Mia Freedman: ‘Why is it still so taboo to ask women about the cosmetic work they have?’

Video by Mamamia

“Have you had work done?” I blurted out to my friend as we opened our menus and sipped our wine.

I hadn’t seen her in quite a few months and she looked noticeably different to me.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Some filler!” “No way!” I replied. “It looks so natural! That’s really good work.”

And then we talked about her face for the next 10 minutes.

I do not know where to place this on the spectrum of feminism. Or friendship. Or what it means to be a woman in 2017. I just know that as I head towards my 46th birthday, these conversations are part of my life now. It’s not all my friends and I talk about by any stretch but the subject of injectables and ‘work’ comes up not irregularly. About famous women, about women we know and about ourselves.

Work? No work? Too much work? Good work? Should I have work? Have you had work? Who did your work?

Image: Supplied

So, is asking a woman about her face rude? Is it so drastically different to asking about her hair colour or her ankle boots or how she lost weight?

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Today, you may have read headlines about Jane Fonda verbally smacking down journalist Megyn Kelly when she dared to ask the 77-year-old actress about having "work done" during a live TV interview.

It went down like this: Fonda and her 81-year-old co-star Robert Redford (who has also had work, but we'll get to that) were on Kelly's new morning show to promote their Netflix movie, Our Souls At Night.

After some opening chit-chat about being icons and iconic and also legends, the stars told some easy breezy anecdotes about how Redford has always been a babe, at which point Kelly addressed Fonda:

"You've been an example to everyone in how to age beautifully and with strength and unapologetically," Kelly told Fonda as the studio audience applauded. "You admit you've had work done, which I think is to your credit. But you look amazing... I read that you said you're not proud to say you've had work done. Why not?"

Fonda looked at her and... well, I don't know how to describe what happened next. I want to tell you that nothing on Jane Fonda's face moved but I'm afraid that will sound snarky even though I promise I'm saying it with absolutely no judgement; it's just a factual description of her facial expression which was impassive while also being slightly startled.

The silence dragged out for around 100 years until Fonda finally said, "We really want to talk about that now?" with an incredulous tone and wide eyes.

Jane-Fonda-2017-inline
Image: Getty

Kelly tried again. "Well, one of the things people think when they look at you is how good you look."

"Well, thanks," Fonda said briskly, shutting her down. "Good attitude, good posture. I take care of myself. But let me tell you why I love this movie that we did, Our Souls at Night... rather than plastic surgery."

The audience laughed uncomfortably, Robert Redford chuckled and Fonda looked pleased with herself for executing what is known as a 'bridge' - you build a bridge from the question you don't want to answer (cosmetic work) to one that you do (movie work) and then you skip right over it.

As TV moments go, it was a good one in that it was spontaneous, slightly awkward  and rather surprising.

But what you think the surprising bit was - Kelly's question or Fonda's response - depends on how you feel about plastic surgery.

There are a few camps here.

  1. It's None Of Your Business - these are the people who believe that what a lady (famous or not) does to alter her physical appearance is private, personal and under no circumstances should it be mentioned by anyone, ever. They believe nobody should be obliged to explain, address or even admit whether or not they've had work. (Ita Buttrose is in this camp - I asked her about it and her answer was great)
  2. What's The Big Deal? - these people believe that having Botox or fillers or any form of surgery is as unremarkable as dyeing your hair or wearing high heels. Personal choice. No judgement. Happy to talk about it with whoever. Who cares? (Jessica Rowe is in this camp)
  3. Depends Who's Asking - this group of people are honest with some (close girlfriends usually) but not others (husbands, partners, co-workers). They would never voluntarily bring it up and would probably deny having work if asked. They would prefer everyone think they're simply blessed with great genes.
  4. My Vanity Is Struggling With My Feminism - these are the women who would very much like to look younger but are struggling with feelings of shame, hypocrisy and frustration that it's only women who are tying themselves in knots and poking themselves with needles about these things while nobody ever thinks to ask Robert Redford or any other bloke about their 'work'

My tent is pitched firmly in the last camp, and I've written and spoken about this so much in the past that people who know me have started to openly tell me to shut up about it because it's painful and boring and they don't want to hear me bang on about it for even one more minute.

