This Isn’t About Uma Thurman

I’m not going to post a link, because first: it’s all over the place, and second: none of it deserves the three people I’d send it in traffic. “It” is another deluge of articles speculating on an actress’s purported plastic surgery. This time it’s Uma Thurman. The headlines range from relatively neutral (“Did She Have Plastic Surgery”) to vaguely supportive (“…Sports New Look”) to flat out mean (“What Happened to Her Face?”).

And, as it was with any number of actresses who’ve been the subject of this kind of thing before, despite liberally using images of Thurman, this story isn’t about her at all. It’s about the writers and the readers and the people tweeting and posting to Facebook.

There’s a lot of “why would she, she was beautiful before?” going around, I notice. Which infuriates me on a number of different levels. First of all, it’s rather willfully ignorant. Why would an actress in her forties, whom other people know in part for her “beauty” feel pressure to do things to maintain that? I’m pretty sure every single person posting those before and after jpegs has answered that question by asking it: you feel the way Uma Thurman looks, the extent to which she fits in your definition of beautiful, is significant. To her career. To her value to you as an actress and entertainer. To her, I guess, integrity as a human being.

That people are invested in how an actress looks, in how “beautiful” she is rather than how talented or eloquent or hard-working or devoted to her craft — you know, the parts that go into the act part of actress — and that this investment drives clicks and sells magazines, is exactly why an actress might feel pressure to undergo procedures to extend her ability to fit in that stupid box you’ve put her in. Every person who’s asking that asinine question is part of the problem.

The assumption, too, that Thurman has to spend time answering to people about her motivations as regards what she does with her own body doesn’t help. Thurman’s a grown up, folks. She’s sane and educated and independent. She can get a haircut or a new lipstick or a nose job or whatever the hell else she feels like doing. Do we really think the people asking will suddenly go whoops, my bad if she gives us a good answer? Why are we assuming a successful woman like Thurman wouldn’t have one? What the hell is a “good” answer, anyway? Whatever it might be, Thurman is obligated to disclose a grand total of zero reasons to us. Why should she?

It doesn’t help that this isn’t actually even about whether Thurman did or didn’t have surgery. It’s about the fact that she looks different in one picture than she does in another. That she isn’t maintaining whatever look it is We associate with her. A look, more importantly, of which this collective, judgmental We approves.

We have no reason to believe Thurman did or did not have “work done,” whether that’s an eye lift or a chemical peel or just a fucking fad diet and a personal trainer, prior to this. Until We noticed, no one gave two shits what the actress was or was not going through to look the way she looked. We approved of the results. We deigned to judge her beautiful, and so long as she maintained this, We didn’t ask.

Then something happened that We noticed, and she didn’t fit in the box We built for her. We no longer approved. Only then did Thurman’s life choices suddenly, supposedly, matter. Though even then, that’s just a Macguffin. It’s ultimately inconsequential if the change was due to surgery or a lack of eye makeup or just from the fact that people’s faces change as they age. Our picture got ruined because We saw change that struck us wrong.

People aren’t pictures, even if we take millions of pictures of them. They grow, they change. There is no scenario by which they don’t or won’t. So how about this: if the eternal immutability of Uma Thurman’s — or anyone else’s — face is so central to your life that you feel shame and fear and anger and doubt at the prospect of losing it, I suggest you take a picture. Any picture that makes you feel warm and safe with this person you don’t know and probably never met. Then you and that picture should go into a safe, dark room and lock yourselves away from time and external stimuli. I wish you a happy, healthy forever.

Just make sure you don’t look in a mirror with the light on. You might notice something different in your face, and we wouldn’t want you subject to any more of that kind of trauma.

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