Justine Bateman Wants You to Stop Worrying About Your Face

In her book, Face: One Square Foot of Skin, Justine Bateman examines why so many women embark on the futile journey to "fix" their faces.

justine bateman
Justine Bateman. Courtesy of Steven Meiers Dominguez.

There is nothing wrong with your face. At least, that’s what Justine Bateman wants you to realize. Her new book, Face: One Square Foot of Skin, is a collection of fictional short stories told from the perspectives of women of all ages and professions; with it, she aims to correct the popular idea that you need to stop what you’re doing and start staving off any signs of aging in the face.

In the 1980s, Bateman became one of the biggest teen stars in the country, thanks to her starring role on Family Ties. (She acted opposite her on-screen brother Michael J. Fox, while her real-life brother, Jason Bateman, was busy becoming a teen idol himself). She continued to act over the years, and suddenly, sometime in the 2000s, Bateman simply stopped being famous. She quit acting, went to college, and wrote a book about the experience (Fame: The Hijacking of Reality) of becoming a former celebrity. Face serves as a sequel of sorts (Bateman plans to turn her books into a trilogy, with the third installment focusing on her time at UCLA, where she graduated with a computer science degree at the age of 50).

In one chapter of her book, she writes about Googling her name and being gobsmacked by the auto-complete feature: Justine Bateman looks old. “That messed with my head more deeply than I imagined it could, and for a longer period of time than I was comfortable with,” she told W when she called one afternoon before the release of Face on April 6. “But once I processed that and got to my root fears underneath, I started thinking, there’s a completely disturbing leap we’ve made from the unusual event of someone getting a full face lift in the ‘70s to ‘These are all things you should do, it’s just a matter of when.’”

Botox, fillers, anti-wrinkle creams—at this point, these are all considered normal procedures and products in our Insta-fied world, but when Bateman was growing up, they were anomalies. She was enamored with older women’s faces, and she writes with particular fondness about the older European stars of cinema like Charlotte Rampling or Jeanne Moreau. But after the Google search incident, Bateman found that she was walking around all day feeling shameful of her face, and thus, the idea for a book was born. “I did find more criticisms of my face that I hadn’t seen before. I was like, look at this: two entire message boards about my face,” she said with a laugh. “I just copied and pasted those into one of the stories. Fuck it.”

For Bateman, who speaks and writes with a pleasantly academic tone, the thesis behind Face is quite simple. With her Fame book, for example, she knows that the experience applies to just a small percentage of the population. “But the principles in it—the idea that there could be something to which you attach your worth, to such an extent that when it changes, what does that do to you?—are universal,” she said. This idea, Bateman believes, can be applied to the relationship between the human face and the entire multibillion-dollar industry that convinces people (mostly women) their worth is completely wrapped up in their looks, whether they are actresses, executives, moms, or anything else.

“We’re not talking about facial reconstruction because there’s been an accident or genetic problem,” she added. “This is just because somebody said that you look like you’ve got some jowls? And the idea that an older woman’s face is something that should be deleted—I wanted to examine why we have these ideas in our society at all.”

After interviewing dozens of women of varying ages and experience—many of whom happened to be actresses—Bateman spun their responses into vignettes for Face. One problem presented early on in the book is the contradiction of the aging female actress. If an actor’s job is to express, and if a person lives long enough, there is bound to be some wear and tear translated onto their face. But does stiffening the face in an attempt to look eternally youthful deplete one’s ability to properly emote? “When an actor is on screen, we’re not watching colored blocks moving around—it’s a human face, and a human face is going to touch an emotion in other humans. We’re going to empathize with them. If that tool that you’re supposed to be using can’t move, then what job are you supplying to that film?” she said.

Now, Bateman has turned her focus behind-the-camera. Violet, her directorial debut starring Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux, just premiered at SXSW. According to the director, her goals are to make films that place just as much emphasis on the mundane everyday as big, life-altering moments. “Violet is about the thoughts we have—in the film I call it The Voice—that treat us poorly and make us make fear-based decisions,” she explained. “To me, you could have a particular path that was going to be you, but when making these fear-based decisions, it’s like you're a ship—if you go off course by one degree it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal today, but let's say the ship continues on the ocean, a week from now that ship is way off course.”

“I don’t have much time on earth. Even if I live to be 100, in the timeline of life, I’m only here for a tiny minute,” she went on. “I don’t have the time or the wherewithal to change other people, all I can do is change how I see things, and in that sense, I can say, ‘Fuck it. I’m not changing my face. I think it looks great. Onward.’ I want to continue to become even more confident than I am now. And I want to look like Georgia O’Keeffe when I’m really old. How am I going to get there if I do anything to my face?”