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Ashley Judd wants you to think twice before you criticize another woman's appearance -- even if that woman is a celebrity you've never met. The Missing actress, 43, has been under scrutiny lately for a dramatic change in her appearance, resulting in headlines about her "puffy face" and rumors of plastic surgery. But in a scathing new editorial for The Daily Beast, Judd denies that she's had any work done -- and asks why we're all so vicious when it comes to women and their appearances.
Judd begins her thoughtful article by explaining that she tries not to read things that are written about her, let alone react to them -- but this time, she felt like she had to speak up.
"I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle," she writes.
Judd goes on to quote five different criticisms of her appearance that were published online the day her new series Missing premiered. Several media outlets, she notes, had plastic surgeons testify that she'd had work done -- but none of them asked her directly if it was true.
Judd also quotes a writer bemoaning the change in her appearance between 1998 and 2012, which can be chalked up to simply growing older. And she reproduces a few ugly comments made about her body, which she openly admits has recently changed from a size two/four to a size six/eight. ("We won't even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as 'fat,'" the actress rightly comments.) But the thing that offended Ashley the most? Having Internet commenters lob criticisms of her appearance during the premiere of Missing, instead of focusing on the show itself.
"The remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation," Judd writes. "The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman."
The actress herself says that the change in her face can be attributed to a combination of weight gain and sinus medication -- and she's insulted that people would make "the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery." Regardless, writes Judd, it's time to stop thoughtlessly tearing down women for their looks, because it takes the focus away from our actual accomplishments -- and lends power to a culture that uses women's appearances to knock them down.
"It doesn't actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism," she points out. "The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others--and in my case, to the actual public."
We love Ashley Judd's brave, biting, intelligent response to the criticism of her appearance. And her plea to put an end to "body-snarking" is definitely one that we can get behind. But the issue of women's bodies, and the way we talk about them, is even more complicated than Judd acknowledges.
For example: The reason everyone was speculating about plastic surgery is that there's been an epidemic of "chipmunk cheeks" among Hollywood's female stars lately. Madonna and Nicole Kidman have them. So do Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Most of them don't appear to have gained weight in the rest of their bodies, so either they're all sharing the same sinus infection, or it's a trend being enabled by plastic surgery.
And let's say, hypothetically, that it is plastic surgery. Why won't any of the celebrities in question acknowledge having work done? Because as much as actresses are criticized for signs of aging or unusual facial features, they're inevitably ridiculed for dealing with these things through surgery. So actresses swear up and down that they've never had anything done (except maybe "a little Botox"), and the rest of us are left to speculate wildly about which of their features are real and which are cosmetically enhanced.
Of course we want to know all the stars' plastic surgery secrets. The fact that it's taboo makes it good gossip. And the fact that they look so perfect, and yet needed millions of dollars of work to get that way... well, that makes us feel better about our imperfect selves.
It all comes back to women criticizing other women because we all hate something about the way we look, and somehow it makes us feel better to project it onto someone else. That's exactly the vicious cycle that Ashley Judd was writing about. Her motive behind writing, she says, isn't self-defense; it's the hope that "the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation." So let's start that conversation right here, shall we?
(Watch the video below to find out how Judd deals with another tough subject, her husband Dario Franchitti's dangerous career as a race car driver.)