Justine Bateman Isn't Here for Criticism of Her Aging Face — or Yours

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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.

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