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Justine Bateman rose to fame as a teenager in the 1980s, earning Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of the bright-but-sort-of-superficial Mallory Keaton on Family Ties. And while it’s hard for a generation of Gen X fans to not think of that character when they hear Bateman’s name, it’s a long way from what she’s doing today. While Bateman continued to act through the years, these days the 57-year-old is making her mark behind the camera as a writer, director, and producer. Her feature film directorial debut, for the Olivia Munn-led Violet, premiered at SXSW in 2021, and she’s authored two books: a non-fiction not-quite-memoir called Fame: The Hijacking of Reality, and more recently, a collection of fictional vignettes about our attitudes — and fears — around aging women’s faces called Face: One Square Foot of Skin.
The book is rooted in Bateman’s own experience (as well as dozens of interviews she conducted) with unrealistic beauty standards as an “older” woman that weren’t in line with her own attitudes or values. In the intro to Face, she writes of welcoming the “creases” she had long admired in elegant older European actresses, only to find that that was a controversial take on her own visage. “I was taken aback to find that quite a few people had taken to Internet chat sites to passionately complain that ‘Justine Bateman looks horrible now,’” she writes. “How was it possible that they didn’t see what I saw on my face: the indication of a complex and exotic woman? How could it be that they saw the opposite of what I saw in my face?”
We talked to Bateman last fall, ahead of the paperback publication of Face (which she’s now working to bring to the big screen) about how Face is her answer to the “evisceration” that she and “millions of other women” are subjected to. The takeaway is that Bateman has done enough inner work that she doesn’t give a damn. Her face — and my face, and your face — isn’t a problem to be fixed.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Face: One Square Foot of Skin by Justine Bateman.
'Face: One Square Foot of Skin' by Justine Bateman$27.39on Amazon.comBuy now
You wrote in the intro to Face that you always looked up to these beautiful, older actresses that you saw in French and Italian films. But you also write about the harsh reality you faced realizing that many people don’t share that view. Did you ever have a crisis of confidence about that?
Justine Bateman: There’s a chapter in my first book, Fame, that’s all about that experience. For me, if somebody pushes my buttons there’s a lot of benefit from digging in and understanding why that button got pushed in me. So that’s what I did with the criticism of my face. People can read that whole chapter about how I dug in and got rid of it.
For everybody, there’s gonna be a completion to this to this sentence: ‘If people think I look old, then therefore…’. For someone it might be, they think they’re not going to get a mate; for another, it might be that they’re gonna lose their job, or that they won’t get a job or that they know people aren’t gonna listen to them, whatever their fear is. And I believe that fear already existed in them, that it existed in them before their face started changing. I had to figure out the completion to the sentence was for me.
There’s a moment I’m sure everybody has, like, ‘Oh, my button’s being pushed…’ To me, it’s the difference between, do you want to get rid of your buttons? Or do you want to get rid of these people that are saying these things? Why not get rid of the button inside of yourself that reacts to it and that’s tied to whatever fear comes up about people thinking that you look old? Because I guarantee you, you’re still going to have the incredible life that is already planned for you whether your face is wrinkled or not.
Where do you think we are as a society right now? Do you feel like we’re in a better place when it comes to acceptance of aging faces?
JB: Honestly, I don’t really care. I don’t care if society as a whole changes on the subject or not. I’m interested in passing on what worked for me to individuals; I’m interested in passing it on to any woman or man who’s currently criticizing themselves and disliking themselves right now because they think that if people think they look old, then therefore… there’s some fill-in-the-blank for them. That’s my goal. And if I look at it in that direction, I can say this: there are a lot more people rejecting the idea that their faces are broken than there were before my book came out, because of the number of DMs I’ve gotten from people who have said so.
And what are the biggest things that have worked for you? Because you can feel like you shouldn’t care but it’s hard sometimes to actually not care.
JB: It’s not a positive affirmation thing. It’s identifying what threw you off track. Let’s say you’re having a day and you feel fine, you feel happy, you don’t feel insecure. And then, you find that you do. And you’re like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ What happened between those two moments?
