The Hollywood star has become the symbol for every woman's heartbreak, jealousies and dreams of motherhood, says Celia Walden.

"If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues." So wrote Jennifer Aniston, in a stinging essay on the media rumour mill, published on Tuesday by The Huffington Post. The blog was written in direct response to paparazzi pictures published of Aniston on a Bahamas beach late last month with a very slightly convex abdomen (the kind of abdomen, I should add, most 47-year-old women would have to take surgical measures to achieve) and to quash those "miracle baby" headlines for the thousandth time.

"I am not pregnant," wrote the actress. "What I am is fed up."

Jennifer Aniston slams paparazzi culture in damning essay

Every celebrity is a symbol of something: youth, angst, piety, sex or survival. As semi-mythical beings most of us are never likely to meet, they can only ever be representational at best, objectified at worst. But few stars have generated as much scrutiny and speculation as Aniston. She was astute to point out that she has somehow become the symbol for every woman - every woman's heartbreak, jealousies, fresh start and dreams of motherhood - and that's a heavy load to bear. It also begs the question: "Why her?"


Even if she knew the answer (and she must be curious), Aniston wouldn't have alluded to it in her powerful 900-word piece, simply entitled "For The Record". The blog wasn't about navel gazing, but dedicated to making larger points about the objectification of her personal life and "how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty". It has also been such a long time coming that you can almost hear the exhalation of relief as Aniston bashes out that militant - but surely, a trifle optimistic - concluding line: "We get to decide how much we buy into what's being served up, and maybe some day the tabloids will be forced to see the world through a different, more humanised lens because consumers have just stopped buying the bulls---."

Indeed, the essay was a culmination of two decades' frustration. The state of Aniston's love life, figure and ovaries has been a kind of celebrity muzak (so far removed from the real tune as to be unrecognisable), blaring out relentlessly in the background of our lives for so long. Yes, marrying Brad Pitt (in 2000) did mean that some of his gilt rubbed off on her, but well before the whole Aniston-Pitt-Jolie circus reached farcical proportions there was something compelling about the Sherman Oaks-born daughter of Greek actor John Aniston.

"She was the kind of woman you wanted to have a beer with - and she made everything look so achievable," says my best friend, when I ask her to remind me why - as Friends-fixated teens - we both had such ardent girl crushes on Aniston, as opposed to her co-stars in the show, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, or indeed any other famous actress. "She wasn't alienatingly tall, thin or beautiful, and that only made the boys fancy her more. But somehow 'girl next door' never quite covered it." Maybe because the girl next door doesn't transform herself from, well, the girl next door, into some yoga-bodied hair goddess - all honey-toned sinews and world class highlights - and marry the most desirable A?lister in the world to boot. Somewhere in the course of that white-knuckled upward climb, we became invested in her future. And it's true that watching Aniston - whose raw talent and comic timing was clear from the start - mould herself, through sheer perseverance and hard work, into what an A-lister should look like over the course of 10 seasons in 10 years made for gripping viewing. Like Barbra Streisand - with whom the parallels are striking - the actress turned herself from unconventional beauty into a classic, bronzed blonde cover girl.

Here's where some will say the hypocrisies in her argument creep in. Because as a cover girl for GQ, Elle and Glamour and a spokesmodel for brands such as Emirates, Aveeno and Smart Water, Aniston has long upheld a certain standard of beauty. It wouldn't be fair to call it "warped" - even when airbrushed - because the actress has always looked healthy, fit and "achievable" (if you're really willing to put in the hard graft).

But surely even she couldn't contest that alongside her talent she has used both her looks and the media to help her get where she is today, earning upwards of $5 million a film. So when she lambasts that same media for propagating "the message that girls are not pretty unless they're incredibly thin, that they're not worthy of our attention unless they look like a supermodel or an actress on the cover of a magazine", well that's a message she has personally helped sell.

I won't put too much weight on this argument for three reasons. Firstly, that if you don't play the game in Hollywood, particularly - and most unfairly - as a woman, you don't quite get nowhere but you probably won't get "there".

Secondly, because unlike so many Aniston has never sold her private life, always refused to address gossip (until Tuesday, at least) and is not on any form of social media - altogether a pretty appealing combination.

And thirdly because when I met her, which I have done twice, she was easy, self-deprecating and bright, with the same comic timing as Rachel Green. That makes her not so much every woman as a Hollywood unicorn - and what she has to say worth listening to.


Single Jen

When Jen was cast in Friends aged 25, she was single. As the show took off, so did her love life as she dated musician Adam Duritz, actor Tate Donovan and then Brad Pitt.

Married Jen

After two years of dating Pitt, Jen broke a generation of women's hearts by marrying him in 2000. The pair had five happy years together.

Divorced Jen

In 2005, Brad'n'Jen ended as the couple announced their separation and divorced. Soon after, to public discord, "Brangelina" was born.

Dating, 'aka sad, lonely', Jen

Newly single at 36, with no more Friends in her life, the actress started dating again. Her partners included Vince Vaughn and musician John Mayer.

Yoga Jen

While filming Hollywood romcoms - from Marley & Me to He's Just Not That Into You - Jen discovered downward dog. As she puts it: "Yoga changed my life."

Loved-up Jen

In 2011, Jen started a relationship with Justin Theroux. A year later they were engaged, even though they "already felt married", and in 2015, tied the knot in a secret ceremony.

Feminist Jen

After years of pregnancy speculation and questions about her personal life, Aniston has fought back with a feminist essay defiantly telling the world: "I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up."