Jennifer Aniston has rewritten the patronising ‘Poor Jen’ narrative

Aniston’s career success was consumed by her private life, in a way that felt more specific and personal than many other female stars (Getty/iStock)
Aniston’s career success was consumed by her private life, in a way that felt more specific and personal than many other female stars (Getty/iStock)

Poor Jen.” That was the phrase that started to follow Jennifer Aniston around not long after her divorce from Brad Pitt. One minute the Friends star was half of a Hollywood golden couple and owner of the world’s most lusted-after haircut. The next, she was an on-the-shelf spinster whose husband had ditched her for his sexy co-star. Would she ever find happiness? Would she be outpaced by her own biological clock? A public fixation with who she was dating or if she would have kids felt like a coded way of wondering whether she would ever summon the ability to overcome the humiliation. But this week, Aniston trashed the narrative.

Rubbishing ongoing rumours of her being too “selfish” or “career-obsessed” to become a mother, she revealed to Allure that she’d tried to have a child for many years but was unsuccessful. Now, she has accepted that biological motherhood isn’t something that’ll happen for her, telling the publication: “The ship has sailed.” Still, despite the struggles, 53-year-old Aniston says that how she feels now is “better than I ever did in my twenties or thirties even, or my mid-forties”. Poor Jen? Don’t patronise her. She’s one of Hollywood’s ultimate survivors.

Aniston had cause to be frustrated. In fact, it’s surprising that she didn’t speak out earlier. In the years of peak Brangelina – Pitt and Angelina Jolie were together for 11 years and married for four, before acrimoniously separating in 2017 – you’d struggle to find a newsstand that didn’t include some front-page splash about just how Aniston was managing, and how she’d ever possibly put her divorce behind her. She chose to keep her counsel, retaining a dignified silence throughout the tabloid stories. Her career success, including The Break-Up making over $200m (£170m) worldwide in 2006 and Marley and Me breaking Christmas Day ticket records in 2008, felt secondary – all talk was consumed by her private life, in a way that felt more specific and personal than many other female stars.

When subsequent relationships with Vince Vaughn and John Mayer floundered, it was more fodder for the “Poor Jen” machine – an example of her life being soured by going through the incredibly normal phenomenon of dating and moving on. While some might have buckled at the pressure of having their life used as a public spectacle, Aniston kept her head high and never gave in to feeding the chatter.

The pity party seemed to call last orders in 2015 when she married Justin Theroux after four years together. Now that “Poor Jen” finally had another legal tie to a man, surely that would mark the end of worry about her life? Yet it only led to more wonderings about what was next: whether they’d start having children, and the when, why and how. It came to a head in 2016, when Aniston used a HuffPost op-ed to speak out about paparazzi camping outside their home, hoping to get a shot to confirm her “pregnancy”. No, she wasn’t expecting, she said, and she didn’t need to have a child on the way for her life story to have value.

“Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child,” Aniston wrote. “We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.” Aniston was telling us then that she didn’t need or want to be pitied. The fact she felt she had to make such a statement, now we know about her experiences with IVF, feels even crueller. When her marriage to Theroux ended in 2017, she had to correct another wave of “Poor Jen” headlines again. “First, with all due respect, I’m not heartbroken,” she told InStyle in 2018. “And second, those are reckless assumptions. No one knows what’s going on behind closed doors.”

While dealing with the press trying to push her into a box to cower in shame, as well as coming to terms with unsuccessful IVF, Aniston has stepped into a new stage of her career that further cemented her status as anything but a victim. With producer Kristin Hahn, she’s been running Echo Films, a company that’s made movies such as Cake and Dumplin’ – projects that have seen her give some of her strongest performances to date. In the Emmy-winning Apple TV+ series The Morning Show, Aniston and Reese Witherspoon serve as lead stars and executive producers. As well as having the show’s third season to look forward to, Aniston also has two additional films in the pipeline and a successful haircare line.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in ‘The Morning Show’ (Apple TV+)
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in ‘The Morning Show’ (Apple TV+)

Sadly, sexism means that, despite a woman’s professional success, finding a partner and having children is still held as the “ultimate goal”. It still seems to be the thing that determines whether she’s considered an inspiration, or proof of the theory of it being impossible to “have it all”. How insulting that Aniston has had to face treatment like this while having so much to be proud of.

The fact that she’s experienced all the setbacks she has and instead embraces the positives in her life is something to be celebrated, not met with condescending sighs. Aniston is a Hollywood survivor because she knows that if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. She proved it again this week when she killed the “Poor Jen” narrative once and for all. Here’s hoping she never has to do so again.