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Justine Bateman, 57, on Aging: Women Should ‘Opt Out’ of Idea That ‘Their Faces Are Broken’

The actress/director has written two books on fame and aging

VIDEO: Former Teen Star Wants Women to Face Aging Without Fear

Many people know that unnerving feeling when you Google yourself and find something that bugs you. When actress/writer/producer/director Justine Bateman tried it a while back, the autocomplete after her name read “looks old.”​

Yikes. The former teenage and twenty-something TV and movie star was in her early 40s at the time she saw this (she’s 57 now). It bugged her because it wasn’t true, she thought. But it got her thinking about why she reacted that way — why it “pushed her buttons” – as she prepared her 2018 book, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality.​

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“[The Google result] affected me so much more profoundly and for a much longer time than I thought it could have, and so I needed to get at the root reason why that occurred to me … why I reacted like that,” she told in a recent interview about her relaxed philosophy of aging, including in Hollywood.

Among other things, her self-reflection reinforced her determination to never submit to plastic surgery. It’s an unconventional stand for many in the youth-obsessed entertainment industry, and even more remarkable to say so out loud. ​​

​But that might be a thing now: Vogue’s vaunted September issue cover featured four women in their 50s who put the super in supermodel: Linda Evangelista, 58, Cindy Crawford, 57, Christy Turlington, 54, and Naomi Campbell, 53. But amid the social media glee about how great they all look lurked disquiet about how that might have been achieved by magazine-style means.​

Some online comments “focused on calling out what many viewers see as egregious age erasing” of women “who look so retouched that they seem more like A.I.-generated bots than actual people,” reported the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman.​ Bateman’s position rises above all that chatter because she welcomes aging. Here are some of her comments, edited for clarity.

Why is she so open about her personal objection to ‘getting work done’?

Bateman is saying it in public more often as she continues to promote her 2021 book, Face: One Square Foot of Skin, which grew out of her thinking on this issue. Don’t give in to the pressure to “look young” when you no longer are, she says.​

“I think a lot of women didn’t know that they could opt out of this idea that their faces are broken and have to be fixed,” Bateman told AARP. “They’re just kind of going along with it, like, I guess I got to do something about it. And I think I was just maybe one of the few people saying, no, no, no, no, no. This is psychotic. … And frankly, at any age, that's insane.”​

spinner image Justine Bateman appearing on the "Today" show.
Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images

What’s her reasoning for her position?

Irrational fear is the overriding reason for this kind of thinking, Bateman says, based on her own experiences and emotions, and those of about 20 people she interviewed for Face. But fear can be overcome even in Hollywood, and even after millennia of human societies being “fascinated with the female face.”​

“My position is that fear already occurred in you before your face started changing, so it’s got nothing to do with the skin on your face,” she argues. “It’s just a fear that you have.”​

Plastic surgery and other age-defying treatments will make you look different, but you’ll still have the fear, she says.

“So deal with that fear. Why are you afraid you’re never gonna find a mate? What are you not trusting about life or God or the universe or whatever your thing is?”​ What’s the worst that could happen if aging people look aged?​

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The irony, she says, is that aging people have more reason to be trusting because of their past experiences, all those times they thought the sky would fall in because X, Y, or Z happened — and it didn’t.

“There's so many things we can point to in our lives that support the idea that it's going to work out OK,” she says. “In fact … something interesting could be on the other side of this and usually is.” Experience over time, or growing up, gives you “empirical proof that things work out OK.”​

But how do you deal with irrational fear?

It’s hard work switching off fear, Bateman acknowledges; it involves way more than just “think positive.” It’s worth it, she says, “because you absolutely get a result from identifying what that core fear is. And even just in understanding it, even just in writing it down or saying it out loud, it starts to erode.”​

Doesn’t she like to look pretty and stylish?

Of course, she says. She’s not out to change the cosmetic industry or the media. She, too, likes to express herself, through stylish clothes, her hair, makeup and all the rest. Just don’t do it out of fear, she says.

“If you're rid of these irrational fears, you’re just going to have a more enjoyable life. You’re going to be more yourself. You’re not going to be people pleasing. It’s going to be easier for you to express what you like, what you like to wear, what you like to eat, what you want to do for a living.”​

spinner image Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers and Michael J. Fox in a scene from the television show "Family Ties."
(Left to right) Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers and Michael J. Fox in "Family Ties."
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Is she still appearing in front of TV and movie cameras?

Her career has shifted since her youth when she was best known as the star of Family Ties. Now she’s directing and producing, writing books and scripts, and working with the entertainment unions and guilds she belongs to, like the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild.

Her debut as a director was 2021 film Violet (she also wrote and coproduced it) starring Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey and Justin Theroux. The drama is about a woman trying to transition from “making fear-based decisions to someone who’s making instinct-based decisions,” to become her “real self” and improve her romantic, family and professional lives.

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​Bateman earned a computer science degree from UCLA and recently served as a consultant for the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee on the use of artificial intelligence. (She’s not a fan.)​

“The acting profession was very good to me for a very long period of time. And then, funny enough, in about 2007, 2008, the last time the Writers Guild was on strike, things just took a turn for me … I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “I feel like everything I’ve done in the entertainment business up to now is just preparation for now.”

What’s been the response to ‘Face’?​

The global response to Face, from celebrities and non-celebrities alike, has been unexpectedly “huge,” Bateman says. In part, that might be because of Bateman’s straightforward approach to talking about aging.

In March, she made global headlines when she told 60 Minutes in Australia that people have criticized her face but she doesn’t care – she’s still not getting Botox injections.​

“I just don't give a [fig]. I think I look rad. I think my face represents who I am. I like it,” she said. “I feel like I would erase, not only all my authority that I have now, but also, I like feeling that I am a different person now than I was when I was 20. I like looking in the mirror and seeing that evidence.”​

Among those cheering her was Sanjay Gupta, practicing neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, who interviewed Bateman in July for his podcast, Chasing Life.

“When I heard this, I sat up and I applauded,” Gupta told her in his podcast introduction. “On the other hand, I realized just how jarring it was to hear someone be so candid nowadays.”​

spinner image Justine Bateman attends the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
Emma McIntyre/SHJ2021/Getty Images

How does Bateman deal with pushback (and there’s always pushback)?

By now, decades after rising to fame as Mallory Keaton on Family Ties, Bateman doesn’t concern herself too much about what is being said about her face in the press or on social media or in legacy media.

“I don't really care because I'm just concerned with how I’m experiencing my life. And that just makes things so much [more] possible because I am in control of examining my own buttons,” she says. “I am in control of unearthing what my irrational fears are. And so really that’s all I care about.”​

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