Back in 2007, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Sherry Lansing, the former chairman of Paramount Pictures. Whatever one may think of Ms. Lansing, she had had a long and distinguished career in Hollywood. She produced blockbusters like Fatal Attraction and later helped steer Paramount into one of its most profitable periods. The Academy decided to honor her for work in cancer research, founding the Sherry Lansing Foundation in 2005 for that work. In 2007 the Academy still allowed recipients of honorary awards the opportunity to give a speech and the night of the ceremony Tom Cruise introduced her and presented her with the golden statue. She gave her speech and that should have been it.
What did everyone talk about? Not her work for cancer research and awareness. Not her prowess as a producer in Hollywood. Not even her incredible rise in the boy’s club that is Hollywood.
No, I heard one person after another say, “Can you believe she wore that dress?”
You see it showed too much of her arms and the skin under her arms sags.
Saggy skin, you see, trumps everything. She could have cured cancer, but we would have still gasped at her sartorial audacity. I sat in awe, listening to someone who identifies as a feminist go on and on about how bad she looked. (Let’s forget that she looked great otherwise. One faux pas is apparently enough to erase every other accomplishment.)
And we continue this obscene focus on women’s appearances today. I generally don’t read post-Oscar critiques; they’re even more pointless and less entertaining than the show. One could probably recycle the same piece year after year and few would notice the difference. But I noticed a theme lurking through all the headlines I was ignoring—including one with the snarky title “Goldie We Love You Just the Way You Were”—and I made the mistake of pursuing the threads.
The gist of the article was what the hell were you thinking! Kim Novak made an appearance at Sunday night’s Oscars and all we can talk about is her face. Goldie Hawn was at the Oscars and all we can talk about is her face. Liza Minnelli was at the Oscars and all we can talk about is her face.
Forget that all are accomplished actors, that all have had long careers, forget that we claimed (once) to love them. Now we can’t believe they even leave the house.
Imagine if Kim Novak showed up on Matthew McConaughey’s are with her 81-year-old face. Or Goldie showed up with her nearly 70-year-old face. Imagine the responses then. It’s no great revelation that we live in a culture that inordinately, obsessively values youth. So let’s not wonder how Kim and Goldie and Liza could have “done that to themselves” when we wouldn’t be any more kind had they not. Actually we probably would have been less kind—who knows how long Goldie Hawn stretched out her career because of her plastic surgery. Hollywood doesn’t have roles for old ladies; they think we won’t go see those pictures. Cate Blanchett made about this point nicely in her acceptance speech.
When Hollywood finally realizes there are other audiences beyond those teenage boys they’re so eager to grab, when they realize adults and women go to the movies, then we might start seeing better roles for not only women, but older women as well. And then we might not see such an addiction to plastic surgery.
Maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles, but Kim Novak and Goldie and Liza didn’t look all that bad to me. I see women who look like that all the time and I don’t gasp in horror (like the women on The View did, audaciously suggesting Kim Novak shouldn’t leave the house). I just feel bad for them. I feel bad that we live in a society that makes them feel they have no value if they don’t look young and attractive.
And let’s be consistent about it. Nowhere has anyone talked about how bad Bill Murray looked. Or Robert DeNiro. I didn’t hear much about how old Kurt Russell is looking. Harrison Ford was critiqued for his uneven reading of his lines, but if he’d gotten through them cleanly we’d hardly have known he was there. Sidney Poitier was applauded and all we heard were words of admiration. No one suggested Sidney Poitier shouldn’t have left the house because he looked his age.
Why can’t we treat our women the same way? Why can’t we admire the way a woman ages and refuse to treat wrinkles and sags as automatic deniers of beauty? If we can’t do that, then we can’t complain about Kim Novak’s face.
On the red carpet a Buzzfeed reporter asked Kevin Spacey some of the dopey question female actors get asked: How long did it take you to get ready? What are you wearing? And he handles it all fairly well until she asks to see his mani-pedi and if he’s wearing Spanx. He treats her with the contempt she deserves.
I’m not saying we can’t notice and comment on someone’s appearance, but if that’s all you notice and have to talk about, then maybe you should re-examine yourself and not Goldie Hawn’s face. She’s just fine.
Good article from Reuter’s on this: