The XX Factor

Kim Novak Fights Back, Sort Of

Actress Kim Novak

Photo by David Buchan/Getty Images

Kim Novak has taken to Facebook to protest the mockery fusillade she endured for daring to drag her 81-year-old self onstage at the Oscars. She writes:

Years ago, I walked away from Hollywood partially because I didn’t stand up to the bullies. I caved in to the pressure instead of fighting for what I felt was right … and I didn’t have the courage to prove myself to my peers through my work.

After my appearance on the Oscars this year, I read all the jabs. I know what Donald Trump and others said, and I’m not going to deny that I had fat injections in my face. They seemed far less invasive than a face-lift. It was done in 2012 for the TCM interview special. In my opinion, a person has a right to look as good as they can, and I feel better when I look better.

When I was honored at the Cannes Film Festival last year, I received an overwhelming standing ovation. Yet, in Hollywood, after the Oscars, I was bullied by the press and the public on the Internet and TV. The only difference that night was that I had taken a pill to relax — that I shouldn’t have taken. I had been fasting for three days and it affected my behavior. I regret taking it.

However, I will no longer hold myself back from speaking out against bullies. We can’t let people get away with affecting our lives. We need to stand up to them in a healthy way by speaking out, working out and acting out. I am speaking out now because I don’t want to harbor unhealthy feelings inside me anymore.

First, let’s take a moment to absorb that an 81-year-old woman felt the need to starve for 72 hours and self-medicate before appearing in the public eye. Hollywood does that to people. Novak largely kept her distance from Tinseltown after her 1991 film Liebestraum came out, and now we know the “bullies” were one reason why. As Amanda Hess wrote in response to the initial scornful coverage of Novak’s Oscar showing, looks-based hectoring for the actress started early. In the 1950s, execs were already telling her to “cap her teeth, bleach her hair, shrink her body with a strict diet and exercise regime, and perpetually paint her face with the help of a personal makeup artist.” According to Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair in The Bad and the Beautiful, her studio’s head of publicity once informed her she was “a piece of meat, that’s all.” (Novak’s gloss: “It wasn’t very nice but I had to take it. When I made my first screen test, the director explained to everyone, ‘Don’t listen to her, just look.’”)

As Hess argues, conquering the red carpet when you have aged out of the Hollywood sweet spot is an especially tall order. It means embodying the impossible: naturalism (no visible plastic surgery) and perfection (no sagging body parts).

I’m glad Novak wants to “speak out” against her bullies, but I am more vindictive than she: I wish she had actually gone after them, rather than spending most of the post going after herself. She criticizes her own lack of “courage,” insists that fat injections are “far less invasive than a facelift,” and belittles herself for taking an anti-anxiety pill. This is not to minimize the message of the post, or the bravery it took to write it. But how can Novak fight the snarkers when a part of her seems to agree with them?