Hilary Duff, 34, has just appeared nude on the cover of Women’s Health. So naturally, the internet is falling over itself to marvel at how a female celebrity in her mid-thirties could possibly look so fit – because aren’t women supposed to turn into sexless, amorphous blobs after their 29th birthdays?
For Duff, it’s quite the opposite. She glows in the photographs. Her lean, lithe body is smooth and stretch mark-free (even after three children!). Inside the magazine, she is posing in a shallow pool of water, the light bouncing off her smooth skin and the curve of her toned bum peeking out above the ripples. It is far closer to a Playboy spread than anything we’d expect to see in a women’s-interest publication.
The response to the shoot has been troubling, particularly comments that compare Duff’s figure to that of hers two decades ago. A fan account for Lizzie McGuire, the Disney series that cemented Duff’s celebrity status as a teenager, posted snaps from the photoshoot with the caption: “Hilary Duff has aged like fine wine.”
“Aged”? “Like fine wine”? What is a woman of 34 expected to look like? By the sounds of it, whomever managed that social media account seems to think that by the time we’re 35, women should resemble the old crone in Snow White, and our vaginas practically turn to dust when 40 rolls around.
The glaring sexism of such a comment is made worse by the fact that Hollywood men don’t get compared to “fine wine” until they are at least middle-aged. A quick search for articles that compare older male actors such as Brad Pitt (58), George Clooney (61), Pierce Brosnan (68) and Mark Ruffalo (54) to an aged wine praise them for being well into their fifties and sixties. Does that mean women sour and become “undrinkable”, so to speak, when we hit the same age?
It brings to mind a hilarious, if somewhat depressing, Comedy Central skit by Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in which the three older women are celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’ “last f***able day”.
“In every actress’ life, the media decides when you finally reach the point where you’re not believably f***able anymore,” Louis-Dreyfus explains. Fey chimes in and says: “Let me tell you about it, if you shoot a sex scene the night before your birthday, everyone is like, hurry up, hurry up, we gotta get it before midnight ‘cause they think your vagina is gonna turn into a hermit crab.”
Duff has clearly not reached her “last f***able day” – but her nude magazine cover is not the triumphant middle finger to Hollywood’s impossible beauty standards that the cover lines seem to suggest when they claim “it’s time to redefine” women’s beauty standards. Duff’s appearance on the cover of Women’s Health is meant to be a display of confidence and pride in her body. She tells the magazine that she has “gotten to a place of being peaceful with the changes my body has gone through”.
But in the same breath, Duff – who has spoken of a teenage eating disorder in the past – reveals how the shoot involves a makeup artist “putting glow all over my body” and a photographer who poses her “in the most flattering position”. Months before the shoot, she began working out intensely with a personal trainer four days a week to “concentrate on lean muscle mass”.
There’s no doubt Duff should be proud of her body – it’s something she has worked hard for and it has clearly paid off. But these comments uphold the impossible standards women are expected to meet if they want to stay visible beyond their twenties. As a whole, the photoshoot misses the opportunity to embrace and uphold a body positive message. It’s just another let down, should we really be surprised?