Ashley Judd has been in the headlines for weeks. The media fascination has nothing to do with her tireless humanitarian efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo or her invaluable work for HIV education and prevention in Africa and Asia.
The headlines have nothing to do with Judd’s acting talents as featured on ABC’S Missing or her leadership skills as part of the board of Defenders for Wildlife.
No, instead the headlines have been about something much more important: Her face.
Her face and its new ‘puffiness’ has caused many to wonder if the beautiful actress and activist recently underwent plastic surgery to achieve a fuller appearance. Or, perhaps even worse, maybe she gained weight!
None of these speculations are true. Judd, who has recently battled a serious sinus infection, revealed she was on steroids to help combat the illness. (Steroids can lead to a puffy appearance and weight gain).
However, even if these speculations were true, it has to be asked: Why does it matter? Why does a slight puffiness in a woman’s face cause so much outrage and speculation?
Why is Ashley Judd’s appearance more important than the life-saving work she does for women and children across the globe? Judd poses important questions like that in a wonderful essay on the Daily Beast which can be found here . And, her answer is simple: Even though it’s 2012 and women and men have equal rights in many countries, a woman’s appearance is still more important than her brains.
It’s pretty outrageous when you think of it: Despite the strides women have made in our culture we are still encouraged to focus mainly on being decorative. From the size of our pores to size of our hips, every part of our appearance is scrutinized and judged, and not only by the media and marketing companies. We do it to other women; and worse, we do it to ourselves.
Certainly men face similar social pressure to look attractive and fit. However, it is not to the same degree as women, and it’s not accompanied with similar judgment and vitriol. If Vince Vaughn gains a little weight, it’s smiled upon and joked about—boys will be boys, and he must have indulged in too many beers at the baseball game.
But if Jennifer Aniston gains even five pounds, it’s either because she’s out of control and eating up a storm, or because she is pregnant, or because she is still pining over that famous ex-husband of hers.
Lately, the media focus has been on plastic surgery procedures or the suspicion of plastic surgery procedures. So, not only is a 45-year-old woman expected to look 25, but she is also supposed to do so effortlessly. Otherwise she will be mocked for undergoing plastic surgery to make that impossible transformation possible. And, while plastic surgery and the pressure to be size zero used to largely be centered in Tinseltown, now even the average woman is expected to have thighs the size of pins and no cellulite to boot.
How can a woman look beautiful, young, and effortless, all while raising a family and succeeding in the workplace? The answer is, of course, she can’t. And while she is so busy counting calories and applying wrinkle cream, her goals slip away from her as do her dreams of changing the world. But, maybe, if she is lucky, she can change her figure.
What a never-ending merry-go-round. No wonder so many women are too exhausted and too self-conscious to want to enjoy sex with their partners. No wonder so many women won’t even let their own husbands see them naked. Instead, they keep their bodies in the dark, living with quiet shame day-in and day-out whenever they look in the mirror.
It’s time to take the focus off our appearance and the appearance of the women around us. It’s time to stop scrutinizing women for looking their age or even for gaining weight. Until we put the judgment and self-hatred away and start encouraging women to focus on something more important than calories and wrinkles, we will cheat ourselves and future generations of women out of happiness, self-worth, and empowerment.
After all, there is more to life than being a sex symbol, --like actually loving how you look and enjoying sex with your partner…even on days when you feel a little ‘puffy.’