There is a snippet of Reese Witherspoon’s InStyle cover interview in which she and Gayle King discuss how much Reese and her daughter, Ava, look alike and get mistaken for each other. And this cover honestly feels like someone said, “HAMMER IT HOME. Retouch her back into her 20s.” Let’s not pretend here: Reese Witherspoon very probably has done a lot of subtle, excellent work to keep the aging process from stamping itself on her face. No judgment. Everyone does stuff, be it moisturizer or Retinol or Botox or more. Whether it’s considered cool or not these days, we all try to take care of our skin, and then some do a little bit extra, and some do a lot extra and hopefully still look like themselves when it’s done. Reese still very much looks like herself, so whoever is handling her face (via whatever means) is clearly doing so with great care. And so, while you would not need to do this much retouching on Reese regardless, you especially don’t need it given the assiduous way she’s (most likely) retouched herself. It’s not that she looks bad here, clearly, but this face just doesn’t feel like the reality of this person. And that is a double shame when the whole story is about the hard-won knowledge of the last decade of her working life and how, at 45, she’s firmly in a whole new era. It’d be nice to see a trace of that life experience on the cover of this magazine.

And it’d be even nicer to do it in something other than D&G. Tyler McCall pointed out that D&G is fronting both InStyle and the SJP issue of Vogue this month (hopefully we’ll be able to run that cover later this week), which makes them double blessed by the American fashion media and therefore officially out of the doghouse — if they were ever really in one in the first place. I am disappointed. Especially because it doesn’t seem necessary. First, this is the fashion issue, but she’s basically wearing high-fashion shapewear; if this was the desired aesthetic, then surely any number of other companies could have sufficed, as you can barely see it and it’s unremarkable. Second, again, this is the fashion issue. Maybe be more interesting and pick a designer that could use the endorsement, as opposed to designers that apparently would rather throw money at their problems than express actual contrition for their prejudice. Don’t extend your arms the shortest distance possible when you are a high-profile fashion mag. Stretch. I actually think that’s really the overall note here of mine: This should be more interesting in a lot of ways, and isn’t.

Finally, there’s the story. Reese is closing out 2021 for InStyle after a fairly big year of her own, between the return of The Morning Show and her selling her production company Hello Sunshine for almost a billion dollars this summer. Gayle King did the interview, and Gayle King unsurprisingly pitches absolutely nothing but softballs. For example, for all the talk about how rich the sale of Hello Sunshine made an already rich woman — by the way, I do not begrudge Reese the extra windfall; she’s done a lot to get women-oriented stories on TV and in theaters, and she deserves it, but also let’s not pretend she wasn’t loaded beforehand — I would have liked to hear more from Reese, beyond the generic press release blah-di-blah, about why she decided to sell in the first place. Just out of curiosity. What does selling allow her company to do that it wasn’t already able to do, if its value is that stratospheric? There could be interesting nuggets in there about growth and diversification, but no, no questions from Gayle. Likewise, I think a lot of folks have wondered about selling the company to a group run by men. Even with Reese and her CEO on the board of the new company and allegedly (for now) running the day to day operations, this women-focused company now has significant male oversight, and it’d be neat to get a quote from her about that aspect of it, even if it’s to explain why it won’t make a difference. But Gayle doesn’t dig. Gayle’s opening question, in fact, was, “What’s it like to be a badass? Own it, Reese!” Although Reese is at her best there:

Reese Witherspoon: I’ve said this to Oprah before, but LeBron James doesn’t go, “I’m kinda sorta good at basketball.” He’s like, “I’m the best there ever was.” So, yes, I do think I’m very good at what I do. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. Give me the ball.

GK: You raise such a good point. Men never shy away from saying “Yep, I’m good,” and women are always like, “Oh, thanks.”

RW: Another important difference is that women have humility. I have no problem saying to people, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, can you please explain it to me?” Self-doubt is a good tool. You shouldn’t know everything. Turn to somebody, but advocate to learn more and do better.

GK: Yeah, so many people, women especially, don’t want to think they’re not smart or that they don’t understand. You don’t have a problem with that.

RW: I’ve dealt with those types of biases for a long time in our business. Actresses, they’re infantilized. People don’t talk to them about money or deals; they say, “Oh, don’t worry about that, we have that.” Not empowering someone with information is a form of control. So at a certain point in my career, I kind of took back the reins. I finally picked up the phone and said, “I’m not excited about this one part of my deal,” and my agent was like, “Well, let’s change it.” Sometimes you have to pick up the phone. Don’t assume. You don’t know the answers.

Someday, though, I’d like to read the story written for the people who are not at this point in their careers. Reese Witherspoon, for sure 10 and even probably 20 years ago, could pick up the phone and be like, “I don’t like this,” and have enough clout to get it changed. What about the folks without that much ground under their feet? It’s good to give people inspiration, but let’s also dole out actionable advice for the women coming up in the industry who might still feel like they have everything to lose.

[Photo by Emma Summerton/Dawes+Co; the interview will be featured in InStyle’s December issue hitting newsstands on November 19]