Are we allowed to talk about Nicole Kidman's face?

It happened towards the end of our morning meeting here in the Mamamia office. Fifteen women of all ages were gathered around the news desks, discussing the stories everyone is talking about today.

After the news and opinion stories had been allocated, talk turned to celebrity news. We all looked up to see the face of Nicole Kidman on the gossip segments of the breakfast TV shows under the headline “Red carpet backlash against Nicole Kidman’s new face”.

There was a collective intake of breath as we looked at her face. It did indeed look different.

In the images on TV and all over the internet, Kidman was shown at the Cannes film festival yesterday where she was promoting Grace Of Monaco at a screening and in a press conference.

She is still recognisably Nicole Kidman, still impeccable, but there’s no doubt her face has gone through some changes.

Discussion turned to whether we should write a post about it? The new face? The supposed backlash? The room was divided. There was some feeling that we shouldn’t do it. “We don’t want to get into surgery-shaming,” insisted one person. “But can’t we mention that she looks different without applying a value judgment to it?” argued another. “How is it different to a haircut?” interjected a third. “If she was brunette or had a bob then we’d cover that, wouldn’t we?”

Yes we would. But talking about someone’s face isn’t the same as talking about their hair. Is it?

This is the thing. Some changes a woman makes – like to her hair, her clothes or  her makeup – can be discussed in a values-neutral way.

Jennifer Aniston’s haircut two days ago was one of the most popular celebrity posts on this website. When a famous woman changes her appearance, people are interested.

Other changes, however, are more loaded. No one would accuse you of being bitchy or judgmental for discussing someone going from blonde to brunette, or showing your pregnant tummy. But if you point out that someone’s face has changed – even if those changes are as plainly obvious as a dramatic haircut– then your comment is immediately fraught.

Changing your face still comes with huge helpings of social shame. It comes that way because even though our bodies are one of the very few things in our lives we actually do have control over, people are still obsessed with policing them, with telling us what we can and can’t do with them.


Those people need to go away.

On top of having our bodies policed, women are told that the choices we make about our bodies define us, more than anything else we might do. Actresses are rarely allowed to transcend their physicality.

We are interested in the way celebrities of both sexes look. But for women, it’s always more loaded. There’s a greater implication that the wrong move could hurt their careers. And that is absolutely unfair.

We don’t talk about what Alec Baldwin or John Travolta or Tom Cruise get done to their face as if it could ruin them – those barbs are left for their behaviour. Because Baldwin, Cruise and their botox are allowed to be more than that. They’re allowed to talented and complicated and fully realised, and into some weird stuff, as well as good-looking.

Choosing to talk loudly about some aspects of a woman’s appearance and speak in hushed whispers about others isn’t going to change the fact that women are unfairly judged for their appearances. If anything, it’ll just make things worse.

And let’s not forget, Nicole Kidman made a red carpet appearance because people are interested in looking at her. The word ‘appearance’ is literally in the gig. We are meant to comment on how she looks when she does this, otherwise she wouldn’t have put on an expensive frock and done her hair so nicely.

When you comment on a star like Kidman’s red carpet appearance, it’s hard to skirt around the face.

If you ask Nicole Kidman, she’ll tell you nothing is going on with her face. This makes a lot of people very, very angry. But she’s doing it because she lives in a climate of fear where addressing the issue is taboo. She’s damned if she does and she’s damned if she doesn’t. But she should break that taboo and confess. Because at least then we don’t have to talk about it behind her back.

Getting work done doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with Nicole Kidman. She’s doing her and she’s doing just fine.

But just because she shouldn’t be shamed for what she does to her face doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed talk about it.

I mean, if she’d grown a beard, we’d write about that. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a ‘beard backlash’ segment about an actor on morning TV.