Media Slap Down by Ashley Judd for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance

by on April 13, 2012 · 10 comments

in Culture, Media, Popular, Women's Rights

Ashley Judd’s ‘puffy’ appearance sparked a viral media frenzy. But, the actress writes, the conversation is really a misogynistic assault on all women.

By Ashley Judd / The Daily Beast / Originally published April 9, 2012

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.

As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read.

Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.

However, the recent speculation and accusations  in March feel different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, 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. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.), tabloid press, and social media:

One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.

 Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)

Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

 Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in Missing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f–k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. 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.

 That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)

That the conversation about my face was initially promulgated largely by women is a sad and disturbing fact.

News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time-honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited content.

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. 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. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.

Ashley Judd is a prolific actress, who will next be seen in ABC’s new midseason show, Missing. Judd most recently appeared in Dolphin Tale alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson. Judd is also on the board of directors for PSI (Population Services International), which she joined in 2004 after serving as Global Ambassador for PSI’s HIV education and prevention program, YouthAIDS since 2002.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlene Garrett April 13, 2012 at 8:53 am



unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG April 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

I would think ’tis “Brava!”


Anna Daniels April 13, 2012 at 10:47 am

I read this article because a woman friend urged me to do so. I am generally incurious about the lives of entertainers, but Ashley Judd’s open letter provides insight into something quite different. I share her sense of betrayal.

It is hard to pinpoint the causes of societal “anxiety” manifested daily around us. It has resulted in a noxious racial animus and efforts to maintain control over the most private sphere of women’s lives-their bodies & their reproductive choices.

I thought we had come to an understanding on these issues decades ago. I thought that women and men had been liberated from the most crushing mores regarding physical appearance. In the past months I have been proven wrong on both counts.

Perhaps we are witnessing the last gasp of the losing side, a snarling id choosing a strong offense as the best defense. We are left to deal, as best we can, with the “collateral damage.” Ashley Judd did just that, in an honest and stark way.


Shane Finneran April 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm

personally i think celebrities whose beautiful appearance is a large part of their allure should be prepared for a little blowback when their appearance changes dramatically.


Anna Daniels April 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Shane- One reason I’m not much interested in the lives of tormented entertainers is because I generally feel that if you want to live by the sword of public attention, be prepared to die by the sword when that attention is withdrawn or turns critical.

But it is significant that the terms “beautiful” and “dramatic physical changes” are applied almost exclusively to women. Why do you suppose that is the case? Are there any assumptions and subtexts that are worth examining?


Shane Finneran April 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm

i think celebrity dudes who lose their good looks get lots of flak, too. Marlon Brando comes to mind. how many millions of people saw the older Brando and thought “wow he really let himself go”?

Overall us men may get more passes on our appearances, but we are judged more harshly in other areas, such as our wallets, no?

And would it be sexist of me to say that it was probably mostly women who were critiquing Judd’s appearance? And more specifically, women who are into celeb culture? Is anyone really surprised that people who are into shallow forms of entertainment make shallow remarks?

I would have preferred if Ashley Judd pointed out to all the critics of her puffy face that they had wasted some of the precious, short time in their lives getting worked up about a picture of Ashley Judd. As in “get a life, y’all People Magazine-reading dumb-dumbs!”


Anna Daniels April 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Shane- it’s interesting to hear you weigh in on the expectations of men. I truly had no idea about the pressure that men feel to make it financially.

Judd actually does address your point about women being the worst in their criticisms. While she feels betrayed by women, she does put that behavior within the larger context of patriarchy. I would throw in the additional element of how money is made from exploiting human insecurities and desires. Women spend an astounding amount of money on their appearance.


shane finneran April 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm

A woman friend I had in college always said when getting ready to go out “we don’t dress up for the men, we dress up for other women.” Maybe that explains high heels LOL


unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG April 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm

The Gender-Splendor recedes right after the sperm meets the egg because the parents have begun the stereotypical discrimination by selecting the blue/pink colors for the new baby shower. Two good books that I have read regarding the trials & tribulations that our children experience are Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher & Real Boys by Wllm. S. Pollock. The attitudes regarding appearances are taught to the young via a variety of ways including books, magazines, teen magazines, comic books, religions, & behaviors learned from adults.
Ms. Judd addresses issues dealt w/ in these books w/ her statement, “In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.”
Later, I’m off to buff my nails.


John April 14, 2012 at 2:58 am

I find this article very interesting. As man, ascending upon my mid-thirties, I noticed certain expectations of me that I am no longer willing to play along with… I like being nice to people. Sometimes I don’t give a shit about football. My life no longer revolves around trying to have sex with as many girls as possible. Cars seem plastic, tacky, and cliche these days. They just keeping making more yet almost everyone already has one.

And most of all, I am tired wasting my time trying to impress people by being a victim of unattractive fads that are cheapened and derived from previous unattractive fads. Or new trends that are quickly viewed as necessary. As modern as we pretend to be, it seems pretty backward to make digital pictures look old and terrible 80’s clothes cool.

Yet, as a college student, I feel “required” to align myself with some click by how I dress or act. Plus there are more and more variations. When I was in high school there was grunge and a very basic range of styles. Now everyone has an specific affiliation. There are sub-clicks. The word hipster has become incredibly vague. Everyone tries to fit into some predetermined group. This belief is self-supported by the logic of the masses that if a whole bunch of people do the same thing then it is valid. Buy some clothes and learn some lingo and you are someone new. I choose a neutral appearance and mostly get ignored. I’m not one of them , whoever they are.

In a sense, OB is much of the same. I am treated like a tourist in OB because I choose not to dress the part. Mentally, I am very much like the typical Ob dude but I appear as otherwise. People come here and try to change who they think they are or embrace and highlight a part of who they already think they are. But you will always be you and you can’t be truly fooled, even by your own self.

I happen to be in Vegas for a wedding and everything Ashley wrote about is on display on every square inch of this festering city. Walking on the streets and going to a strip club are almost nearly equal in terms of what women expose for attention, or whatever it is that drives these people. I would be lying if I said I didn’t instinctively enjoy the show but I also feel sorry for these girls that HAVE to play along and they don’t even know it.

Clearly Ashley put a great deal of effort, and emotion, into what she had to say but unfortunately I believe it is mostly in vain. The audience she really would like to connect with speaks a lower form of English and can’t be expected to search out the meaning of most of the words that are not understood. Which is a significant chuck of what she wrote–I suspect. She can’t change those people because most would never finish and comprehend the article. They are not going to cancel their rumor mag subscription. She is attacking what it means to be american. We are an individual society. Americans strive for self, and maybe a little unit of close people, and that is all. Her audience is too busy with themselves, phones and facebook. They are too busy ruthlessly picking apart the appearance of everyone they encounter. Plus multiple paragraphs with no pictures is a tall order for a 20 second attention span. Most people are not like OB rag readers.

I wish I could say I was being sarcastic. We’ll…just a little.



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