Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Life after 40: Ageism in Hollywood

In an article in the Huffington Post, it’s reported that actor Jennifer Aniston says that now that she’s 42, she feels “labeled” by her age. Aniston says that instead of being considered attractive, she now gets the feedback that she’s attractive “for her age.” For someone who makes their living partly on their looks, this is not a good thing.

And yet, it’s no surprise. Most people have noticed the dearth of good film roles for females over a certain age. Older male actors may gain weight, lose hair, get wrinkles, but many of them continue to work steadily. For their female counterparts, this is not true. Think of some of the popular actresses from 15 years ago such as Meg Ryan, Kim Basinger, or Michelle Pfeiffer. Even female actors who were known not just for their looks but also for their acting ability all but disappear once they pass a certain age. Or, they get relegated to playing small parts of grandmothers or female judges or something similar. And, this is regardless of the fact that most of these women maintain their appearance.

Think about the movie As Good as it Gets where Jack Nickolson plays the love interest of Helen Hunt. Isn’t she 20 or more years younger than him? And now, where is Helen Hunt? Behind the scenes directing, most likely. But what about all those other actresses that are in their 50s or nearing them? Why are their acting talents not being sought after? It is a fact that has been supported by much research that for every female in a movie there is usually at least 2 men, sometimes more. So, there are not as many parts offered to women to begin with. Then, when you factor in the idea that women over about 45 are rarely seen in large roles, the opportunities shrink even more.

All of us miss out when women in film are primarily valued for their youth and appearance instead of for their talent. There are stories to be told about women at this stage of their lives, stories full of depth and richness that House Bunny and its ilk cannot hope to rival. So, Jennifer, don’t be sad. Use your talent, your wealth and your influence and make a difference. It’s time to start telling more of these stories, maybe your just the person to do it.

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