Jennifer Lopez – the Global Icon
Jennifer Lynn Lopez – a chameleon of modern culture who has combined clever career reinvention with a refusal to bow down to the preconceptions of age. In doing so, the 52-year-old actress, singer, businesswoman and philanthropist has cemented her place as an inspiration for a demographic so wide that, no matter your age, your gender or your background, JLo will always be infinitely interesting.
Global Woman examines how this major player is as relevant and engaging today as she has ever been.
Jennifer Lopez is not only enjoying a career renaissance, she’s also looking fitter than ever. The singer, dancer and fashion designer, producer and businesswoman decided a few years ago that it was time to take stock of her life in the lingering aftermath of her divorce from Marc Anthony. Not only did she return to the studio to work on a new album – A.K.A., released in 2014 – she also decided to embark on a rigorous fitness campaign. And the fruits of that labour have equated to much more than would be caught in a photographer’s lens.
As a result, critics raved about Lopez’s fabulous form almost as much as they have her acting return in the likes of NBC series Shades of Blue, and movies Second Act and Hustlers; while next year’s Marry Me, opposite Owen Wilson, looks another well-judged turn, if the early whispers are to be believed.
It all adds up to the fact the Bronx-born icon has rediscovered a sense of purpose that was noticeably bereft in much of her work post-Millennium. What we are seeing – professionally and personally… her rekindled romance with Ben Affleck is like something out of the Hollywood playbook of script-written perfection – is the JLo of the Nineties, with all the vigour, veracity and zeal for life.
“I think at the heart of it is the fact I continue to learn about myself and try to keep evolving as a woman and as a person and as a human being,” she begins. “And yet, I think that the most important lesson I’ve learned is to love yourself first. I am not unique in going through challenges and trials, nor am I unique in, at times, struggling to find the answer to the puzzle. I believe we all get there in the end though.”
JLo is tight-lipped about linking arms again with Affleck, although she needn’t be. It appears one of those Tinseltown stories that ticks so many boxes; it’s something the whole industry wants to chat about and celebrate. The two were a bona fide item almost two decades ago, splitting in 2004 after a two-year romance during which they got engaged. That they’ve gone their separate ways and come back to the centre reinforces a need in both to perhaps take a more settled, secure view to the future.
By her own admission, in the past, the buoyancy of the actress’s her career has, ultimately, deflected attention away from a haphazard love life that, while providing elation in some quarters – in 13-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme – has left the performer downtrodden.
Even as recently as 2019 she was announcing her engagement to former baseball star Alex Rodriguez – yet something didn’t seem right in the same way that her reuniting with Affleck does.
“It’s flattering that people follow your career and your fortunes so intently, but the truth is I genuinely feel I have nothing left to prove to myself,” she says. “That is one of those flippant statements that you find yourself coming out with over the course of your career, and it’s very easy to say, even if sometimes you may question whether you mean it.”
“We have all told someone we love them as a quick response to them saying it, and it is that same feeling of uncertainty. Dare you let the words come out? Well, for me, I can say that I have nothing left to prove to myself now, and for the first time I honestly mean it, so that is very comforting to me. That’s not to say I don’t still strive to go out there and do amazing things, but for the moment I am where I want to be.”
Hitting the half-century doesn’t seem to have had any sort of adverse effect on Jennifer Lopez. She carries herself with the same style and swagger that she always did, perhaps with a shimmering of greater self-awareness – for art, for dynamism, in her passion for the environment, and through an obvious dedication to health and fitness. Mostly though, what radiates is contentment, and an acceptance of the past.
Certainly, she found help arriving at that place through the process of writing her 2014 autobiography, True Love. “When pressed to put into words things you have pocketed away, it becomes quite a tough experience, but one that is ultimately very satisfying,” she says. “I’ve not met anyone who hasn’t expressed some sort of feeling of therapy when it comes to writing an autobiography. It proved an extremely valuable experience for me, and I am definitely more at peace as a result of doing it.“
“I think it makes you realise that, as life goes on, you never have all the answers, and never did you have them in the past. So with that in mind you need to be quite forgiving to yourself. It’s easy to beat yourself up over the past but, when you have the time to really drill down on the detail of what happened, why it happened and why you did what you did, you realise all you ever did at any one point in time was put everything you had into it.”
