There are many surprises in the most recent InStyle profile with Jennifer Aniston. Chief among them is the fact that Jennifer Aniston can whittle. “I can whittle you a lion out of a piece of mahogany like nobody’s business,” she tells her interviewer and friend Molly McNearney. She can sculpt. She makes excellent margaritas. What is not surprising, however, is the reaction to the interview with Jennifer Aniston, which is primarily focused on the one fact about Jennifer Aniston the world has been discussing for the past 20 years: that she doesn’t have a baby.
Not one. Not even half a baby. And that, for some reason, pisses people off. Her lack of children has become a kind of global inside-joke, one which I presume will go on infinitely. Every so often, the word “baby” will be replaced by the word “man”. And, for the most part, she seems pretty good humoured about it, even googling herself mid-interview to see what the media is saying about her now. “Oh, look, I’m having a $100,000 revenge makeover!”
“The misconceptions are ‘Jen can’t keep a man’ and ‘Jen refuses to have a baby because she’s selfish and committed to her career.’ Or that I’m sad and heartbroken. First, with all due respect, I’m not heartbroken,” she says. “And second, those are reckless assumptions. No one knows what’s going on behind closed doors. No one considers how sensitive that might be for my partner and me. They don’t know what I’ve been through medically or emotionally. There is a pressure on women to be mothers, and if they are not, then they’re deemed damaged goods. Maybe my purpose on this planet isn’t to procreate. Maybe I have other things I’m supposed to do?”
She’s the girl next door who became the grand litmus test for how society feels about a single woman in her forties, and soon, her fifties
A conservationist once told me that you can test how healthy your environment is by checking how many bats can successfully live there. Bats are an indication of clean air and a good ecosystem, he said. I would wager that society has a similar test, but with Jennifer Aniston: you can tell how the media feels about women based on how successfully Jennifer Aniston is permitted to live her life. The more “Poor Jen”, “unlucky in love Jen” and “pregnant with TWINS?” headlines we see, the dirtier our ecosystem is. She’s the girl next door who became the grand litmus test for how society feels about a single woman in her forties, and soon, her fifties. There’s this constant insistence that, because there’s no one to “complete” Jen’s picture – a tight circle of supportive friends and a couple of dogs doesn’t count, apparently – that there is something subtly yet unmistakably off about her. Something that is untraceable to the naked eye, but wrong all the same. It doesn’t matter that she is beautiful, and rich, and funny. In fact, it is the beautiful/rich/funniness that leads people to suspect, as Bridget Jones once put it, that “beneath our clothes, our bodies are completely covered with scales”.
“When a couple breaks up in Hollywood, it’s the woman who is scorned,” Aniston goes on to say. “The woman is left sad and alone. She’s the failure. F that. When was the last time you read about a divorced, childless man referred to as a spinster?”
There are very few things that any of us will ever have in common with Jennifer Aniston. We will not co-star in one of the biggest TV shows of all time, we will not have our hair used in thousands of advertising campaigns, we will not go over to Jimmy Kimmel’s house to make margaritas. But we will attend weddings alone. We will break up with long-term partners and have everyone wonder what our role in the downfall was. We will be set up on dates with men who are much, much older than us, because the men our own age only want to date 25-year-olds. So many of us will experience the vast tapestry of being a single woman over a certain age and have our own small-scale versions of the “poor Jen” narrative in our own social circles.
Which is why Jennifer Aniston isn’t just a celebrity who lives in a parallel world full of things only celebrities do: she’s a symbol for the constant pressure-cooker single women are forced to live in. And that is, perhaps, why we still love her as much as we do – because if she can laugh about what people say about her, then so can we.