My sister and I have this thing about Ashley Judd. Its origins are a tad fuzzy now, but I’m fairly certain it was sparked by an Oprah interview in which Wynonna Judd recounted how selfless, even heroic, little sister Ashley had been in pulling her up through some of the darkest periods in her life. The Ryan Gosling of sisters, if you will.
Our resulting repartee now goes something like this:
Me: (After a feat of awesomeness by my sister) You’re the best sister, ever.
She: Better than Ashley Judd?
Me: Better than Ashley Judd!
(Whatever, it’s our thing. Go with it.)
This week, Ashley Judd hit another home run for the sisterhood with this column for The Daily Beast, a response to the rather mean-spirited speculation that’s been lobbed in her direction over the past few weeks and pretty much summed up by this headline: WTF Happened to Ashley Judd’s Face?
I actually hadn’t caught wind of the pretty-to-puffy controversy until reading this great piece by Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams. (Though I do disagree with Williams’ assertion, meant as criticism, that Judd comes off in her essay as “impossibly pleased with herself.” Isn’t it time that women stop shrinking and stand unabashedly in that space of being impossibly pleased with ourselves?)
In case you missed it, too, here’s the quick recap: Judd, out of the spotlight for a stretch, returns to promote a new project. It is noted after one specific television interview in March that her face looks drastically different. Words like “puffy,” “swollen” and “fillers” are tossed around. Plastic surgeons are dragged out to speculate and corroborate the work she’s “clearly had done.” Judd responds to her critics with an essay this week, saying a lazy winter and steroid treatment for a sinus infection are to blame for her altered appearance, not plastic surgery. But more important, she writes, L’affaire Puffy Face needs to be redirected and seen for the misogynistic assault on all women that it really is:
…the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.
Preach! Here’s more from Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams.
…The gotcha! put-downs any time a woman expands or contracts in size or seems too creased or too smooth — the “general incessant objectification” and “abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies,” as Judd calls it — create a culture of viciousness and perpetual dissatisfaction. Look at that girl. She’s so fat/thin/wrinkled/fake. Who does she think she is? How dare she? That’s not just hateful. That’s lazy.
Oh, yes they did! In my mind I’m high-fiving both of these women right now. They speak some serious truth. And snarking on body snarkers is totally my jam. Ever since I got my boobies, I’ve struggled with, pushed back against and thrown my hands up over how and why we engage in this public sport that is scrutinizing women over their looks. I have sat through dinner conversations and scratched my head over the strange bonding ritual that is collectively picking a person apart for something unrefined they’ve worn, for weight gained or lost, for a snaggletooth in need of attention. And I get it. I’m not a Pollyanna. Gossip is an ugly, but primal way of connecting to members of your tribe. Still, these conversations leave me feeling sad and malnourished. Kinda like I’ve just eaten a bag of candy corn and downed a can of soda. Besides, don’t these remarks say more about how we regard ourselves, about the body loathing and hyper-criticism directed in our own mirrors, than the Ashley Judds of the moment? To engage is really to tear our own selves down in the process.
But here’s the thing. I’m not saying I’m any better. And I think about this stuff. A lot. Here is a list of things I fully (not proudly) admit have come out of my mouth:
- Oof, she looks a little dumb in the face, no?
- You know, she was one of those doughy white girls who listens to alternative music.
- She looks like she could use a sandwich.
- She wears her makeup in the kind of way where, you just want to take a wash cloth, scrub it all off and go, “let me show you how you’re supposed to do it!”
- She really shouldn’t be wearing those pants/that shirt/that dress/those leggings.
- Yeah, her face is a little tough.
Tiny offenses? Maybe. But, maybe not, as Judd points out:
That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. … It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.
Honestly, I’m not so sure these body and beauty wars are winnable on a global scale. But I do know that on an individual level we, especially women, can choose to tap out of the game and use our energies to uplift instead of tear down. Am I being a Pollyanna now? Perhaps. But I’d like to look back on my life and know that I was a pretty awesome sister. Maybe even better than Ashley Judd.