“It’s so easy to beat yourself up over things that, in hindsight, you realise you shouldn’t have.”
While in the years after that bestseller there were still hurdles to overcome, just as there will be many more in future, JLo at least has a focus these days on diversity in creativity, and the ability to have fun without the pressure to perform.
“When the shackles are off, we produce our best work,” she says. “That’s true of so many people in so many parts of life. It’s just the getting to that point that’s the difficult bit!”
JLo credits much of renewed, optimistic outlook to her regular fitness regimen. She has an appearance that makes those half her age envious – something she praises celebrity fitness trainer Tracy Anderson for – but at the same time provides an inspirational role model to women (and men), particularly those who refuse to subscribe to the fact that advancing age should mean a dissolution of energy, ambition and excitement.
“I know this is only one part of it, but I think women should be proud of their bodies. There shouldn’t be one concept of what is beautiful or ideal-looking. I’ve had to overcome a lot of negative things that were said to me when I first started working in Hollywood. I was constantly being told to lose weight, but I basically told people, ‘Look, I’m okay with my shape and the way I look’.
“The way we look feeds in very closely to mental health. Whether we like it or not, a lot comes from that first place of what people make of us from our visual appearance. “Ultimately, we are always beating ourselves up,” she continues. “If it’s not our bodies, it’s whether we’re spending enough time with our kids… are we doing a good job, are we making them happy? All those things are weighing on us. It’s hard.”
And yet, as a veteran of over 40 movies and eight albums, JLo’s desire to move to explore the next project has never departed. And in more recent times, the success with which so many other film actors have chanced their arm, namely at edgier TV series, has encouraged her, in the same way, to show the public a tougher, grittier side of herself.
“Premium television drama is offering more freedom than film,” the actress supposes. “There’s more diversity as well as a lot of opportunity to be very creative. TV is able to accommodate all types of actors from different cultures and traditions so it’s a very exciting time. A turning point, in my opinion, was the arrival of Shonda Rhimes and Grey’s Anatomy. There, I said to myself: ‘Hey, the TV is doing something interesting.’ Finally, I saw the world that I observe every day in the street.“
That’s why I wanted to create a project like Shades of Blue. You get to a point where you don’t want to run away from reality; instead, there’s a desire is to create drama that reflects everyday life, including the challenges.”
And it is those challenges that Lopez refuses to walk away from. With an estimated wealth of $150m, she could turn her back on the spotlight and never work again; yet it is in her genetic make-up that the show must go on.
“My mom was the one who taught me that if you worked hard in life then you can achieve your dreams. She and my dad both worked different jobs so we could have a better life and I really appreciated how they accepted their responsibilities and never complained. It comes down to the fact, if you want to be successful at anything you’re going to have to work for it. No-one is going to give it to you. Then when you do achieve something, you’re always looking forward to what comes next. Stopping isn’t an option.”
Certainly, JLo’s success nowadays comes from a very different place compared to that early time in the spotlight when global audiences danced to Jenny from the Bloc, and admirers fawned over her ability to cut shapes to If You Had My Love, Love Don’t Cost a Thing and I’m Real. As time has passed so, in many ways, does the ability to impress become more challenging. While that makes the credibility harder to attain, it also means the respect is more valued. “I feel more secure, and I’ve learned to feel good about myself,” she says. “That’s been a big step for me, because while we all crave validation in one form or another, I realise I don’t have to be governed or defined by the approval or others, and I certainly don’t need that to make me happy. I’ve also never felt better about my work, my image or my body than I do now.
“I don’t have any longing for the past – I don’t want to be 20 again,” she concludes.
“Maybe that’s the secret of feeling freer and happier as you get older – want to be the person you will be in the future, not the one who lives in your past.”