How Online Trolls Left Justine Bateman Feeling ‘Messed Up’

Emma McIntyre/SHJ2021
Emma McIntyre/SHJ2021

Director and producer Justine Bateman remembers being in her early forties and Googling herself only to find that the search engine’s auto complete feature followed her name with the words… “looks old.”

It shocked the now 56-year-old who has largely been out of the public eye since rocketing to fame as Michael J. Fox’s sister, Mallory Keaton, on the hit 1980s show Family Ties. Bateman told The New Abnormal’s Molly Jong-Fast she didn’t previously have an issue with her face but then started thinking that the online trolls must be right.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Justine Bateman with her <em>Family Ties</em> co-star Michael J. Fox at her 17th birthday.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">NBC</div>

Justine Bateman with her Family Ties co-star Michael J. Fox at her 17th birthday.


“I didn’t think that I looked particularly old and uh, oh boy, there were a lot of results. And there were a lot of message boards dedicated to this. And so that affected me far more deeply and for longer than I expected it to,” she said. “I certainly got the comments because I had previously been in the public eye in a big way, but I mean really part of it was like, why are they even talking about me? I’m not even really on the radar, you know, but for me it messed with my head because I didn’t know what to do with it. It sounds kind of arrogant, I hope it sounds just matter of fact, but I had always had what society had decided was an attractive face,” she said.

“When I got to the other side of it, I was like, why did that bother me so much? Then I thought, I know the reasons for myself personally, but I started thinking about what are the reasons that we have in society that all of society seems to hold this idea that women's faces are broken and have to be fixed.”

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It led Bateman to write Face: One Square Foot of Skin in which she adapts the stories of more than two dozen people she interviewed into short vignettes that explore why we fear aging.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Justine Bateman holds a copy of her book at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 24, 2022.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">David Livingston</div>

Justine Bateman holds a copy of her book at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 24, 2022.

David Livingston

“I feel like once one discovers why they’ve adopted an idea, it’s easier to then let go of it cuz you’re like, oh, is that why I’m thinking that then I don’t need to think that anymore,” she said. “I think this general idea that your face is broken and needs to be fixed, seems to be pretty prevalent all over. And you know, the good news is that we don’t have to subscribe to it. You can just go like, nah, whatever fear this brings up in me, I can deal with that fear. And I don’t have to assume that my face is a hideous sight that needs to be cut and molded.”

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“Even for anyone else who has done work on their faces, like it’s fine. It’s your body and skin and hair and you can do whatever you want to it. But if there was a fear that generated that action, it would behoove you to deal with that fear so that it doesn’t stick around for the rest of your life and drive you to do other things and make you feel just unsatisfied no matter what you do,” Bateman said.

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