Last week, Tom Cruise's face had a moment.
"Tom Cruise Looks Like Whole New Person At Baseball Game."
"Tom Cruise Look Puffy After Having New Face."
"The Truth Behind Tom Cruise's Swollen Face."
Welcome to equal-opportunity body-shaming, where it matters not that we all completely respect the decisions individuals make about their bodies, we'll damn well comment on them all the same.
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And while we will reserve most of our commentary on faces, eyes, lips and noses for women, who've been reduced to the sum of their body parts for eternity, we will keep just a little aside for men. Because if 'tweakments' have become wallpaper in the world of prominent women, a man who cares enough about their appearance to do the same is still somehow, surprising. Telling. A little bit sad in the eyes of a mocking media.
It's not clear exactly what Tom Cruise has done to his face, if anything. But there was just enough puff and a smoothness of sheeny texture there to convince us all it was something.
Tom Cruise is 59 years old. He's worth, conservatively $570million. He is still one of the highest-paid movie stars in the world, flinging himself out of planes and scaling high buildings as Ethan Hunt in two new Mission Impossible movies. He is about to start promoting Tom Gun: Maverick, in which he plays... Maverick, 35 years after the original movie changed his life. He also has a space film going into production next year, and an action movie with Nicolas Cage that doesn't sound like he's playing an old dude in slippers, called Live, Die, Repeat and Repeat.
In short, Tom Cruise is still being Tom Cruise, and he needs to keep looking like him.
He's not the only rich and powerful man who has begun to wrestle with the inevitability of an ageing face. Celebrity counterparts Brad Pitt and Daniel Craig are also victims to equality body-shaming. The likes of Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone have become ridiculed for it. Men whose livelihood does not depend on them still being convincing in an on-screen foot-race are also finding themselves scrutinised. Elon Musk, to borrow a tabloid phrase, "didn't always look like Elon Musk". President Joe Biden is mocked by political opponents for doing un-named things to his face in a bid to distract from his significant age. Even one of Australia's richest men, Andrew Twiggy Forrest, sparked whispers of 'he's had a bit of work done' when he spoke the infinitely more important issue of climate change at the Canberra Press Club this month. In my house, at least.
None of it matters. Judgements on who's had what injected into where are boring, predictable and put people - generally, women - in an impossible bind. Do we talk about what we do to stay looking how we want to look, and risk being labelled shallow, vain, delusional? Or do we let our faces do what faces naturally do with every year that passes and out ourselves as old, lazy, irrelevant? Do we want to be accused of letting ourselves go?
What does matter is what all of this tweaking, whether you're a 24-year-old influencer or the leader of the free world, says about our attitude to ageing. And how no-one, not even the one per cent, escape culture's complete disdain and disgust with it.
Tom Cruise wants for nothing. As a wealthy white man, he has spent his entire life being listened to, accommodated, moving through a world that was designed for him. His foibles - couch-jumping, wife-auditioning, Scientology - have been indulged and excused. He has bounced back from scandals, he has made hundreds of millions of dollars for enormous corporations. He can't go to a baseball game - clearly - without adoration, even now.
He is also infamously disciplined. Training for his own stunts, dieting and exercising obsessively as movie roles demanded, insisting on an unshakable work ethic and commitment from co-stars and crew. There is no chance that Tom Cruise is ever letting himself go.
But even if you are Tom Cruise, with all that entails, there is something you can't control, if you are lucky enough to live so long. Age.
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"The older you get, the older you want to get," is a quote credited to the seemingly immortal rockstar Keith Richards. It speaks perfectly to the dawning realisation that youth's disdain for age - for wrinkly backs of hands, for slower steps and technological fumbles and crinkly lines around the eyes - is missing the main game. Life. The young might wish that the old would disappear, would stop cluttering up the view with their insistence on continuing to exist, but the "old people" are comfortable in their knowledge that life is full of mysterious joy, of wonderful gifts and people who matter. They want to participate, now that all the self-doubt and insecurity, the second-guessing and the thoughtless mistakes are behind them.
Tom Cruise might be almost 60, but Tom Cruise is not old. Least of all, in Tom Cruise's eyes.
Tom Cruise, he's still the guy who dated Rebecca De Mornay after she saw him dancing in his jocks in Risky Business. The man who flew upside down in aviator shades and changed the movie industry. He's still the actor who filmed for 400 straight days to make Stanley Kubrick's final movie. He's a father. He's a star.
But when he looks in the mirror, he sees it, as everyone watching themselves ageing does. The time limit. The full-stop. The dismissal, followed by the quiet time. And then, the end.
If you're a woman, this stuff comes sooner, because since we were born we have internalised the notion that our value is linked to the smoothness of our skin, the shape of our bodies and the eagerness of our smile. We are hyper-aware that those things have a time limit. And we're used to finite deals, since the culture starts screaming "tick-tock" into our worry lines as soon as we turn 20.
If you're a man - particularly a rich, powerful, man - the fact that you're no longer the disruptor, the next big thing, the cool kid, one of the boys, a master of the universe with infinite possibilities ahead is slower to dawn, but dawn it will.
For them, ageing brings a shocking loss of control, a high-stakes end-game, indignities they've never had to endure.
Men who are Tom Cruise's age rule the world. And they never want that to end.
It's written all over their faces.
Feature image: Getty.
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