Opinion

No, Jennifer Aniston didn’t “show off” her bikini body

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Kayleigh Dray
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Jennifer Aniston has always spoken against sexist bullying in the media – and these blurry and out-of-focus photos are proof of exactly that.

Jennifer Aniston shows off bikini body at 50,” read the headline. The accompanying article wasted countless words poring over the actor’s “mismatched bikini”, her “toned and lean physique”, and her “golden tan”. And the writer obviously reminded everyone, needlessly, that “it’s been 25 years since Jennifer Aniston hit our screens on Friends” – presumably so they could shoehorn in a few comments about how “fabulous” the actor looks at 50.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the article had been penned to accompany a photoshoot for a magazine. Or, at the very least, to illustrate snaps taken and shared by Aniston on her Instagram feeds. But you’d be wrong. Because the photographs – clearly taken with a long lens camera, and from a great distance away – are blurry, grainy and out-of-focus.

In the pictures (which we have determined not to share here, for obvious reasons), Aniston hoists up her bikini, clambers up onto a deck, walks back towards the private villa she and her friends are holidaying in.

What she doesn’t do, though, is pose for the camera. She doesn’t smile. Indeed, she never once looks down the lens.

Why? Well, because she probably has no idea that the photographer is even there. 

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It should go without saying that Aniston is not “showing off” her body in these photos. Indeed, she seems to have gone to great lengths to hide her body from the press. The woman was in a private villa, where she dared to sunbathe in something designed for sunbathing.

This could only have been less “showing off her body” if she’d donned a unicorn onesie, pulled a balaclava over her face and confined herself to the windowless basement of her holiday villa. Which – when you’re supposed to be relaxing and unwinding in blazing hot Mexican climes – probably isn’t all that appealing.

But, of course, this invasion of privacy and feverish speculation about a woman’s body is something we’ve seen happen time and time again in the tabloids. Back in 2015, Ellie Goulding was accused of “flaunting her toned figure in a bikini” – a headline which she later, and quite rightly, disputed on social media.

“’Flaunting’ my ‘bikini body’ AKA in a private villa and photographers with long lenses are hiding up in the trees,” she tweeted.

A year earlier, Katy Perry revealed that she had been “stalked by many grown men” as she “tried to take a quiet walk on the beach”.

“Australian PRESS, you should be ashamed of you paparazzi and tabloid culture,” she tweeted. “Your paparazzi have no respect, no integrity, no character. NO HUMANITY.

“These men would not stop as I pleaded over and over to let me have my space… this is PERVERTED and disgusting behaviour that should NEVER be tolerated.”

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In 2016, Catherine Zeta-Jones was snapped by the paparazzi while spending time with her husband Michael Douglas and their two children in Mexico. Her body, of course, was described in great detail – but, strangely enough, the tabloids did not feel the urge to comment on Douglas’ body (you know, despite the fact that he, like Zeta Jones, was a Hollywood star in a swimsuit).

Zeta Jones responded by sharing her own impromptu photoshoot on Instagram, writing: “[I’m] pissed the paparazzi photographed my ass. Thus sharing the photographs my husband took of my ass. Always a better option for viewing.”

And who can forget the time that French publication Closer published topless photos of Kate Middleton. Photos which were, we hasten to point out, taken during her and Prince William’s private holiday to France? 

Published in print and online, the accompanying article described the pictures of the couple as being “like you have never seen them before. Gone are the fixed smiles and the demure dresses. On holiday Kate forgets everything.”

Later, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge issued a statement over the “grotesque and unjustifiable invasion of privacy”.

“[The royal couple were] hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner”, a spokesman for Clarence House, the Prince of Wales’s office, said.

“The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the duke and duchess for being so.

“Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.

“Officials acting on behalf of their Royal Highnesses are consulting with lawyers to consider what options may be available to the duke and duchess.”

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Still, the tabloids are still flooded with photos of women in their swimwear. Still, these photos are taken with long lenses and without permission. Still, these women are accused of “flaunting” or “showing off” their “bikini body”. But the press needs to be more careful about the language it uses, because “flaunting” implies that these women are dressing or behaving in a provocative way. That their aim is to conjure lust. That they are purposefully setting out to tease the world with something the world can’t have, won’t ever have.

Basically, it implies that literally everything women do is sexual in nature. Which, it should go without saying, isn’t just reductive and untrue: it’s toxic, too.

Aniston, Perry, Goulding, Zeta Jones, and their famous peers are not “flaunting” their bodies. They simply have bodies – which, y’know, is something of an unavoidable state for most human beings. 

And, while Aniston has yet to comment on those blurry bikini photos, it’s not too hard to predict her response. Especially as, in her essay, ‘For The Record’ (which she penned for the Huffington Post), the actor famously said that she was “fed up” of sexist bullying in the press.

“I’m fed up,” she wrote. “I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Amendment’ and ‘celebrity news’.”

Aniston continued: “The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty.

“[But] the reality is the stalking and objectification I’ve experienced first-hand, going on decades now, reflects the warped way we calculate a woman’s worth.”

This sort of tabloid gossip, Aniston said, perpetuates a “dehumanising view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance… is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go?”

She was concerned, she wrote, about the impact it would have on young girls to see famous women’s bodies picked apart in this way – as well as the implicit suggestion that as a woman, being pregnant is the ultimate goal.

Aniston concluded: “Here’s where I come out on this topic… we get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.”

You can’t put it better than that. 

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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