‘Mean news’ into ‘nice news’: Meg Ryan’s face


At The Philosophers’ Mail, we scour the world’s media to pick out stories that are mean and then endeavour to turn them into stories that are nice.

The point isn’t to be sentimental or naively cheerful. We’re being ‘nice’ with a purpose: to get to the truth. Meanness merely confirms prejudice. Niceness is a better scalpel.


Actress Meg Ryan has been in the global limelight since she starred in the 1989 hit romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. She is now in her early fifties.

In order to combat the signs of ageing, she has in recent years had some cosmetic work done on her face.

©REX/Manuel Romano/NurPhoto

Earlier this week Meg was at a film Festival in Sicily. And the Daily Mail went along to take her to task for this.

Yes, of course, the treatments mean that she doesn’t have wrinkles, and that her lips are now full and fleshy. But this doesn’t make her look nice. It makes her look strange. Her face is too tight, as if someone has pumped it up. And her lips have been forced into a sinister smile – like the Joker. Why did she stupidly emphasise them with layers and layers of red lipstick? Perhaps she did this in a misguided attempt to revive her failing career. We’ll it’s not going to work. She should know how to age gracefully and naturally. She simply looks weird.

The Mail’s lead was followed by many readers. She’s damn ugly, her face looks mutilated, she’s Frankenstein’s wife. Its tragic – an act of butchery.

But it could have been very different. This is how the story might have been written, if the news were ‘nicer’ – as we’re trying to make it:

Like a great many people, Meg Ryan doesn’t relish the fact of getting older. Particularly when it comes to wrinkles, sagging skin or thinning lips. Aging is humiliating for a simple reason: others judge us on our appearance. If we look older, we will be treated with less respect, our opinions will be taken less seriously and our talents will be regarded as less relevant. The fears might sometimes be exaggerated, but they are basically real. Very sadly.

When people worry about how they look, they are fearing the reaction of an audience. Therefore, in a way, those ultimately responsible for women taking steps to disguise signs of aging are not the women themselves so much as those around them, and in particular, the crueller, less forgiving ones. In a world that fully accepted the inevitability of aging and responded to it generously, one would feel far less of a need to dye one’s hair, make oneself up and check oneself in for plastic surgery. One would be as unguarded and natural as one is among one’s own family (people one can count on not to be nasty).

The Daily Mail has expressed the wish that Meg would learn to ‘age with dignity’. This sounds reasonable, but it masks a deeper callousness. The demand for someone to do something ‘with dignity’ is at heart a wish not to be bothered by their pain, distress and confusion. One might blithely wish that other people would ‘become poor with dignity’ or even ‘die quietly with dignity’ – it would be a lot less bother and worry for us…

But Meg isn’t aging with dignity. She is taking rather desperate, extreme measures, and they haven’t worked out as well as they might. This is a sign not of how bad a person she is, but of how scared she is – scared of us and of how she will be judged. And she’s (unfortunately) right to be scared. But the very worse response to someone who is scared of how she will be judged is to go ahead and judge with even greater harshness. The news has refused to see that it is dealing with someone who is afraid.

©REX/Manuel Romano/NurPhoto

Having work done on one’s face is risky. Sometimes the effect can be very different from what was intended. It could have gone OK, but like the rest of life, it’s a bit of lottery. And then, what can you do? It has happened. It can’t be undone. Despite not particularly loving the way we look, we have to keep on fronting the world. We have to keep on turning up, smiling, looking people in the eye – even though we are aware that quite a few of them will be thinking: ‘what’s happened to your face?’

We need to work towards a world where the first thought is what it should always have been: Who are you deep within you?

To mock Meg Ryan isn’t just to attack one perfectly decent middle-aged woman. It’s callous towards the natural, universal fear of losing one’s looks. It’s saying that anyone who wishes they could look nicer deserves to be make a laughing stock – especially if it doesn’t work out perfectly well. It’s your mum’s best friend trying to reanimate her marriage. Its the divorcee dental nurse wanting a fresh start. There’s so much longing and hope and nervousness behind these choices.

We think Meg looks just fine. We admire her determination to be in charge of her appearance and we’re on her side when people make mean spirited remarks about her.