The tabloids are looking, honestly, a little bloated. Perhaps they’re pregnant? Finally? Can’t you see, if you look really closely, a little baby bump? Or, hmm, maybe they’ve just let themselves go a little? Maybe they’re depressed? Or maybe they’re not depressed enough? Or maybe they’re just aging out of relevance?
Celebrity journalism in general, and tabloid journalism in particular, have long involved a Faustian bargain: We, the public, put up with the gossip rags’ assorted nonsense—the “bikini body,” the “baby bump,” the “post-baby body,” and all that—because we crave the pictures and the stories they deliver. A culture that treats fame as simultaneous cost and benefit comes with a corollary that is as pernicious as it is paradoxical: We assume that celebrities are better than us, but also that they belong to us.
No one has been a better, and also more unfortunate, symbol of all that than Jennifer Aniston—she of The Rachel and then of Brad-and-Jen and then of #teamjen and then of Office Space and lately of Horrible Bosses 2 and also of Aveeno and L’Oreal and Living Proof and Glaceau SmartWater. Jen (we can call her Jen at this point; she’s been a part of our lives for so long) is favored fodder for paparazzi and the “journalistic” outlets they serve. Her movements are obsessively followed; her relationship status (is it a ring, or Engagement Bling?) is the subject of ongoing speculation; her uterus (“baby bump?”/“baby bump!”) is the subject of intense scrutiny. And she has, at this point, had enough of it. Which is why, this week, Jen took to the pages of The Huffington Post to excoriate the paparazzi for their treatment of her:
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. We are in charge of our agreement. Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise. 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. We use celebrity “news” to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical “imperfection”?
This is really good, and really important, stuff. The whole post, tellingly titled “For the Record,” is well worth reading. And that’s particularly so because Jen emphasizes the fact that the paparazzi’s treatment of her is simply an extreme extension of how the culture at large has been treating the women who are both part of, and subject to, its whims. Despite all the progress feminism has made in the past decades, we still live in an age that treats women’s bodies as objects of communal ownership. An age that effectively regards women not just as people, but also as vessels—waiting to be filled and made complete by way of partners and children and families.