Faced with a rude comment early on in her career, the actress sets the record straight on aging criticism.

Naomi Watts is not letting naysayers steal her glory. 

The British actress has quietly established herself as one of the best dramatic actresses of her generation. Her work in 21 Grams and The Impossible garnered her widespread acclaim as well as two Oscar nominations, while her role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive endeared her to millions of film enthusiasts across the globe. Simply put: she’s a phenomenal performer, and, in ideal circumstances, she should be able to act for as long as she wants to. 

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Unfortunately, the business isn’t the kindest to women over forty. Everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Cameron Diaz has sounded the alarm about how the industry treats older women. They’re profitable only if they’re attractive, hired only if they can support their male counterparts, and marketed only if studios know they can sell a movie. 

Naomi Watts On The Rude Comment That Changed Her Perspective On Aging

Naomi Watts in blue gown on the red carpet.

Naomi Watts is the latest actress to speak up about the stigma of getting older. As it turns out, there are quite a few challenges impeding her progression, but, at the same time, she’s not letting those obstacles get in her way. 

Though Watts is considered an esteemed talent today by audiences and peers alike, there is no doubt she had quite a strenuous start. 

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On the heels of Mulholland Drive, she had piqued the curiosity of every executive in town, forcing them to pay attention to her each and every move. Offers were flowing left, right, and center, and Watts felt flattered, albeit overwhelmed, by the opportunities placed at her feet. But before she could make choices that made the most sense for her, she was given a particularly crude piece of advice by an unnamed Hollywood figure. 

“I was told, ‘You better get a lot done because it’s all over at 40 when you become unf****able,’” she told Variety. The statement baffled Watts: she initially couldn’t understand what this person even meant. Then, she couldn’t believe someone had the gall to say something so disrespectful and inappropriate. But, with time, Watts realized that this wasn’t an unusual mindset in the entertainment arena. In fact, it was and is the status quo in many parts. 

“Then you think about it, and you go, ‘Oh, right. When you are no longer reproductive, when those organs are no longer functioning, you are not sexy, so, therefore, you are not hirable,’” she said. 

Watts breaking down the bias in such simple terms only underscores its nonsensical nature. Why do we conflate attractiveness and fertility? By modern standards, 40 is no longer ‘old’; however, we tend to deem age as a default indicator of beauty and ‘sexiness,’ even though these are two of the most abstract qualities in humanity, and no one has the right to decide who is or isn’t good-looking. 

What She Has To Say About The Changing Times

Naomi Watts hugging best friend Nicole Kidman.
Naomi Watts hugging best friend Nicole Kidman.

What’s interesting is that Watts was well into her thirties when she had her breakout moment — she was already bucking the trend regarding perceptions around sex appeal, age, and desirability. If she could sell movies in her thirties, is there a reason she couldn’t do it in her forties? Why should age play any kind of part in her capacity to earn a livelihood? 

Unfortunately, reality is far less straightforward, and the Hollywood bigwigs think with their wallets, not with any kind of empathy or common sense. Speaking on what the industry can do to accommodate women in their forties and fifties, the 54-year-old said, “It’s such an awkward conversation because, from day one, we begin our aging process.” She added that everyone ages, and it’s such an inevitable part of existence, but women are inserted into these conversations far more often than men. “It’s something we just all have to get comfortable with, and women are asked to do it more than men,” she said. 

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At the end of the day, we need to identify and re-evaluate the double standards prevalent in our culture. We prize men for their years, as though their experience automatically equates to wisdom; therefore, they have more to bring to the table. But, with women, aging is apparently a sign of weakness and frailty – where they’re characterized as grumpy, old bats whose old contributions to society are the children they raise and the men they play second fiddle to. “We’ve got important and powerful experiences as well at this age that we should feel proud of,” said the King Kong star. “We don’t talk about a man aging hardly ever.”

If we’re holding someone in high regard due to their age, what’s stopping us from including women in our rankings? Personally, Watts couldn’t be more ecstatic about getting older and going through more adventures. “Getting older is a privilege and a time for us to feel proud of our cumulative experiences,” she wrote on Instagram in June. Moreover, the mother-of-two sees herself as part of a “change-maker generation,” those who are paving the way for older women to feel empowered in their skin, regardless of what anyone says. “No more walking through this alone,” she said. 

For too long, older women have gone under the radar. They’ve done great work in their respective fields, produced splendid art, changed young minds, transformed the trajectory of the universe, and so much more. Yet, they’re still not given the same accolades as men. The good news is that things are evidently changing, and people are waking up to the prejudices that have reigned over our culture for a long time. Even in the entertainment space, more and more women over fifty are being hired in substantial roles, judged for their work rather than their looks, and being paid what they’re worth. The road to true equality is long and winding, but people like Naomi Watts will only accelerate the movement. “We’ve been under-served in media, stories, and marketing far too long,” she wrote. It’s time the world takes older women seriously and starts treating them like the forces of nature they are. 

What Naomi Watts Teaches Us About Embracing Ourselves

Naomi Watts in "Gypsy" in her therapist office.

Our age doesn’t define us. Of course, it does shape our point of view and our behavior, and how we relate to people surrounding us, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of our existence.

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As women, we’re taught to fear aging and in particular how our bodies might change and how we might appear to the male gaze, but women like Naomi Watts showcase what it’s like to age with dignity and still embrace your beauty and sense of self. As long as we can see ourselves with a measure of appreciation, no one else can bring us down. 


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