Jennifer Aniston Is *Actually* Fine. It’s Our Idea Of What A Woman Should Be That Needs To Move On.

In her now infamous essay, Jen Aniston calls out the tabloids. Can we please stop holding her up to these outdated ideals of what a woman's life should look like?

Jennifer Aniston Is *Actually* Fine. It's Us Who Needs To Move On From Our Idea Of What A Woman Should Be

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

'Poor Jen'. 'Sad Jen'. 'Lonely Jen'. 'Heartbroken Jen'. 'Spinster Jen'. 'Spurned Jen'. How many times have you read a headline which attributes an emotion to Jennifer Aniston?

Hundreds right?

But how often is the article an interview with Jennifer Aniston in which she expresses any of said emotions?

Literally zero.

How many times has somebody written about how ‘tragic’ Jennifer Anniston’s life is in order to sell magazines, newspapers or get clicks? Around a zillion.

So, what have we learned from the countless articles which took how shit Jen’s life is as their subject? That the 'unhappier' a celebrity is percieved to be, the fewer kids they have and the more break-ups they go through then the more pages are devoted to covering them. We live in a world where ‘bad’ celebrity news sells.

Perhaps it’s because of her success as Rachel in Friends that we all feel like we know Jennifer Aniston. We grew up with her character; Rachel was open, often a bit of a mess and she wore her heart on her sleeve. She was relatable before 'relatable' was a buzzword. Neither too highbrow nor too lowbrow, neither too stylish nor a fashion disaster, neither a feminist nor not a feminist, a career woman who succeeded within the traditionally ‘female’, and therefore acceptable, sector of fashion. She was not threatening. Rachel Green was everywoman.

She was a relatable and fictional canvas onto which we could all project our anxieties, hopes, dreams and fears. That’s what well written characters are: believable. Will I end up alone? Will I ever get the job that I want? Will I ever be financially independent from my parents without the help of a credit card? Will I ever successfully be able to chat someone up without making a tit of myself? Will I ever get over my ex and stop having sex with him? Watching Friends and identifying with Rachel is relatable because through her you could work out all of these questions, feel as though you’re not in it alone and invest in her fictional struggle.

Jennifer Aniston, however, is not Rachel Green. She’s Jennifer Aniston. You don’t know her and she’s had enough. I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon of putting words in her mouth, she’s written an essay for the Huffington Post entitled For The Recordto that end.

‘Let me start by saying that addressing gossip is something I have never done,’ she writes before explaining that reason she has decided to do so now is that she feels there is an important ‘larger conversation that has already begun and needs to continue’. She doesn’t have social media accounts, so she has written this article. The recent speculation about whether or not she is pregnant following paparazzi pictures of her looking ever so slightly bloated being the straw which, quite rightly, broke this celebrity camel’s back.

‘For the record’, she continues ‘I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of “journalism,” the “First Amendment” and “celebrity news”.’

Anniston goes on to address the ways in which the paparazzi affect her safety, outlining how she is ‘harassed by dozens of aggressive photographers’ and ‘stalked’ outside her home every day. She then goes on to make an important point about why she has become one of the most written about celebrities and what that says about our society at large, particularly the way we treat women in the public eye.

‘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. The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general…’

This wider context in which Aniston places her own experience is key. She has become symbolic, or rather a fictional version of her has. Because it’s not the ‘real Jennifer Anniston’ we read about, it’s an avatar which has been created in the media. One who is sad, lonely, single, unhappily childless, spurned and most tragically of all a bit bloated but not pregnant (which, presumably, makes it ok?).

Fictional Jennifer Aniston is symbolic of the way we still stereotype women today, of the expectations we place on them and narrative we prescribe for how women’s lives are supposed to play out from beginning through the middle unto the end.

The prescribed recipe for ‘the perfect life’ goes something like this: sleep around a bit, but not too much in your twenties, preferably with archetypal bad boys to get it out of your system. Be devastated about breakups, if you have them. Build a career, but don’t let it absorb you. Remain focussed on finding a suitable partner and then get married to them. Be happy about this. Once married, start thinking about children. Have children, fulfil your life’s purpose. Fade into the background and look after the children and the children’s children.

Jennifer Aniston has deviated from this narrative. She has never done a tell all, bare all interview in which she wells up and speak about how she ‘recovered’ from her break-up with Brad and ‘found happiness’. She has never done a Taylor Swift and written a not-so cryptic song about her heartbreak, nor has she posted happy couple selfies on Instagram. She has never conformed; this makes people uncomfortable, it has also allowed them to project onto her silence.

For some reason, in 2016, we still aren’t comfortable with women who are quite happy being single. We can’t fathom the idea that a woman might be in her 40s and childless and perfectly happy with that state of affairs. Aniston is neither a 'Madonna', the mother archetype, nor is she a 'whore', a Samantha from Sex and the City character. And so people don’t know where to place her. They can’t take her at face value because it challenges the status quo that we are all supposed to be striving to conform to.

Where Aniston has previously said nothing the tabloid press has spoken for her, through her it has endorsed the status quo and reinforced the idea that a woman is no more than the sum of her parts: her reproductive organs.

‘Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child.' She says. 'We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.’

She has ‘grown tired’ of being co-opted as part of the narrative which is so neatly packaged up and sold to young women. ‘I may become a mother someday, and since I’m laying it all out there, if I ever do, I will be the first to let you know. But I’m not in pursuit of motherhood because I feel incomplete in some way, as our celebrity news culture would lead us all to believe.’ As we’ve seen in the UK over the last week with the Theresa May/Andrea Leadsom debacle, not having children is still such a taboo. Theresa May couldn’t have children therefore she must be ‘sad’ said Leadsom. Perhaps, but it would also be OK if she had been able to have them and didn’t want them. Just as it’s OK if you chose not to get married or stay with the same partner for your whole life. That’s what feminism is and what it should strive to promote: choice. It’s your right to do as you want.

In conclusion, Aniston implores us to reconsider the information we consume. ‘What can change’ she says ‘is our awareness and reaction to the toxic messages buried within these seemingly harmless stories’. Media outlets produce what they think people want, in consuming what they put out we are effectively endorsing it. As long as we devour the fictional lives of celebrities in a cannibalistic fashion it will be offered up for us. But, as Aniston says, ‘we get to decide how much we buy…and maybe someday the tabloids will be forced to see the world through a different, more humanized lens because consumers have just stopped buying the bullshit.’

It’s official. Jennifer Aniston is just fine. She moved on with her life quite some time ago following her split from Brad Pitt which, by the way, was over ten years ago. So should we.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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