Apparently when an “It” girl of Hollywood transitions from ingenue to mid-life womanhood, she no longer looks like herself. According to the media, anyway.
The worst part about this is that this all came out of Zellweger’s appearance at a Women in Hollywood event. She can’t even go to an event that explicitly celebrates women’s achievements without being reduced to her appearance. And with that, our media makes it clear which is more valued: a woman’s accomplishments or her looks.
The Hollywood system of writing and creating movies and TV conspires to create a “dead zone” for women’s performance careers, roughly between the ages of 40-60. Too old to be the sexually appealing love interest, or even the “MILF,” too young to be the wise old grandmotherly type; it’s as if they can’t conceive of women existing outside of those categories… and therefore middle-aged, mid-career women don’t exist? Or aren’t important enough to tell their stories? Very few women achieve enough power in their careers to keep their career momentum going through this “dead zone.”
The fact that there are plenty of roles for men in those ages — and that men are considered desirable and attractive even as they move through middle age — doesn’t seem to clue the movers and makers in that you could, in fact, create analogous roles for women, too. And even after the age 60, the “bump” in the number of women’s roles is a comparatively small one, relative to what’s (still) available for men. You’re the kind, wise grandmother figure, or we don’t want to see you, or publicly acknowledge you exist. I guess old women are scary?
All of this ultimately creates the atmosphere in which the media, with no sense of irony, jabber about Zellweger’s face – going so far as to actually give a platform for “experts” who’ve never even met her to opine on “what work she’s had done” – all while attending an event that is supposed to be about celebrating her brains, skills, and talents. I’m pretty well convinced that Hollywood has no idea what aging in women actually looks like… because they set out to ensure they never have to see it, and by extension the rest of us don’t either.
Russel Brand points out and pokes fun of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma that women in Hollywood face with regard to their appearance. It’s both hilarious, and pointed and succinct: “It’s Renee Zellweger, plus ten years.”
The fact that there are middle-aged, mid-career women appearing on television now – and just now, in 2014 – serves to highlight both the problem and the solution. Tea Leoni in Madame Secretary. Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder. Shows like that prove that there can be roles for women, about women who have their own identities, careers, and foibles, and don’t have to just be the young, pretty girlfriend to the “real star” of the show.
Any shows I missed? Any movies? Who are your favorite female protagonists?