By: Shannon Ralph
Recently, my wife and I booked a sitter and went on a well-deserved date night to see Pitch Perfect 2 in the theater. I was a huge fan of the first movie and had been looking forward to the second one for months. I have a weird thing for crass jokes, white people rapping, big musical production numbers, and mermaid dancing. Oh, and Anna Kendrick. I would crawl fifty miles over broken glass just to sweat in her shadow. But now that I think about it, she probably casts a tiny shadow. Teensy tiny. Maybe my left thigh could sweat in her shadow. Or my ankle? Definitely not my entire body.
But I digress.
With the release of Pitch Perfect 2, drama is brewing in Hollywood regarding one of its more prominent actresses. Last week, a story broke regarding the hilarious and talented Rebel Wilson. After being “outed” by the Australian press, it has come to light that Rebel is (probably) not 29 years old as she claims to be and (likely) not named Rebel Wilson. Citing public records, the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed that the actress is actually a 35-year-old named Melanie Elizabeth Bownds.
Big deal, huh?
Many actresses in Hollywood change their names to sound more mysterious. Snappier. Sexier. All around cooler. Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson. Portia de Rossi was originally named Amanda Lee Rogers. Carmen Electra was once Tara Leigh Patrick. No one gives them grief for upgrading their names. It’s simply part and parcel in the entertainment business.
What grabbed my attention and compelled me to write about Rebels’ story, however, was the ageism endemic in this sort of “breaking news,” and the sexism that inevitably accompanies it.
Rebel Wilson was supposed to be different. As a woman who has never worn a size 2 in my life (unless you count the 2T rompers I sported as a toddler), I embraced Rebel as my kind of woman. A true Hollywood (by way of Australia) talent who was unabashedly unapologetic. A woman who was comfortable in her own skin. A woman who could hold her own with the fart-joke crowd. Who could both shock and endear with her down-to-earth demeanor. In short, she kept it real.
Or so it seemed.
I find myself wondering why a woman as seemingly confident and self-possessed as Rebel Wilson would feel the need to lie about her age. What possesses a talented, gorgeous woman to pretend to be younger than she is? Yes, I realize these are naïve questions. Obviously, the answer is that women of a certain age are not valued in Hollywood (or in society, for that matter) in the way that men of the same age are valued. It’s a double standard that is as much a part of the entertainment industry as plastic surgery and prescription drug addiction. (If you have not done so already, I highly encourage you to check out Amy Schumer’s hilarious and subversive skit on aging women in Hollywood.)
So why does it bother me? I’m not an actress. I don’t live in Hollywood. I don’t work in the entertainment industry.
I am an ordinary 42-year-old woman in Minnesota. A mother. A lesbian. A “big boned” girl who occasionally walks on the treadmill but has an ongoing clandestine love affair with Taco Bell. I am a somewhat socially awkward recovering Catholic nerd who is convinced I am going to hell every time I bark “goddammit” (which, by the way, is entirely too often to be socially acceptable coming from a woman). In the eyes of society, my value is extremely limited.
If a woman like Rebel Wilson has to lie about her age to be valued, what in the hell are the rest of us supposed to do?
Women comprise roughly 50.8% of the U.S. population. We are a goddamn (oops…there I go) majority! We are living longer. We are living healthier. We are weaving ourselves into the fabric of this nation in ways we never have before. We are leaders in government, medicine, law, philanthropy, media, sports, and entertainment. We hold positions of power in every industry in this country.
We have the potential to change the society we live in. It is up to us to stand tall and proud. It is up to us to teach the Rebel Wilsons of the future to be strong. To be authentic.
I have an 8-year-old daughter whom I adore. Right now, she is authentically bad-ass. That’s sort of weird to say about a child, I know, but it’s the best way I can think of to describe her. She is this amazing mixture of princess and tomboy, of bookworm and mixed martial arts fighter, of shy little girl and rabid wolverine. She is bad-ass, pure and simple.
But one day soon, she will enter middle school and her confidence will plummet. Studies show that between elementary school and high school, the percentage of girls who feel “happy the way I am” drops from 60 percent to 29 percent. Middle school is when society and the social aspects of our lives take on more meaning for girls. Middle school is when girls start deciphering and internalizing the messages we, as a society, send them. Middle school is when it all begins, but it doesn’t end there.
As women, we internalize these messages, as well. We spend 12 billion dollars a year on plastic surgery to look younger. We fuel a weight loss industry that earned 59.8 billion dollars in the U.S. in 2014. We accept 78 cents for every dollar men are paid.
And we are shocked and mortified when an actress lies about her age?
One day my daughter will be 35, just like Rebel Wilson. She will possess all of the knowledge, wisdom, and life experience of a 35-year-old woman. I want her to be fierce. Relentless. I want her to be proud of the woman she becomes.
We are goddamn women, Rebel!
It’s about time we own our roar.
Photo Credit: Raffi Asdourian