Jennifer Aniston is spot on about one of media's biggest problems: backhandedly complimenting women. In an article published today by Women's Wear Daily she spoke about Jennifer Aniston dreads the old "you look great...for your age!" comment. "Your age always has to be mentioned and men don't really get that for some reason," she said. "It's not like you see Joe Schmo, 37." Aniston is absolutely right. Aging is one of those things that isn't sacred for women. Reporters want to know how they keep wrinkle-free, how they feel about getting older, and when will they have children (because their ovaries are drying up, don't you know). Women in film already get the short end of the stick when it comes to growing older, with their salaries plummeting when they hit 34. It only makes things worse when outlets condescend to them, telling them how great they look despite how old they are.
But for women, backhanded compliments come in more categories than just age. Mindy Kaling got upset last year over a question that she saw as a put-down. “I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting," she said. "Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’”
When's the last time you heard a reporter tell George Clooney, "You look great for your age!" Or ask Kobe Bryant where he gets his confidence? Not only are the questions insulting on a basic level, but they're totally sexist. Never mind the scores of sexist questions thrown at actresses that range from: "what diet are you on?" to "What type men do you like to date?" Those are obviously inappropriate, especially when reporters have the opportunity to get a really good soundbite from an actress, why do they want one that's so boring? I'd rather hear what a celebrity thinks about the government, or what she would name a pet turtle, or anything, absolutely anything besides what she's wearing and how many hours a week she goes to the gym.
But for now I'll settle on reporters just not insulting the women they interview. The media needs to retire these sorts of comments. It's just as easy to say, "You look great Jennifer!" As it is to tack on that disclaimer. In fact it's easier because it's less words. It's also just as easy to reframe the confidence question and instead ask something like, "You're such a positive role model for many girls out there, what does that mean to you?"
We need to change the discourse around age and appearance, especially when it comes to women. Aging and being comfortable with our bodies is hard enough without getting pot shots disguised as compliments. Let's all play nice, okay?