Reality TV

Justine Bateman Doesn’t Want You to Call Her New Book Brave

Writer, director, and producer Justine Bateman, who broke through in the 1980s as one of the fresh-faced teen stars of the NBC sitcom Family Ties, has already grappled publicly with the fickle nature of fame. In 2018’s Fame: The Hijacking of Reality, Bateman recalled the “nauseating experience” of discovering how strangers on the internet were critiquing her looks; a number of online critics made it clear that “Justine Bateman looks horrible now.”

In her new book, Face: One Square Foot of Skin, out now, Bateman has produced a follow-up that expands into a more specific account of how she, and other women, must grapple with the “imagined reality that older women’s faces” are often thought of as being “unattractive, undesirable, and something to be ‘fixed.’” It may go without saying that in Hollywood, it’s even tougher.

In Face, Bateman provides the reader with 47 “short narrative blasts” that take into account other women’s experiences, which Bateman herself has gathered from dozens of interviews she conducted. Ahead, she discusses the “Ponzi scheme” of plastic surgery, the actors who embody the kind of aging she hopes to do, and what it takes to walk out into the world with an attitude that says: “Fuck you, I look great.”

Vanity Fair: The word brave is used frequently in your new book’s blurbs. Do you think of yourself as being brave?

Justine Bateman: [Laughs] No. I think that whole phrase is such bullshit. To me it says, “I’m so embarrassed for you. This is so brave.” I fucking hate that term. No, I don’t think it’s brave at all. I’m just saying that we as a society somehow leapfrogged from “Wow, that plastic surgery is so extreme” to “When are you getting your plastic surgery? Is it going to be at 20, or is it going to be at 40?” It’s almost your duty now as a female to start cutting up your face. How did this thinking become so set in our society? How about just saying no?

This pressure to alter one’s appearance is that much more intense under the microscope of celebrity and Hollywood. It’s merciless.

When we talk about Hollywood, we’re talking about a bunch of fairly attractive people. So if these fairly attractive people, by society’s standards, are looking to erase character from their faces, what does that say to people who don’t look like that? What does that say to people who are, by society’s standards, more average-looking? Are they getting the message that “Jesus Christ, you better catch up”? I just think it’s the wrong direction. Everybody’s talking about “empowering women,” which I also find to be kind of a flaccid statement. Empowering them for what? To shove plastic in their faces? I don’t get that. How about feeling empowered to walk out in the world with an attitude that says, “Fuck you, I look great”?

Can you understand, however, when an actor does make the decision to undergo some form of cosmetic surgery?

Well, I think there are a few things going on. First of all, it’s germane to being an actor, wanting to make changes that you believe will encourage more employment. Of all jobs, I find acting to be the least proactive. It’s like grammar school; you’re waiting in the line to be picked by the team captain during recess to play dodgeball. You’re not generating work, and so you start getting into your head, What can I do to help this along? Which is silly. Most of the time it’s not at all about what you are, or are not, doing. It just comes down to the fact that you’re not the right ingredient for that particular recipe, that film. But you’re like, Maybe if I dyed my hair blond. Or maybe if I had different representation, maybe that would do it. Or maybe I need to lose 10 pounds. Maybe I need to gain 10 pounds. But it doesn’t really work that way.

So these actors are doing what? They’re trying to control and navigate through this extremely difficult world by kowtowing to what they think others want them to look like?

They’re trying to control the variables. You can’t control a lot in this world. You’re chasing your tail. It’s often not true that you weren’t picked for a role because you have blond hair or because you have a crease on the side of your mouth. And in fact, you might be making changes to your looks that do become reasons you won’t get picked. It’s like a Ponzi scheme. You’re never going to win.

Youve been in the business a long time. Why do you even read online reviews from mean-spirited people? As you write, one compared your face to that of a crack addict’s.

That’s a good question. When I first came across negative views of my looks, I was morbidly fascinated and shocked. I was, like, 42 or 43. I didn’t really have anything going on with my face. Does someone really think that?! Should I be subscribing to this? Am I kidding myself that I look okay?

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