Jennifer Aniston Goes Makeup-Free. Liberation Ensues.

From Wikimedia Commons
From Wikimedia Commons

I read this morning that actress Jennifer Aniston (whose family name is Anastasakis and whose godfather is Telly Savalas) had declared that going makeup-free in her new film Cake was “dreamy and empowering and liberating.”

I don’t normally bother with celebrity news, but of course when using social media, it’s hard to escape it. This caught my eye, though, because it struck me as so bizarrely telling regarding our whole public culture.

That anyone could call not wearing makeup things like “liberating” indicates that our investment into transmogrifying artificiality has become deeply dehumanizing. It would be easy to mock Ms. Aniston and call this a “First World Problem,” that this is the kind of thing that only people with ridiculous amounts of privilege and wealth could say, but there is something deeper going on here which isn’t about Jennifer Aniston but about culture in general.

We seem to have moved beyond the First World into a kind of Zeroth World where inconsequential acts like not wearing makeup are ascribed with the nobility and import also given to being freed from tyrannical oppression. If when the Allies rode into Paris and drove out the Nazis, it was “liberation,” how does that compare to going without makeup?

She also uses dreamy and empowering, and one could ask similar questions here, too. This is “dreamy”? What other things are “dreamy”? She is “empowered”? Is this Rosa-Parks-civil-disobedience-“empowered” or something else?

Yes, it would be easy to leave the problem here with language inflation—we (including me, sadly) now use words like awesome and great to refer to things that neither inspire awe nor evince greatness. And maybe that’s all that’s happening here. But she clearly feels something significant, a kind of happiness that makes her feel free from the usual painstaking artifice that is, well, her face, not to mention everything else of her person that we see and hear.

Where is personhood in all this? If an actress feels “liberated” by not wearing makeup, then what does that say about the culture that requires makeup not just for actors but for nearly all women in public? This is a weird pseudo-reality we’re living in here. We can’t even see each other’s faces any more. It’s gone beyond privilege and wealth to wall-to-wall artificiality, to virtual reality for almost all of life’s experiences.

Welcome to the Zeroth World.

Here in the Zeroth World, shedding a tiny bit of face-paint is an authentic act of resistance and recusancy. I bet taking a walk might do that, too. Or cooking dinner.

12 comments:

    1. Within the strange world of UNIX programmers zeroth is an accepted adjective and can be found in the Jargon File compiled by noted hacker Eric S. Raymond, who is of religious interest as a victim of the decay of the zeroth world as documented by the likes of Fr. Seraphim Rose, by virtue of his self-avowed status as a practicing witch with somewhat of a crush on Zen Buddhism.

  1. Back in the 70’s I was a hippie and hippie chicks didn’t wear makeup. ( they didn’t shave either) my mother wore only lipstick. I have always thought she was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. When I see before and after makeover pictures I always prefer the before pictures. That being said, my wife wears make up and dyes her hair to look professional and I keep my hair and beard neatly trimmed to look professional. I being and old hippie prefer a scruffier look.

  2. I think this may also speak to our culture’s need to speak of most anything in the most extreme terms possible. Nothing is simply “good” or “nice” anymore–that’s not adequate praise, evidently. In fact, I have used those terms at times and people look at me as if I’m insulting their efforts!

  3. Being ‘exposed’ to so many campaign ads recently, I was struck by the use of the word ‘horrifying’ to describe Thom Tillis stance on opposing abortion and Planned Parenthood. Horrifying? Really?!

  4. Father,

    Forgive my boldness but I am troubled by this posting today. I am not sure why the reference of Ms Aniston’s family name and Godfather is relevant other than the inference that she is most likely an Orthodox Christian. I find the author’s criticism of her to be a bit harsh.

    That being said, liberation and liberating does not always apply to a person but according to the dictionary, can be used to describe “something” that frees us. I do believe that Ms Aniston was talking about being freed from a societal norm (multi-million dollar cosmetic business) that teaches our girls that we are not quite beautiful enough. Her statements can also be interpreted as a message to women that we can be beautiful without layers of camouflage on our faces. That’s a good thing, no?

    May I venture out on a proverbial limb and add that some women may think it’s okay to want to look more beautiful because of the teachings of the church. Sarah was so exceptionally beautiful that Abraham lied to the Egyptian Pharaoh telling him that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife for fear he would be killed. Mary anointed Jesus with very expensive oil and Jesus was appreciative in spite of those who complained that she was wasteful.

    Women do become liberated from the worldly expectations as we age. Each generation of gals can boast of some type of liberation. My mother’s liberation was wearing slacks (she wore a dress to clean the kitchen floors). My own hippie generation liberation was burning bras.

    My biggest fear as a mother and grandmother and a devout Orthodox Christian and sinner, is that the current generation of women is liberating themselves from God.

    1. To be honest, I’m not sure where we disagree, except perhaps to note that my criticism is not for Ms. Aniston as you seem to think but for the world in which she lives that makes going without makeup into a “liberation.” I actually agree with everything in your comment.

      As for mentioning her background, you’re right that it’s not germane to the point of the post. I just thought it was an interesting detail to include. I put it in parentheses because it’s just a minor note.

  5. Fr.,

    I think this is more telling about the beauty expectations for women in our culture. Most of the time “being professional” requires makeup and it’s as normal as brushing your teeth in the morning before going to work. Hopefully more women who don’t feel comfortable leaving the house without makeup will be inspired by her.

    Best,
    Becca

  6. Thank you for using “transmogrifying” in your post. 😀

    I myself don’t care to wear make-up, but it seems like doing so is no more “strange” or “artificial” than some of the things women in the past, or in other cultures, do to make themselves attractive. Perhaps it is the contradiction of the cultural push to be “real” or “natural” while engaging in artificiality that is really so strange.

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