same time that Lifetime has released significantly altered images of Jennifer Love Hewitt to promote her new show, The Client List, in which she plays an employee of a massage parlor, and shortly after Lindsay Lohan’s Saturday Night Live hosting appearance prompted a new round of speculation about and judgements of the results of her plastic surgery. They’re all striking illustrations of the ownership both studios and the public feel we have over the bodies of women who entertain us for a living.
The photoshopping of Hewitt’s body reverses the usual process. She’s made less voluptuous, and her bra is photoshopped to cover more of her body so it functions as a very skimpy tank top rather than as lingerie. The show’s walking a very fine line with its concept in any case. Hewitt’s rub-and-tug provider is meant to be an subject of identification for women viewers rather than an object of lust for male ones. She’s presented as attractive, but she can’t be too attractive lest viewers find her looks as well as her profession threatening. It’s not only men who actresses’s looks are tailored to satisfy and comfort.
And the speculation over Lohan’s reputed plastic surgery illustrates the ugly side of our pickiness. A viral YouTube video’s circulated tracing the evolution of her face:
The horrified reaction to her looks has been impressive even by the standards of collective internet bodysnarking. But for all the head-shaking sorrow about what people believe, erroneously or no, about what Lohan’s done to her face, it’s hard to imagine the same level of outrage and disgust about the rumors that circulated six years ago that she had gotten breast implants. There is no world in which women in Hollywood could possibly be making decisions about their bodies for their own pleasure or satisfaction. If they don’t submit to our collective whims, the general public seems to have given itself permission to destroy them.