There is no question that women in today’s society are held to a high standard of beauty and sex appeal, even as they age. We say that men become ‘distinguished’ looking as their hair grays. We overlook their spreading waistlines and wrinkles around their eyes.

Yet we expect women to appear youthful even as they race toward mid-century and beyond.

And the young girls aren’t getting to enjoy their childhood either. They are racing into adulthood before they hit puberty with their manner of dress and heavily made up faces.

This is what I believe Ashley Judd was referring to recently when she replied to media criticism of her ‘puffy’ face – blaming our ‘objectification of women’ for the obsession with how women look in today’s society.

But is this a fair complaint when it is aimed at the source that helped launch her career in the first place? Where was the outrage when media headlines were touting her beauty and glamour? Is it right to accept the accolades until they cease and then turn against the people who presented them and the standard they represented when you no longer qualify for them?

I think Ashley Judd is a talented actress and activist. She is smart and articulate. And she is aging – as all of us do. I think her attack against the media for pointing it out was out of line though, given her acceptance of media headlines in the past that were favorable.

You just can’t have it both ways.

Writers know this. We know if you believe all of the good critiques of your work you are equally susceptible to the ravages of the bad. So we write what pleases us and then let the chips fall where they may.

Ashley should just focus on her work, give us performances that speak for themselves, go about her life in a way that isn’t punctuated with her appearance, and the media will have no choice but to respect her work over the shape of her face.

But that doesn’t solve the problem with the objectification of women. Only we as a society can change that. And we can take our cues from the women we admire who never tried to use their looks to improve their careers – Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Gloria Steinhem, Barbara Bush, Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling, Oprah – to name a few.

Who do you admire for their body of work over their physical body or outward appearance?

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  1. I love this post. You have expressed this so well. This is a topic I have written so much about and talked about so much with my friends. We continue to perpetuate the hypocrisy: Older actresses are revered for their achievements, but expected to look young. The magazines scream “Goldie Hawn looks as young as ever!” “Demi Moore defies aging!” Here is the truth: We age. Skin loses elasticity and collegan. Body parts sag. Spines curve. No amount of cosmetic surgery or exercise or diet can stop the internal aging process. To believe otherwise, or to believe that some celebs have bypassed what is the natural order of the species is not only foolish but is harmful to our daughters and to our granddaughters. Women have struggled so hard to be seen and to be heard, yet we are so willing to give it all away. This won’t stop until we stop feeding the monster. Some older actresses have done so (Jamie Leigh Curtis, Diane Keeton), and for me, they are the icons.

  2. Hi,
    I totally agree about Ashley Judd, you just can’t have it both ways. I think it is going to take awhile for certain parts of society to accept women as they are, it is changing but very slowly.

  3. I think Ashley was on some sort of steroids that made her face swell. But I don’t know, really. I think the actresses who aren’t trying to dip into the fountain of youth (via a surgeon’s knife) are much more appealing to me. You just can’t beat Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren for their outrageous talent. I think the minimally talented actors are the ones who suffer the most from “aging”. Their appearance was really all they had to begin with.

  4. There is a lot of pressure on women, especially young girls, to look a certain way. Thankfully that is changing … slowly. I’ve always been envious of men because they look more distinguished as they age, Wrinkles make them look rugged and if they don’t like their look, they can cover it with a beard. The odd thing is that they don’t really seem overly concerned about it. Of course they like to look good, but if they don’t, well, that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t ruin their day.
    Maybe we are our own worst enemy.

  5. Meryl Streep… exceptional talent trumps her aging face (although I feel she has a classic, ageless, beauty. And she doesn’t think too much of herself to play Julia Child… I’m not sure I could woman-up and do that one for the sake of art…

  6. Great post. I agree with it all.
    But you know what, since so many women are in cooperate positions and quite able to make the choices of what is portrayed as beautiful, you’d think they’d put a stop to some of the objectification. I wonder why they don’t? Money?

    About the critics and writers, you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Well said! 😉

  7. Amen sister! I admire Elisa Hirch to be completly honest with you. Although she is highly attractice It’s her personality and inner beauty, her fight for survival and her wit that make her so very special. If you don’t know Elisa You can find her on Goodreads by looking up any of her books.
    She goes by EC Stilson and her books are as follows
    The Golden Sky, this book is about the death of her infant son and how she handled that at the age of 19.
    The Sword of Senack, which is a YA book and very well written.
    Bible Girl, which is a story that leads up to The Golden Sky and is turly an insight as to why teenage girls do some of the things they do.
    Now that my comment is as long as your post I’ll say goodbye until tomorrow. Have a great day lady

  8. Great question. I work in a profession (education) populated by women and have so many I admire so I will just say, I admire all women who are forced to make the tough choices whether they work at home raising their children or work outside the home raising their children.

  9. I think you may be on to something. I was feeling sympathetic towards Ms. Judd, as I like her a lot, but then, I never heard her complain about objectification in her youth, when she was lauded as quite a beauty (particularly in comparison to her sister and believe me, there were comparisons drawn back then).

  10. What you touch on, Renee, an often lamented fact. Unfortunately, I don’t think it has so much to do with “objectifying” women as with pure and simple biology. Youth, health, a tight waist indicate fertility. Hence sexually desirable. Why is it that men can father children well into their old age where a woman’s fecundity shuts down in her fifties? My own explanation that children need their mother so nature makes sure that she can’t have them if there won’t be a good chance of being around for them till they are good and ready to fly the nest.

    As you, and some of your commentators have pointed out: There are some remarkable examples of women in the public (and private) eye who have ‘aged well’ (now there is a terrible expression). No doubt due partly to good genes, and mostly (oh, do I hate this cliche, true nevertheless) that inner beauty, that indefinable something called ‘personality’ which will shine through and keep others’ attention beyond the call of duty.

    If the the above wasn’t profound, Renee, you may call me A Blonde.


  11. Good job, Renee. I agree and I think that my favorite is probably Helen Mirren (although I do think she is a pretty great looking lady!). I also think that the more inner beauty that some one has, the more they become outwardly beautiful and the opposite holds true for when you see someone who is gorgeous but with a nasty personality, they all of a sudden become not so gorgeous anymore!

  12. Great post, Renee. I think our priorities are out of whack, and we’ve become obsessed with youth and physical beauty. We talk about striving for higher values, but look at who our society rewards with fame and fortune. Justin Bieber, 18, recently bought a 9000-square-foot mansion. And why do I even know that?

  13. I think it’s a matter of style which brings its own beauty. I commented the following similarly on another blog and I will remember it again. I still remember an Oprah segment when Oprah interviewed Brooke Shields about style and her style. She asked Brooke to choose two women in the audience who exemplified style. I don’t remember the younger model, but I will always remember how she picked out an elderly woman with an olive complexion,
    wearing a simple brown orange dress, very short hair that framed her face, and large simple gold disc earrings. I remember thinking, yes, perfect choice.

  14. There are many, but Meryl Streep was the first to come to mind of those in that industry, where age is truly made an issue.

  15. You’ve raised a valuable point about having it both ways. It is difficult to age gracefully in a graceless society. I think I would replace Oprah with Meryl Streep in your list. Not that Oprah lacks talent or drive, but I do think that without her really beautiful face, she might never have been able to get a foot in the door. Also, how about Barbara Streisand, a woman who can look ugly one minute but when her soul pours forth, she is a radiant beauty. Of course, beauty is always in the eyes of the beholders, right?

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