Well... OK, but just quickly:

Listen: Would you pay $60,000 to look like Melania? Post continues after audio.

I'm the same age as Megyn Kelly (she's 46 and I will be in a few days) and I understand why she asked Jane Fonda the question about her 'work'. It's because in your 30s and 40s (and I assume your 50s), you start trying to work out how you're going to age. What future you -  Older Lady You - might look like. Physically look like. Women do this from the time we're girls. We clomp around in our Mum's high heels and smear on her lipstick to try on what being a woman might look like. We are always looking up and over the horizon of life stages, peering into our future selves - when I get engaged, married, pregnant, become a mother, have a second, become a manager, a boss... and so it is with our faces.

What will future us look like, actually look like? How much 'work' am I willing to do to my face in the pursuit of looking younger than I am?

These are the questions we're asking ourselves and each other. And so is Jane Fonda!

In an interview she did just two years ago with The Guardian, she was asked about agEing and without any prodding, spoke at length about having surgery.

“I’m two years older than my dad was when he died,” she said. Five months before, she’d picked up Henry’s best actor Oscar for On Golden Pond (he was too ill to attend). “Katharine Hepburn was three years younger than I am now when she made that movie. People looked older back then. I wish I were brave enough to not do plastic surgery but I think I bought myself a decade.”

Her eyes gleam from dewy skin (she’s brand ambassador for L’Oréal). There are some bags beneath; others were disposed of a while back, along with neck and chin wrinkles. “The danger with surgery is you say: ‘Oh this is good, let me do more. It can be an addiction. Thirty percent of women were sexually abused when they were young. And a woman who has been sexually abused will have a tendency to go too far. When you’re young it can be this” – she mimes self-harm – “and when you’re older it can be plastic surgery. When I see a woman who’s made her face a mask I say: ‘I bet, I bet.’”

No wonder Megyn Kelly thought she could go there.

I'm so torn on this. Obviously, it's a woman's right to choose what she does to her face and when and if she talks about it publicly. Jane Fonda was clearly comfortable speaking about it in one context but not another. I support that right and that choice unwaveringly. And yet.

As has been said countless times, nobody makes a choice in a vacuum. And when many, many women are making the same choice to try and erase their age from their faces and bodies (and the vast majority of men aren't making it), this speaks to something bigger than any individual woman. So when famous women in their 70s routinely look like they're in their 40s and even 30s... are we meant to pretend we don't notice? Is that not a bit like Kylie Minogue or Lady Gaga insisting they're natural blondes? Or Michelle Bridges claiming she has ripped abs from laughing and fresh air?

There's no shame in admitting you dye your hair. Or work on your body. Or any other aspect of your life to make it the way you want to. Why is it still so taboo to ask women about the cosmetic work they have? And why do so many women feel like they can't - or don't want to - talk about it?

Another friend of mine is planning to have some work done on her eyes. One of my eyelids is so floppy that it has begun to creep towards my eyelashes. At some stage, I will probably need to deal with it and I'm not going to pretend it will be purely a matter of practicality. "You should get it done earlier rather than later," she has urged me. "And Mia, you don't have to tell anyone that you've done it."

Ha. Unfortunately that's not an option for me. I couldn't not admit that I'd done something to my face. However, I understand my type of radical candour is not for everyone and I don't judge anyone by the standards I maintain. Still, I believe in my heart that 'showing your work' - whether it's the work it takes to maintain your relationship or your weight or your happiness or your business or your face -  is a fundamental gift women give to each other, when we feel safe and comfortable to give it.

Of course, Jane Fonda can refuse to answer any question at any time - that's her right. Just like Megyn Kelly must ask the questions she feels her audience want to know - that's her job. Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to try and work out how we feel about how we look, one conversation, one glass of wine at a time.

Just asking: which camp do you fall into when it comes to whether it's OK to talk about 'work' or not?

Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women’s Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business.

She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she’s the only one not coping (you’re not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No FilterMamamia Outloud and Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).

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