Finally, the long-awaited Friends reunion has landed – and unsurprisingly, the reaction to it almost broke the internet. But not, as you might expect, with a wealth of joyful reminiscences about our favourite New York TV sextet, plus incisive commentary on the quality of their acting and the brand-new script. No, what we got was essentially a bitchfest about how they looked.
Friendly? Most certainly not. ‘What happened to their faces?’ was the politest summation of the Instagram furore. It seems social media cannot comprehend that the six famous friends might have visibly aged in the 17 years since we last saw them on screen together, or that they might, at some point, have employed cosmetic procedures – just like so many of us.
The nasty comments kept on coming. ‘These wax museum figures just keep getting worse,’ said one. ‘They all look strange,’ added another. And ‘What happened to Matthew Perry? I drink too much, I’m scared I’m going to look as bad as him in 20 years.’ Hardly helpful – particularly when we have no idea what kind of struggles these actors may be experiencing in their personal lives.
We might feel like we know them – we watched them on screen for all those years – but how can we possibly have any real insight into their lives? And who are we to judge them for the way they have aged, the treatments they may or may not have had, and the life experiences that have shaped their faces and bodies?
It’s disheartening to witness this kind of grisly free-for-all – whatever happened to kindness? And more important, why is there still no accountability on social media (though that’s a column for another week)? Fans defended the actors, but it only served to escalate the vitriol. What started out as judgements on the cast’s ageing faces ramped up to include the cosmetic work they might have had done, particularly the Botox and fillers commentators seem to find so endlessly offensive (indeed, one column on the subject was headlined ‘Botox watch’).
At Studio10, we talk a lot about ageism, and our desire to stamp it out. Often, it feels like we’re making progress, moving beyond sexist, ageist stereotypes, body- and face-shaming – but it only takes one episode of a TV show to go viral and unleash a stream of abuse to prove we’ve come nowhere near as far as we thought.
Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc might be the cast of one of the most successful TV series of all time – but they’re also real people with real lives and real problems. They might not have the same struggles we do, but it doesn’t mean we should feel able to criticise their appearance or cosmetic choices on a public platform that they probably read. I mean, would you say any of it to their face?
Being a woman in midlife has its pressures and insecurities – particularly around how we look and the way we are perceived. Amplify that a thousand times for those who appear on film and TV. The Friends cast have spoken publicly in the past about the pressures of fame and how hurtful comments have made them feel. It doesn’t make for an easy read. And though you might think they’re fair game as public figures, they’re actors – that’s what, if anything, we should be judging, not how well they are ageing.
Personally, I was excited to see the cast of a show that meant so much to me back together on screen – but I wouldn’t blame them if, after a reaction like this one, they kicked the idea of a further reunion into the long grass.
We’ve come a long way in the past few years in our attitudes to ageing – but with a little bit of kindness, and a long, hard look at our motivations, we could still do so much better.