When I first started doing this for myself, that was the key to it all. What occurred? If one can take the time and identify when things went off the rails in any particular situation, and then really be honest with themselves about what fears that brings up in them… it sounds like a lot of work, but I like that option a lot better than [spending] the rest of my night or week or month or year feeling insecure and not having a good time and not feeling like I’m on my track.
So that’s made a big difference for me. And as I’m journaling, letting all the irrational fears come out on paper [and] not judging them. And man, then it’s almost as if, if I expose the irrational fears, then this interesting erosion starts, where it’s almost like that button can’t be pushed with the same intensity again, because I’ve kind of exposed it to the elements.
For me, it really helps to get a different perspective on what’s going on, to trust that you are being looked out for by whatever you want to call it, whether it’s God or the universe, or the sun, or, you know, just trusting that life works out okay. For me it just comes down to that.
Since I became aware of people’s criticism of my face — I have accomplished the most in the last 10 years than I have in the entire rest of my life. So my life, my fate, my path, the opportunities that revealed themselves to me, just didn’t care what my face looks like. And plus, as you said, I always wanted to look like this!
One of my favorite parts of the introduction is when you wrote, ‘For me, it felt like a ploy to somehow shut me down, to get me to hide, to be quiet, to erase myself, all at the exact moment in my life when I had gained the most intelligence, the most wisdom, and the most confidence.’ It’s like, oh, here’s a way to make us feel small.
JB: Well, yeah, when you think about it, it seems like a massive spiritual conspiracy, to get half the population to just like, hide and not do any of the things that they’re supposed to do in life. I mean, it’s really quite clever. Anybody can see in their life, there’s always been… I don’t know if you want to call it a force, an energy, an opposition to get you to not go forward in the ways you’re supposed to go forward. Whether it be insecurity or criticism from somebody else, or comparing yourself… If we go along with that assumption, this is in the same category, right? And if you look at it that way, then you can more easily reject the idea, you can more easily go, ‘Oh, I see. This is the same type of thing in a different costume.’ And why would it be trying to get in your way? Well, probably because you’re going in a really cool direction. Probably because you’re about to do something really great.
To me, if somebody’s criticizing my face, I just think ‘oh, man, I feel bad for you.’ Like, you must be so, so critical of yourself. Or you must be going through such an insecure moment right now that you even give a shit about skin on my head.
I find it very interesting that even as a younger person you looked at it as a good thing, when so often we get the message that it’s a bad thing. Are you saying to your kids, ‘Look how amazing this is; laugh lines are beautiful because they show that you’ve been laughing in your life’?
JB: In the span of human existence, this hardcore hammering of this idea that your face is broken and needs to be fixed is relatively new. When I was [younger], I didn’t look at an older person and think, ‘Oh, my God she looks so old.’ It wasn’t really in the air like it is now. Of course, you had people back then doing facelifts and stuff, but it was pretty unusual relative to now.
You have accessibility, you have a multitude of procedures now instead of the limited number that were available back then. Accessibility, affordability — there’s so many lesser procedures that can be done that are less expensive than full facelifts and things like that.
And there’s a lot of money to be made. I wish people would understand that they’re being marketed to. I think that would help people in a lot of areas of their lives, just to ask themselves, ‘Am I being marketed to right now? Or is this actually information?’
It used to be you’d be marketed to if you were looking through a magazine, or you were watching TV, or you were driving and you’d see a billboard. But unless you’re off social media, which most people are not, you’re being a hardcore marketed to constantly. So all I can do is tell my kids, know when you’re being marketed to. And there’s nothing wrong with marketing! I think it’s a fascinating arm of business, I really do. But I would hope people would understand they’re being marketed to; that there a lot of things that are being said that just aren’t true. Like, it’s not true that your face is broken and has to be fixed. It’s just simply not true. But when marketing is done well, it’ll make you think it is. Because they have to create a problem that they can fix. If you don’t think you have a problem, they can’t sell you the solution.
Is there anybody that you’re looking up to, or feeling solidarity with, in terms of this conversation?
JB: I don’t know. I know there are others talking about similar things. But, I’m just passing on what worked for me and, really, I just didn’t like the idea that there seemed to be this inexorable march towards changing your face, no matter what it looks like. And I just wanted to let people know they can step out of that line.
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