When I was a kid, Justine Bateman was one of the coolest people on television. Sure, her role as Mallory Keaton on “Family Ties” was fun and hip, but even more than that she exuded an air of indifference to… well, all of it. The celebrity, the popularity, the good looks and fashion. And as cool as she was back in the ‘80s, let’s face it, she’s even cooler now.
She doesn’t just have an IDGAF attitude about all the nonsense and bullshit; she actually truly doesn’t give a fuck.
It’s been a long time since I read something that made me want to stand up and cheer, but Justine Bateman’s recent interviews about her upcoming book – “Face: One Square Foot of Skin”– did just that. I didn’t just want to applaud her though, I also wanted to sob with relief. Justine Bateman is a role model for what it truly means to be a badass.
Through a selection of short stories, Bateman’s book examines the twisted and complicated relationship women have with aging. Her first message: stop calling her brave just for showing her natural face.
Cue the standing ovation.
I mean, really, do people realize how fucked up it is to tell a woman she is “brave” just for looking the way she looks? Like we’re basically saying, “I sure wouldn’t be able to look like you, but good for you.” Ummm… what the actual fuck?!
I’m not looking into debating whether or not getting facial work done is “right” or “wrong”—and neither is Bateman – because truthfully all of those debates really just miss the point. It’s about why we feel the need to look a certain way, not what we do about it.
As Bateman told Glamour magazine, we need to examine why we’re really afraid of aging in the first place. “Personally, whenever I can identify the root fear that has taken hold of me that doesn’t really suit my purposes, then I can really get somewhere,” she told the publication.
For me, that root fear stems from feelings of not being deemed “good enough,” being judged, and feeling inconsequential. The wrinkles are a reminder that we are getting old, and in today’s culture, aging is a liability, not an asset. The world doesn’t know how to handle women who are over 40, so we’ve taking to pretending that we aren’t.
I used to think I would be one of those people who aged gracefully. But here we are. I spend a ridiculous amount of time pulling at my face. I glance at my image in the corner of my Zoom calls and think, who the fuck is the old, angry lady? Oh, shit, that’s me. Then I spend the rest of the video conference obsessing about how to make my face look less… old.Even Zoom has facial editing and enhancement features now.
I didn’t used to hate my face. There was a time when I didn’t shudder when I looked in the mirror. And back in the day, I actually posed for photos instead of pulling my hoodie over my head. Yet, despite my general contentment in who I am and how I look, social media and this Botox-for-everyone attitude is doing its best to destroy my feel-good vibe.
All that energy I’ve put into trying to look like I’m younger than I am is exhausting and demoralizing. The patriarchy has long known that the more exhausted and demoralized women feel, the less powerful we are. So there are bajillions of dollars spent in trying to make us feel like shit about ourselves and how we look. Well, fuck that noise.
Here’s what I’ve come to realize lately: I am 43 years old – and I look 43 years old, dammit.
I’m tired of feeling bad about myself because I look older. Even my gynecologist has posters offering injections. When we can’t even get a freaking pap smear without looking at an ad for Botox, it sends a message that we should want to change the way we look, because god forbid we look our age.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the first things I plan to do after I am fully vaccinated is get my eyebrows waxed and my hair colored. But there’s a difference between a few minor tweaks here and there – a swipe of mascara every day, a routine lip and eyebrow wax, a face mask at night – and normalizing injecting foreign substances into our face so that we can look 20 years younger than we are. Bateman is giving us explicit permission to say fuck off to the misogyny – including all the internalized misogyny too – which tells women that we need to look a certain way to be valued.
It isn’t just Hollywood or Instagram filters either. I remember asking for a face cream recommendation in a Facebook group a few years back. I admitted that I was pretty lazy in the skin care department (my daily slathering of Nivea and sunscreen is about as extensive as it gets), and another woman – a progressive feminist, mind you – chastised me for not doing more to take care of my face and neck skin. Ummm… okay? Thanks for the lecture and the reminder that looking our age is abhorrent.
The whole thing is twisted.
“Everybody’s talking about ‘empowering women,’ which I also find to be kind of a flaccid statement,” Bateman told Vanity Fair. “Empowering them for what? To shove plastic in their faces? I don’t get that. How about feeling empowered to walk out in the world with an attitude that says, ‘Fuck you, I look great’?”
Bateman also talks about the impact this dangerous trend is having on teens, especially in our heavily-filtered Instagram age.
“The strange thing now is that teens are comparing themselves to not just girls at school, but to everyone that has an Instagram account,” Bateman, who is the mom of two teens, told Glamour. “I can’t imagine. If someone is prone to comparing themselves, it’s just too much. And then I’ll see women who use filters on Instagram who don’t even have lines on their face to begin with. That’s wild to me.”
Let me repeat: This isn’t a judgment on anyone who spends hours slathering on face cream or hundreds of dollars on fillers. I like that journey for you. Really.
But all that obsessing over filters and injections and who-knows-what-else because I literally cannot keep up, make it really freaking hard to stick to the whole “aging gracefully” plan. The messages are bombarding us everywhere, and to pretend like they don’t impact us is not truthful (or empowering.) It makes it damn near impossible to be comfortable with your au natural-ish approach to beauty. It distracts me from more meaningful things, like laughing and hanging out with friends and doing things that are way more exciting than sticking my face with needles. A few weeks ago, I asked myself: would you rather spend a couple grand on Botox and fillers each year, or spend that money on travelling and seeing the world? The answer for me is, hands down and without a doubt, traveling. That’s my choice, but it doesn’t mean I won’t still have days where I’m examining every part of my face before a zoom meeting.
So I’m taking a page out of Justine Bateman’s book (literally). And then next time I start to fret about the deep 11s and lines across my forehead and my near-constant RBF that comes with being 40-something-years old, I’ll tell myself, fuck you, I look great. Thanks, Justine.