Listen, I get it, Elle. So much of the world’s gossip narrative around Jennifer Aniston has been about her marriages, her subsequent divorces, and the fact that she has no children. In some of that, she is fully participatory; some of the rest of it is pure lack of imagination on the part of the publications. But the fact remains that there is a whole generation of people that thinks of Jennifer Aniston chiefly as Brad Pitt’s spurned wife, or Angelina’s mortal enemy, or Justin Theroux’s potentially cheated-upon spouse, and as childless. And that’s irritating. The Elle profile absolutely touches on a lot of that. Which is why I’m so deeply chafed by the choice of headline: Jennifer Aniston Doesn’t Need a Happy Ending.
It’s pulled from this context:
Aniston is the screen onto which America projects all its double standards about women, especially successful ones. […] It’s obviously a lucrative projection, or it would not have been bought and sold, year after year. What anyone gets out of it is unclear. “Maybe it has everything to do with what they’re lacking in their own life,” Aniston theorizes. Or maybe using marriage and children as the ultimate marker of female happiness is just another way to disempower successful women. “Why do we want a happy ending? How about just a happy existence? A happy process? We’re all in process constantly,” Aniston says. “What quantifies happiness in someone’s life isn’t the ideal that was created in the ’50s. It’s not like you hear that narrative about any men.” Men, of course, are allowed to continue merrily on their open-ended path to adventure. “That’s part of sexism—it’s always the woman who’s scorned and heartbroken and a spinster. It’s never the opposite. The unfortunate thing is, a lot of it comes from women,” she says. “Maybe those are women who haven’t figured out that they have the power, that they have the ability to achieve a sense of inner happiness.”
In context, Aniston at least comes closer to picking apart the idea of what constitutes a happy ending; she’s arguing first that there is no ending, and second, that there are no set-in-stone trappings or definition of happiness. Pulling that bite out and using it alone as the headline, to me, does the opposite: It reinforces this idea that a happy ending is marriage and kids, and that her rejection of the concept is because she currently has neither. I took her to mean that she’s poking at the myth and redefining it, not that she’s saying, “No, thank you.” And I hate that Elle, a smart women’s magazine in an age where they all seem to be dying (Glamour) or to be compromising themselves (Vogue), would play into that. Even if it was inadvertent, although I think it was absolutely an attempt to capitalize on what the writer, Carina Chocano, even cites as a boring trope about her personal life that ignores her other achievements. I mean:
Aniston spent a decade on Friends and has starred in more than 30 movies, but the role that sticks to her most tenaciously is America’s Suffering Sweetheart. Cast as the eternal ingenue in the never-ending marriage plot, her joys, heartbreaks, and 57,000 fictional pregnancies have kept the lights on at several tabloids for a quarter of a century. I know this character is a fiction, but she’s still an undeniable presence—a third person in the room, lounging in the hanging chair, eating perfectly cut crudités. “We live in a society that messages women: By this age, you should be married; by this age, you should have children,” Aniston says. “That’s a fairy tale. That’s the mold we’re slowly trying to break out of.”
Even “Jennifer Aniston Doesn’t Need Your Happy Ending” would be better. I mean:
By endlessly focusing on her marital or family status, “you’re diminishing everything I have succeeded at, and that I have built and created,” she says. “It’s such a shallow lens that people look through. It’s the only place to point a finger at me as though it’s my damage—like it’s some sort of a scarlet letter on me that I haven’t yet procreated, or maybe won’t ever procreate.” Ultimately, she says, the idea of a happy ending is “a very romantic idea. It’s a very storybook idea. I understand it, and I think for some people it does work. And it’s powerful and it’s incredible and it’s admirable. Even enviable. But everybody’s path is different.”
Amen. And for all my criticism of the lovelife stuff, I get that I’ve also basically focused only on that part, so here I shall implore you to read the whole story — it’s delightfully long — about how she became attached to Dumplin’ and her relationship with her mother and all manner of other things. As it should be.