These Jennifer Aniston Fans Weren’t Born When ‘Friends’ Aired

Whitney Bartol, 17, a highschool senior in Manhattan, can recite like a catechism Jennifer Aniston’s lifetime trajectory, from her tv debut as Rachel on “Friends,” to her string of failed romances and up to date flip as a flinty however flappable community anchor on “The Morning Show.”

“She is a character that you sympathize with, but she is also someone you aspire to be,” she mentioned.

Marina Bross, 17, a highschool senior in Mexico City, additionally finds a lot to admire about Ms. Aniston. “She has had her entire life documented in the media — that must be hard, but she dealt with it,” Ms. Bross mentioned. “For me she represents a woman who knows what she wants and stands her ground.”

Kate Mintz, 18, one other highschool senior in Manhattan, went as far as to mannequin her hair after Ms. Aniston’s layered and highlighted signature bob in “Friends.” “Her style is not edgy, not girly,” mentioned Ms. Mintz, who watches reruns of “Friends” along with her classmates. “She is not going out of her comfort zone with weirdo shapes and textures.”

Not one in every of these younger ladies was born when “Friends” had its tv premiere in 1994. Yet every is a part of a vocal cohort of school-age fanatics who idolize Ms. Aniston as a beacon of realness, relatable type and boundless resilience.

Indeed, few public figures in midcareer, or late profession, have so vividly impinged on the collective psyche of an impressionable, typically reasonably prosperous, and largely, although not solely, white phase of the Gen Z inhabitants. They are a part of a large fan base for Ms. Aniston, who, at 52, has discovered an avid, if unlikely, new viewers.

Devotees comply with her private saga chapter by chapter, commiserating with “poor Jen,” heartlessly dumped by Brad Pitt within the early 2000s, and fawning over shiny Jen, the red-carpet queen. Some might relate to bad-girl Jen, the self-avowed stoner, who has publicly touted CBD and bawdily deflected rumors of a romance with David Schwimmer (Ross, her love curiosity on “Friends,”) on a current Howard Stern present.

All however omnipresent in current months, Ms. Aniston retains her influence as a cultural pressure, notably among the many younger. Fans watched as she wept right into a tissue on the “Friends Reunion” in May. They adopted as she modeled a restricted assortment of Friends-logo hats, T-shirts and hoodies on her Instagram.

Jennifer Aniston stars in “The Morning Show,” which returns for its second season on Apple TV+ this month. Credit…Apple TV+, by way of Associated Press

And in a promotional run-up to Season 2 of “The Morning Show,” which begins on Apple TV on Sept. 17, she appeared on the September cowl of “In Style,” confiding inside the difficulty, “My level of anxiety has gone down by eliminating the unnecessary sort of fat in life.”

That should be reassuring to her most ardent admirers, who discover consolation and a measure of braveness in Ms. Aniston’s messy up-and-down life journey. “No one can be perfect all the time,” Ms. Bartol mentioned. “Seeing a celebrity in the spotlight who also can’t do that makes me feel better about myself. It makes me like her more.”

‘She Is Rachel’

Her view chimes with these of an viewers that reaches properly past the United States. Fans from Turkey, Colombia and Mexico gathered within the West Village on a current Sunday, hanging poses and snapping selfies in entrance of the so-called Friends House, a vacationer vacation spot the place lots of the sequence’ exteriors had been filmed.

Lexi Rios, 18, a current highschool graduate from Wappinger, N.Y, was one in every of them. “Rachel kind of reminded me of me,” she mentioned. “I grew up getting a lot of the things I always wanted. But Rachel gave me a kind of reality check. She walked away from her wealthy family and was cut off. When my dad lost his job at the same time the show started streaming on Netflix, I related with her story.”

Ana Menendez, 15, a customer from Mexico City, admires Rachel’s grit. “When the show had its premiere, she was a little spoiled,” Ms. Menendez mentioned. “But with the help of her friends she learned how to become a better person.”

Ana Menendez, 15, left, visited from Mexico City and admires Rachel’s grit. Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

Among her younger followers, Ms. Aniston’s obvious fallibility might be a trump card, mentioned Jonathan Gray, a professor of media and cultural research on the University of Wisconsin.

“We can’t just see women succeeding all the time,” Dr. Gray mentioned. “A good feminist image needs to show us women struggling and sometimes making bad decisions. Jennifer Aniston often occupies that role. People connect. It’s ‘Yeah, she doesn’t know what she’s doing and neither do I.’”

To admirers Ms. Aniston’s seeming bewilderment is constructed on a bedrock of granite.

“Many celebrities, when they’re under pressure, break down and start making bad decisions,” mentioned Nancy Eastman, 15, a highschool sophomore in New York City. “Suddenly you hear they’re in rehab. With Jennifer Aniston that never happened. She just tried going on with her life and doing what she loved. To me she is Rachel.”

That she would conflate the actress along with her character appears a given. “Fans always try to ferret out the connection between the characters actresses play and their real lives,” mentioned Leo Braudy, a professor of literature, movie historical past and American tradition on the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. As for Ms. Aniston, “If she is a role model, it is the role of survivor.”

To some, Ms. Aniston appears to have sedulously cultivated that cool-girl persona — robust however not hardened, cheery or tart because it fits her. Her efficiency, whether it is one, places one in thoughts of Amy Dunne, the unnervingly crafty title character of “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller, who has styled herself, as Amy observes in what possibly the novel’s most oft-quoted passage, “as that hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes and burping.” And, as Amy observes, by no means will get indignant.

But if Ms. Aniston is usually sticking to script, does it matter?

The actress herself has been fast to take advantage of her red-carpet attraction in a black leather-based minidress or sensationally clingy bias-cut robe. She appears to generate warmth, but youthful male followers hardly ever reply with unbridled lust.

Aicana Arrango, left, who was visiting from Vera Cruz, Mexico, along with her sister, Ana, mentioned Ms. Aniston was an inspiration for her type and her values.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

“All my friends feel the crush,” mentioned Thomas Pendergast, 16, a highschool junior in Manhattan. Yet he finds her extra fashionable than steamy. “The way she dresses is relatable. There is nothing too flashy. I’ve never seen her challenging any fashion standards.”

Ms. Aniston nonetheless exhibits pores and skin, however extra typically lately appears threat averse, turning her again on the skimpy T-shirts, skinny black attire and low-slung cargo pants she favored as Rachel, and largely eschewing Kardashian-Hilton tinctured latex and leather-based for polished however tamer fare.

“Sometimes when I’m shopping for an outfit I think, ‘Oh, maybe Jen would buy this,’” mentioned Ms. Eastman, the New York excessive schooler. She utilized that normal to a current buy, a flow-y crimson V-neck crimson shirt loosely tied on the throat.

To fanatics, the Aniston look is a part of an aesthetic swing away from the loud or crass, one finest represented by Ms. Aniston and 1990s-era idols like Danielle Fishel, who performs Topanga in “Boy Meets World,” and Alicia Silverstone as Cher in “Clueless.”

“Teenagers and millennials have been dressing aggressively,” Ms. Bartol mentioned. “But a lot of us now admire a more conservative style. We’re not fans of ripped jeans We don’t want our belly buttons out.”