When Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their split last week in a joint statement, the longtime couple took one last opportunity to call out the tabloids. The exes explained, “Given that the gossip industry cannot resist an opportunity to speculate and invent, we wanted to convey the truth directly.”
According to someone’s publicist, the couple’s “truth” is that they are “two best friends” who are “continuing our cherished friendship.” It’s all pretty rote and boring—celebrities get married and divorced all the time. Despite having better hair and teeth than the rest of us, A-listers are often just as dull and predictable as anyone else. While splits make big splashes, they’re not compelling long-term stories, and shouldn’t merit the kind of investigative work or long-term coverage as Kylie Jenner’s finally revealed pregnancy or Rihanna leaving restaurants with full wine glasses.
But while other stars will usually get to issue a statement and then go about their conscious uncouplings in relative peace, Jennifer Aniston isn’t just any celebrity. And as her and Theroux’s statement suggests, she knew that their announcement would ignite a media frenzy. Like Rihanna and an unclaimed glass of wine, the tabloids simply can’t resist gravitating toward a Jennifer Aniston story and running with it. And while big breakups do always merit speculation, the Aniston scrutiny is specific in the way that it draws on the tropes that have always been used to cover Jen—namely, childlessness and her relationship with Brad Pitt. A tabloid story wondering why your marriage went south is one thing, but the impression that the entire internet is eagerly waiting to hear if you’ve texted your ex is quite another.
A few recent updates about the Aniston-Theroux split really do feel like the products of a “Poor, lonely Jen” headline generator. The Daily Mail has concluded that the couple’s inability to have children led to their breakup, in an article titled “‘They even tried therapy’: Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux ‘got professional help’ last year after not being able to have children.” Just a few paragraphs in, the invasive post naturally shifts the discussion to Aniston’s ex: “It is not known if they looked into adopting like her ex Brad Pitt did with Angelina Jolie.”
Despite being a wildly successful 49-year-old woman, and despite having not been with Brad Pitt for 13 years, lazy writers continue to irrationally assert that Aniston’s entire life revolves around her ex and her thwarted desire to be a mom.
In the new issue of Us Weekly, a “source” insists that Theroux became insecure in his relationship with Aniston after discovering that she had saved affectionate Post-it notes from Pitt. Of course tabloids would rely on a lame, retro Sex and the City prop to suggest that Aniston is still holding out for her ex. Either this is some really good Post-It spon-con, or it’s just another example of how the media can only be bothered to write about Aniston in relation to her first husband or her empty womb.
Aniston might not be the most natural recipient of our collective sympathy, but it’s hard not to feel for someone who has consistently been defined by the idiot who cheated on her over a decade ago. This narrative gets dusted off and put on magazine stands more or less whenever anything happens to Jennifer Aniston or Brad Pitt. When Pitt and Jolie got married in 2014—almost a decade after Aniston and Pitt split—headlines claimed that Aniston was “Jealous and Bitter Over Brangelina Wedding,” positing that the actress was “crushed” and “not her usual smiley self.” I don’t know what’s ruder: constantly being dragged into your ex’s love life or the Radar equivalent of a random dude on the street telling you to smile more. Even when Brangelina broke up, Aniston didn’t get to “win”—instead, she was dragged into a fever dream of “Brad and Jen 2.0” rumors that has only intensified now that Aniston is single.
As Aniston herself has pointed out, she can barely leave the house in a peasant top without being asked if she was recently inseminated.
In 2016, the actress responded in a Huffington Post blog post, writing that while she wasn’t pregnant, she was fed up. “I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Amendment’ and ‘celebrity news,’” Aniston proclaimed. “The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time... but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.” No wonder she’s streamlined her career into professionally hydrating—it’s the only thing that Aniston can get away with doing without inspiring a tabloid cover about her loneliness, barren womb, or assumed desire to reunite with her ex.
Like a female-specific, petty Groundhog Day, Aniston has been stuck in the jilted spinster trope ever since 2005, the year when lazy writers and editors first developed a template for writing about the beautiful A-list actress like she was the world’s unluckiest woman. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the way that Aniston has consistently been covered ever since she and Brad split. Does the “lonely Jen” narrative point to a desire to diminish powerful women, or just illustrate the ease with which we do so? Is it an instance of malice and cruelty, or just a disheartening example of the gossip industry’s overreliance on outdated tropes and lazy clichés? Either way, this script is crying out for an update.
In the years since Brad and Jen went their separate ways, everyone has moved on—Jen with her beautiful home, Brad with his pottery, Angelina with her passion projects, Justin with his… well, it’s not really about Justin Theroux anyway. Since all of the key players appear to have left the sensationalized split in the past, why has our Jennifer Aniston coverage remained so stale? It’s never happened, but Brad and Jen 2.0 is still old news. Find a more evolved way to write about Jennifer Aniston, or just leave her alone.