The backlash to Nicole Kidman’s Vanity Fair cover proves how uncomfortable we are with women proudly showing off their bodies – especially in their 50s
At 54 years old, Nicole Kidman’s body is supremely unattainable for the majority of women. Yet, it still deviates from the way society thinks women should look. Her strong, toned physique stands in contrast to the softness often fetishised in younger women. Her thinness is not supplemented with the hourglass (and often artificial) curves we’ve become accustomed to seeing on our Instagram feeds.
Alongside the criticism she receives for the shape of her body, Nicole is regularly berated for the youthful appearance of her facial features. Why can’t she age gracefully? we demand to know.
The Vanity Fair shoot has also garnered claims of photoshopping and airbrushing, with one person tweeting, “Nicole has a great body, and that’s not her body. Her shape is not like that at all. Why they have to Photoshop? [sic]” It’s a fair point: existing as a woman in the public eye is a constant battle to retain agency over your body, whether it’s from the graphic designers creating your cover look, or the fans at home consuming it.
However, it’s also worth noting that we don’t know for sure that the image is even photoshopped – the accusation itself seems to stem from the idea that Nicole’s body doesn’t look how we think a 54-year-old woman’s body should look. Nicole occupies an unstable social space whereby her body doesn’t fit society’s youthful ideal demanded of famous women, nor does it appease the consumers of celebrity culture, who are desperately hungering for someone who looks relatable. In other words: someone who looks like us.
After 30+ years in the entertainment industry, Nicole is more than familiar with the impossible standards she’s held to as a woman who dares to be successful beyond the age of 40. The Vanity Fair cover embodies so many of these contradictions. If you think it looks jarring, have you considered that perhaps it’s meant to?
Perhaps we’d all feel more comfortable if Nicole Kidman donned the cover of Vanity Fair wearing a cashmere turtleneck sweater, like her character Celeste in Big Little Lies, while she clasped a mug of hot lemon and ginger, like her wellness-obsessed character, Masha, in Nine Perfect Strangers. Maybe then, she’d be able to catch a break.
But Nicole Kidman is not any of her characters. She’s an actor at the absolute top of her game, having battled against relentless sexism and ageism to still be one of the most sought-after and successful people in her industry. She stands at the golden gates of Hollywood, at once a veteran and a victim of body-shaming. She’s not “dressed like a young girl,” she’s showing us that a 54-year-old woman can only be accepted as stylish, attractive and successful by society if she literally looks like one. She’s showing just how perverse our obsession is with youth. That’s her power.