She’s a great actress and incredibly funny. She should let herself be more selfish.
Peet in her recently cancelled HBO show, Togetherness
Lena Dunham has, quietly and with nary more than a newsletter, become the most powerful name in Women’s Journalism. She telegraphed her reach last fall when Jennifer Lawrence’s Lenny Letter essay about the wage gap in Hollywood went viral. Since then she’s landed Julianne Moore talking about gun violence and even first lady Michelle Obama contributed a piece on the need to ensure all young girls across the world have access to education.
Sure. Dunham is a celebrity and Girls is a big deal, but the fact that she has established her media outlets (including her podcast, Women Of The Hour) as safe spaces for women to write deeply personal stories about pressing current issues in such a short period of time is staggering. And now, actress Amanda Peet has joined the Lenny fold with her testimonial about aging in Hollywood.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]Letting my face age naturally will be my ace in the hole. My counterclaim. Proof that I didn't pander to the male gaze.[/quote]
“It's painfully obvious,” writes Peet, “but I'm still ashamed to admit this: I care about my looks. How else can I explain my trainer, stylist, and Barney’s card? I’ve bleached my teeth, dyed my hair, peeled and lasered my face, and tried a slew of age-defying creams. More than once, I’ve asked the director of photography on a show to soften my laugh lines. Nothing about this suggests I’m aging gracefully.”
The kneejerk for some when they hear “actress writes about her problems” is to be dismissive, to assume that because Peet works in Hollywood the money she makes and the fame she amasses is compensation enough for belonging to an industry that adjudicates a person’s worth based on their physical and box office (and binge watch) appeal. But a person’s profession or level of privilege does not preclude them from feeling fear and anxiety about dying or losing their value to society—or in the case of Peet, setting a destructive example for her two young daughters.
And the actress’ playful yet heartfelt candor in her essay, called “Never Crossing The Botox Rubicon,” makes you feel for all the journeywoman performers out there who aren’t 27 or Academy Award Winners or the muse of a renowned auteur or vaguely international and impossibly beautiful. Peet, in her own words, is “44 and a low-tier, TV-mom-type.” And as impressive as Jennifer Lawrence’s own Lenny essay was last year, she’s still 25 and Jennifer Lawrence. Peet is a working actress with a recently cancelled show and a lot of time to consider the possibility of dying on an operating table after an elective surgery, and the subsequent shame her children would feel. It feels genuine and, despite the “glamour” deficit between her job and everyone else’s, incredibly relatable.
Illustration by Danie Drankwalter as it appeared in Lenny
As the essay goes on and Peet details her insecurities—and the guilt she feels over having them—she sets herself in comparison to her sister, who sounds like one hell of a kick ass doctor! She describes her sister as strong, intelligent and not bogged down by the frivolities of fashionable clothing and on-point hair and makeup styling. After saying she herself draws the line at getting elective surgical procedures, Peet writes, “The truth is I have no business getting on a soapbox in front of my daughters or anyone else,” saying that her sister is, between the two of them, the one who could claim that right.
Peet lionizes her sister while essentially undermining herself for being just an actress, but in expressing her fear of deteriorating and of being unemployed and being undesirable and being a bad mother and being supplanted by a younger, more beautiful woman she doesn’t sound like “just an actress.” She sounds like a woman, any woman, trying to balance a job and a family and while preserving her sense of self. And that third part is often the first to go when the juggling act starts.
“Never Crossing The Botox Rubicon” is a well-written and important act of vulnerability for a woman whose job is often predicated on smiling for money. More actresses are speaking out now than ever before on ageism and sexism in Hollywood, with performers like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey and many more talking candidly about the realities of their industry. This is an incredible trend that needs to be encouraged and strengthened. Women can only acquire more control in entertainment if they unite and demand a culture change lest they withhold their very profitable names from the marquee.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I'm still ashamed to admit this: I care about my looks. How else can I explain my trainer, stylist, and Barney's card? I've bleached my teeth, dyed my hair, peeled and lasered my face, and tried a slew of age-defying creams. Nothing about this suggests I'm aging gracefully.[/quote]
But when Peet or any woman writes about their struggle to accept themselves, be accepted by the world or even earn a living because they aren’t young and vibrant enough anymore, they need to stop apologizing—we need to stop apologizing—for all the things we’re not. People don’t earn fair and humane treatment from others because they are as noble as their neighbor the teacher or their sister the doctor or their best friend the social worker. They’re simply entitled to that right as people, and they must demand it for themselves. If Peet’s sister has a late in life cosmetic renaissance and becomes a regular at Sephora, she would surely still be every bit as impressive as she sounds in this article. It’s her ability to make that choice without fear of judgment or reprisal that matters most.
Peet is correct to cite the toxic “beauty industrial complex” and the “Age of Digital Narcissism” contributing to a “disturbing level of anxiety” among women and young girls who feel a constant pressure to externalize perfection. But Peet’s choice to abstain from more invasive beauty treatments isn’t necessarily what’s right, it’s just what’s right for her—for now. And if she changes her mind one day and decides to get a few fillers, that too is her right, and it will not detract from the message of her essay at all, that it is difficult and frightening to grow in old in a society that values the newest, prettiest things.
In perhaps the funniest part of Peet’s essay she writes, “Another frightening scenario is that one or both of my daughters will do as I did in my youth: go to college, take Feminist Texts and Theory, and stop shaving their legs and armpits. As hard-core feminists, they'll write me off. I'll cry, Why aren't you coming home for Thanksgiving? And they'll be like, You're nothing but a foot soldier for the beauty industrial complex. Letting my face age naturally will be my ace in the hole. My counterclaim. Proof that I didn't pander to the male gaze.”
Peet sounds wonderful, and like someone I want to talk to for hours about this very sticky topic. But progress for women won’t be heralded by our en masse commitment to a static value system that says people who feel more beautiful when they put on makeup are assholes. It will come when women get to choose what they do with their bodies without fear of shame or being sieged by doubt. If Peet or her sister or anyone else wants to try on 4 dresses before leaving the house or get Botox injections because they want to spoil themselves then awesome. Live your life. And if they want to eschew worldly goods and exclusively wear “vaguely orthopedic” shoes to kick The Patriarchy in its nethers then that’s great too. Because fuck their male gaze. It’s all about what you want to see in the mirror.