Jennifer Aniston has spoken for the first time about trying to get pregnant, which is significant for the kind of people who speculate about celebrities and their fertility – which in the late 90s and through the 00s was roughly everybody – because the exact cause of Aniston’s child-free life has been puzzling them for years. “It was really hard,” she told Allure magazine. “I was going through IVF, drinking Chinese teas, you name it. I was throwing everything at it. I would’ve given anything if someone had said to me, ‘Freeze your eggs. Do yourself a favour.’ You just don’t think it. So here I am today. The ship has sailed.”
The undisputed main star of Friends and, circa 2003, the highest-paid female TV actor in the world, has always been a template for the feminine ideal. I remember an American columnist in the very early years of Friends explaining her appeal thus: “She knows, and everyone knows she knows, she has great hair.” It was such a peculiar formulation that it lodged in my mind, which was fortunate, because it was the mid-90s, so it’s not on Google. The hair, not too long (attention-seeking), nor too short (feminist/independent), not too blond (conventional) or too dark (vampy), not too shiny (airhead) nor in any way dull (frigid), was the perfect, man-pleasing hair for the late 20th-century woman; but the fact that she was self-aware, hair-wise, was important too, because it was cool in those days to be a little bit feminist.
When she got engaged to Brad Pitt in 1999 (sidebar, he was the perfect late 20th-century man, for reasons we don’t have time for now), the gossip columnists and newspapers globally became obsessed with Aniston’s body. It must surely be the best body in the world, since how else would she have snagged the perfect man, so her life turned into a manual for the attainment and display of the corporeal ideal. There were rumours before the wedding that she was in the gym from 9am to 5pm, working so hard just on toning that she didn’t have time for actual work. There were other rumours that she leant hard into this, saying that you kept a man by making sure your clothes were “tight, tight, tight, the right size is the tight size”.
If you could map out the social expectations of femininity, Aniston would have been it: perfect hair to perfect man via perfect body leads inexorably to the perfect family. It is no wonder that the fascination with her fertility was so rabid.
Womanhood completed by fertility, meaningless without it, was a peculiar creed in the late 90s; it would have made much more sense to Anne Boleyn, or anyone else instrumental in the dynastic transfer of property via the legitimate womb, than it did in an era where women were supposedly equal, or at least, financially independent. It was underpinned, I think, by the fact that a lot of cultural anxiety around female emancipation was played out euphemistically in debates about the impossibility of “having it all” –…