See Jennifer Aniston's Strong Words on the Enduring "Sad Jen" Stereotype
"Why do we want a happy ending? How about just a happy existence? "
Jennifer Aniston, is one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood, with an estimated net worth of $200 million. She's the co-founder of the production company Echo Films, and her critically-acclaimed performances in both the 2002 film The Good Girl and the 2014 movie Cake proved she's a formidable actress whose talents far exceed what we saw in Friends. And, thanks to a healthy lifestyle, she's still got the dewey skin and toned physique of a woman in her early 20s. And yet, our perception of her continues to be that of Sad Jen—a jilted, weepy woman who just can't seem to hold down a man and is, in all likelihood, probably barren by now.
It's an unkind typecasting that she addresses in a cover story for Elle. She admits that part of the reason the media continues to doggedly portray her this way is because she was open about how upset she was when Brad Pitt left her in 2005.
"[That was] a time, I think, when the internet was really taking off. The tabloids started painting me in a light that wasn't true to who I was," she said.
She learned her lesson, and, these days, she's a lot more guarded when it comes to her personal life.
"I just was like, 'Shut up and say nothing, because there's nothing you can do. You can try to protest too much—No, I'm not unhappy! No, I'm not this! I'm not that.' I finally was like, 'I'm done. I'm going to shut the doors. I'm going to tune it out. If somebody tries to talk to me, I'll give one-word answers, and I will not be vulnerable.' I'm way too sensitive to be misinterpreted, misconstrued, or taken out of context. I just started to shut down."
But when her 2015 marriage to actor Justin Theroux ended after less than three years, Sad Jen reappeared, in spite of the fact that Aniston herself has no regrets or bitterness toward either of her supposedly "failed" marriages. She said:
"I don't feel a void. I really don't. My marriages, they've been very successful, in [my] personal opinion. And when they came to an end, it was a choice that was made because we chose to be happy, and sometimes happiness didn't exist within that arrangement anymore. Sure, there were bumps, and not every moment felt fantastic, obviously, but at the end of it, this is our one life and I would not stay in a situation out of fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being able to survive. To stay in a marriage based on fear feels like you're doing your one life a disservice. When the work has been put in and it doesn't seem that there's an option of it working, that's okay. That's not a failure. We have these clichés around all of this that need to be reworked and retooled, you know? Because it's very narrow-minded thinking."
Aniston believes that this fixation with painting her as some sort of chronically depressed divorcée is the result of the sexist expectations that we still harbor over what it means to be successful as a woman, especially an aging one. She went on:
"We live in a society that messages women: By this age, you should be married; by this age, you should have children. That's a fairy tale. That's the mold we're slowly trying to break out of…Why do we want a happy ending? How about just a happy existence? A happy process? We're all in process constantly. 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…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. 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."
Which is why, when asked why people seem to continue to focus on her romantic status, she observed, "Maybe it has everything to do with what they're lacking in their own life,"
"It's such a shallow lens that people look through," she said. "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."
For the record (and the umpteenth time), Aniston hasn't ruled out having children, she's just not using them as a marker with which to assess her life.
"Some people are just built to be wives and have babies," she said. "I don't know how naturally that comes to me…Who knows what the future holds in terms of a child and a partnership—how that child comes in…or doesn't? And now with science and miracles, we can do things at different times than we used to be able to."
For now, she's enjoying the sumptuous Los Angeles home she shares with three dogs where she frequently hosts parties and enjoys the sunset in blissful solitude. It may not be the "happy ending" we all imagined, but it's certainly a happy existence.
And for more stories about women embracing their lives with strength, check out Emma Thompson's brilliant words on the joys of aging.
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