Ashley Judd’s ‘puffy face’ essay launches a thousand tweets

Sofi Papamarko
Shine OnApril 10, 2012

Ashley Judd is so much more than just a pretty face.

She recently wrote an essay expressing her outrage about the public criticism and speculation on her "puffy face" -- was it plastic surgery? Weight gain?

The essay has now gone viral, sparking energetic dialogue both on and offline about rampant and superficial critiques of those in the public eye, and on the female body in general.

Judd writes that women are much more than the sum of their body parts:

The Conversation about women's bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

Ryan Porter, entertainment editor at FLARE, calls Judd's essay a necessary balance to the overwhelming attention women's appearances are given.

"Even the silliest criticisms -- wrinkly armpits come to mind -- have a weird way of spawning unlikely complexes," says Porter. "Every once in a while we need someone  like Ashley Judd or Jennifer Love Hewitt or Christina Aguilera to remind us what real priorities are."

Related: Samantha Brick defends cattiness claims: Don't hate her because she's beautiful

Such statements bring to mind Tina Fey's powerful and damning observations about how women — especially older women -- are treated and valued in the entertainment industry.

I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves and they still work. The women though, they're all crazy. I have a suspicion - and hear me out, because this is a rough one - that the definition of crazy in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.

Point blank: If you're no longer physically desirable, chances are that you're no longer worthy of society's time or attention.

Celebrities are damned if they do, damned if they don't.  If they opt for plastic surgery in order to maintain a semblance of their youthful appearance, late-night talk show hosts make jokes. But if they allow themselves to age naturally, they have "let themselves go."

Related: Eating too much sugar can make you look old

"A lot of the cultural messages we're inundated with tell us that women are sexual objects -- and by extension, devoid of personality/intellect," says Colleen Westendorf, communications coordinator at Slutwalk Toronto. "If valued otherwise, as politicians or as public intellectuals, they're often de-sexualized or criticized for not being feminine or beautiful enough."

Westendorf explains: "How many times have we heard fiercely intelligent and powerful women like Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice be the subject of commentary that slams them for not being attractive or for being too 'mannish?'"

And what is it, exactly, that makes a woman desirable? There's but a small window of time when a woman is considered universally alluring — and once that clock runs out, they become fodder for criticism and even cruel taunts.

In the words of Judd, "there is no winning here as women."

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