Last month I spoke with a friend in the industry who lost her job when her company restructured during the pandemic. She’s incredibly competent and not ready to give up work—so instead she gave up her face, believing that a lift from a Park Avenue doctor would make her more presentable, more employable, more competitive with younger candidates.
Still, it’s not my generation I’m most worried about. After all, we remember when natural was normal. It’s my 42-year-old daughter, my eight-year-old granddaughter, and the 20- and 30-something female employees I interact with every day—too many of whom really do believe that getting work done is key to finding employment, or a partner, or self-worth and even happiness.
Worse than dishonest, this belief is dangerous. According to a recent Dove survey, 67 percent of preteen and teenage girls won’t post a photo of themselves on social media until they edit at least one part of their body. And the consequences of this insecurity aren’t limited to the internet.
Experts believe that the gap between what young women actually look like and what they wish they looked like is probably causing increased rates of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, and—predictably—body dysmorphic disorders. And it’s definitely causing women to miss out on life: Eighty-five percent of us have avoided doing daily activities when we feel bad about the way we look.
Most people still haven’t reckoned with this new normal. But just before the pandemic, Hollywood had quietly started to. From directors and producers, I kept hearing the same three complaints: Younger actresses were looking more and more alike; older actresses were expressing less and less with their faces; and finding anyone to play an ordinary, “everyday” character had become extraordinarily difficult.
To some extent, my industry is responsible for letting it get this far. Instagram may have made it seem necessary and possible to meet unattainable beauty standards, but we projected them on movie screens and printed them in magazines for decades.
Reversing this trend won’t be easy. After all, there’s no putting the plastic surgery genie back in the bottle. Even this plastic virgin knows that. But perhaps there’s a way to lessen the pressure put on women and the toll that pressure takes. If we can find a better balance between fixing and fixating; if we can celebrate asymmetry and embrace imperfection; if we can remember that what we do to our faces influences the faces of our friends and our daughters—if we can do all that, we may not change our culture overnight, but we will be transforming lives.
Bonnie Hammer is vice chairman, NBCUniversal, and a 40-year veteran of the television industry. Among the award-winning series she cultivated are “Monk,” “Mr. Robot,” “The Sinner,” “Homecoming,” “The Act,” “Dirty John,” and “Battlestar Galactica.”