During a week in which President Barack Obama paid tribute to five slain police officers, Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed former rival Hillary Clinton and citizens continue to march by the thousands to protest police brutality, a letter from Jennifer Aniston seems pretty optional.
I promise you it’s not.
The actress and director wrote an essay for Tuesday’s Huffington Post that perfectly captures the way we dehumanize anyone with a modicum of fame, and how that dehumanization seeps into the air we breathe.
“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,” Aniston writes. “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, 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.”
Recent speculation about whether Aniston was pregnant (she’s not) prompted her to write the piece. But it’s more than a screed about our obsession with celebrity baby bumps. It’s a reminder that our children are paying attention to both the tabloid culture and our reaction to it.
Our idle gossip can easily become the stick by which they measure our values and their worth.
“Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise,” Aniston writes. “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.”
Little boys, I might add, are absorbing it too, and carrying it into manhood.
At best, we’re teaching our daughters and sons that famous people deserve our scorn and judgment because they’re not like us. At worst, we’re teaching them to consider themselves and their peers with the same disdainful eye.
Aniston also makes a fantastic point about the endless, breathless coverage of her various would-be engagements and pregnancies.
“The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by the press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time . but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful or unhappy if they’re not married with children,” she writes.
“We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child,” she continues. “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.”
I hope her essay inspires us to do just that.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.