At the ELLE Magazine’s 21st annual Women in Hollywood Awards last Monday, Renée Zellweger —who hasn’t appeared in a feature film since 2010 and was therefore away from the spotlight for four years— looked a different person from the Bridget Jones/Roxie Hart we had come to know, and that’s not a figure of speech. She appeared to have had major plastic surgery and yet, inexplicably, it was both blatant and pretty hard to tell. [Side note : So not too bad, plastic surgeon, I guess.] Of course, the Internet happened and it wasn’t long before everyone, myself included, had shared their two-cents regarding the transformation.
Now, there were three different kinds of reactions:
– expectedly horrified (i.e. “how botched! how ugly! plastic surgery is SO wrong!”)
– surprisingly delighted (i.e. “wow, good job for looking physically more appealing!”)
– amusingly confused (i.e. “is she starring in a Face/Off remake with Sarah Jessica Parker?”)
I’ll admit that last one was mine. I hesitated before I posted it publicly because I constantly criticize the commodification of women’s bodies and try, as much as possible, to abstain from joining the finger-pointing parade. But, in this case, I felt I would have reacted exactly the same, had it been a man walking down the red carpet with what looks like a face transplant: who is this person?
Laci Green —who, as you know by now, is probably my favorite YouTuber— tweeted on Tuesday:
“the #RenéeZellweger outrage is another example of how women’s bodies are seen as a public commodity to be mocked & shamed for looking wrong / don’t get old, your wrinkles will make headlines. dont get plastic surgery, you’ll be cruelly mocked and pitied. cant win. #RenéeZellweger / aging women are seen as declining in value as they lose their youthful beauty. aging men are inclining. he’s a fine wine, she’s “used up”. / obvious sexist undertones aside….laughing at *anyone* for how they look or for getting plastic surgery is just cruel. #RenéeZellweger”
To a certain extent, I agree with Laci Green: it’s unfair of our society to look down on women for having wrinkles and not looking 30 their entire life all the while condemning them for getting plastic surgery. But in my opinion, there is something to be said about the extremes to which Hollywood drives celebrities in order to look like what they’re expected to, especially women. As a matter of fact, I’m not against plastic surgery at all. I think that people should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies and, for most transgender people, it is one of the only ways to be able to live freely and without fear. [Side note: I may be biased, given that my late grandmother had a facelift, a tummy-tuck and permanent makeup at 70.] My issue here isn’t with the fact that Renée Zellweger got plastic surgery in the first place, and it’s not even the fact that the surgery was major. What’s troubling in the case of Renée Zellweger, as was for Jennifer Grey back in the jour, is that women in Hollywood are under so much scrutiny that they are driven to change their appearance beyond recognition. And, sadly, that’s probably the point. Amanda Hess writes:
“It only took a few years for Zellweger’s “unconventionally pretty face” to be recast in the public imagination as just plain ugly. And let’s be clear: Zellweger would not have been praised for “aging gracefully” had she showed up Monday night un-nipped. In Hollywood, “aging gracefully” is a euphemism for “good plastic surgery[.]” […] Zellweger’s last critical hit came out in 2005. Hollywood discarded her a long time ago. So now, she’s returned looking nothing like the old Renée Zellweger —you know, the actress nobody wanted to look at anymore. Can you blame her?”
Hess’s remark about “aging gracefully” really meaning “good plastic surgery” makes me think of straight men saying they like “faces au naturel” when, really, they mean “just enough makeup to be aesthetically pleasant but not look like a slut.” [Side note: Although I don’t know of many straight men who would use the expression “au naturel.” But I digress.] At the end of the day, whether you, I, or anyone else like Zellweger’s new face is moot. As Pedestrian reminds us in the approtiately-titled piece A Timely Reminder that Renée Zellweger’s Face Is Not Your Own:
“Shout out then to Renée Zellweger, human working in Hollywood, a town where for a multitude of reasons, in which we’re all complicit, a woman’s worth and her viability as an actor is measured not by honing the skills that have earned her the industry’s highest accolade, but her ability to halt the immutable passage of time.
Shout out to Renée Zellweger, autonomous individual who isn’t you and —despite what might’ve otherwise seen [sic] or been told— is capable of making her own decisions.”
I realize now my initial reaction may not have been in the best of taste. By trying to poke fun at Hollywood’s obsession with youth, I circumvented the real issue and ended up taking part in the public lynching.
Fortunately, Renée Zellweger is here to tell us that she doesn’t give a fuck. Good for her.