It doesn’t get more A-list than Jennifer Aniston. But before she became a bankable film star gracing countless magazine covers, she was just another young, working actress in an industry with impossibly high beauty standards, according to a new book in honor of Friends‘ 25th anniversary.
Until Friends, her resume highlights included the Ferris Bueller TV adaptation and the failed Fox sitcom Molloy opposite Mayim Bialik. And as she sought new roles, she faced an all-too-common industry critique.
“She had to lose thirty pounds if she wanted to stay in Hollywood,” Saul Austerlitz writes in Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era. “Los Angeles was a tough place to be an actress — it was a tough place to be a woman — and Jennifer Aniston’s agent was reluctantly leveling with her.”
Aniston had gotten a call-back and been instructed to wear a leotard. According to Generation Friends, she joked, “This’ll blow it for me,” to her agent, who “responded seriously.”
“Aniston was hardly fat — everyone could see she was beautiful — but as the show she would one day become indelibly associated with later made a point of noting, the camera added ten pounds.”
It’s an anecdote that Aniston has shared before. In a 1996 cover story for Rolling Stone, she revealed her pre-fame guilty pleasure snack of choice (“I ate too many mayonnaise sandwiches. Mayonnaise on white bread –— the most delicious thing in the world”) and said she didn’t resent her agent for his potentially offensive feedback.
“My agent gave it to me straight,” she told the magazine. “Nicest thing he ever did…. The disgusting thing of Hollywood —– I wasn’t getting lots of jobs ’cause I was too heavy.”
Years later, she told PEOPLE that size aside, she was grateful the moment prompted her to make healthier choices.
“I was like, ‘What?!’ But my diet was terrible. Milk shakes and French fries with gravy,” she said with a laugh. “It was a good thing to start paying attention.”
She shed the weight and soon landed the role of a lifetime as Rachel Green, a spoiled but scrappy young woman running away from her wedding, into a New York City coffeehouse.
She had actually already committed to another pilot, Muddling Through, that got picked up by CBS. NBC brass told the Friends creatives to find another Rachel, but they’d fallen for Aniston, just as millions of viewers soon would, according to Generation Friends. She filmed the first six episodes of Friends but was told she’d be contractually obligated to drop out if Muddling Through was greenlit. Of course, Muddling Through tanked, Friends soared, and Aniston became a celebrity nearly overnight.
PEOPLE named Aniston the World’s Most Beautiful Woman in 2016. As gorgeous as she is on the outside, she knows it’s what’s inside that counts and defined beauty as “inner confidence. Peace. Kindness. Honesty. A life well-lived. Taking on challenges and not feeling shame for things that haven’t gone the way you felt they should have. And not feeling like a failure or allowing people to critique your life and make you feel like you’ve failed at something. That’s just toxic noise.”
- PEOPLE’s new special issue Friends at 25! is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.
Now 50, Aniston recently told InStyle that she feels better than ever.
“Fifty was the first time I thought, ‘Well, that number.’ I don’t know what it is because I don’t feel any different. Things aren’t shutting down in any way,” she said. “I feel physically incredible. So it’s weird that it’s all of a sudden getting telegraphed in a way that’s like, ‘You look amazing for your age.’ I think we need to establish some etiquette around that dialogue and verbiage.”