This Renee Zellweger thing. I watched the surprise and shock unfold around me, mostly on twitter, and then, perhaps because I am masochistic, I read this Guardian article.
It was as sanctimonious, preachy, and holier-than-thou as one might expect, and it made me very angry. The journalist has deliberately mislabeled this as a feminist issue for click-bait and blustery righteousness, an easy way to absolve themselves of having anything to do with the constant appraisal of women’s bodies which underscores every media outlet, however high-brow, however self-aware.
This makes me furious because by misrepresenting The Renee Zellweger Situation, they are adding confusion to a genuine and serious problem in Hollywood, and beyond. They are chiding readers for their frankly justified curiosity and clouding the overall picture, taking focus away from what really is a feminist issue.
The article focuses on how women in the public eye are incapable of aging in the “correct” way and in doing so, it makes an extremely good point.
“Dare to age? Face-shame at best and be out of work at worst. Get noticeable plastic surgery on your face to combat the inevitable ageing? At best, you will be mocked for your narcissism and delusional attempts at hanging on to your youth; at worst, you’ll be out of work again.”
Fair, well-articulated, and sadly true. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are a handful, the same few examples regurgitated with predictable regularity (Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange, as the article goes on to reference). On the whole, older actresses and older women generally are treated appallingly by society for their naturally aging faces and bodies. They are vain or they are lazy, they are past their prime, they are decried whichever path they choose. It’s horrendously unfair, and no right-minded person could possibly deny that older women have it tough.
But my problem with the Guardian article is that this is NOT what’s happened here.
Peruse Twitter and you’ll see how hard it is to find the anticipated references to how disgusting Renee now looks, or how happy they are to see the back of her ugly old face; or variations on the vileness one might expect from the bottom-feeders who exist on Twitter solely to demean and harass. The tweets don’t exist, or at least not in the numbers that the Guardian implies. Why? Perhaps because she looks great. And also, she looked great before. But that’s still not the point. The point is that the public’s reaction focuses on one thing and one thing only: SHE DOESN’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE SHE USED TO LOOK. For some reason – their own agency – the Guardian has carefully avoided this gigantic elephant in the room. Renee doesn’t necessarily look like someone who’s had plastic surgery (although presumably she has), nor like someone trying to recapture her youth (although perhaps that’s what she was doing). Renee Zellweger looks fantastic, but she doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger, or at least like the Renee Zellweger we’ve grown up with since the 1990s.
I know you know this because Twitter knows this and the whole WORLD knows this but the Guardian, apparently, does not. The Guardian thinks that this is an enormous conspiracy to prove that women of a certain age will be shamed no matter what they do and that is infuriating because as a standalone issue it’s true, of COURSE it’s true, but it’s not true in this case. In this case – which is seemingly unique – a woman whom we’ve never seen has appeared before us claiming to be a famous Oscar-winning actress with a hugely recognisable face, that none of us recognise.
Am I alone, a feminist saying “this isn’t a feminist issue”? It would be the same if a famous man were to do this, to rock up looking like a totally different human being. Renee’s astonishing metamorphosis is not an act regularly perpetuated by women in the public eye, who frequently get plastic surgery but rarely transform themselves into an entirely different women, still seemingly the same age, just . . . different. It’s nothing like when Demi Moore emerged from her cocoon, miraculously decades younger than she had been the previous year, but still unmistakably Demi Moore, and suddenly playing a lead (bikini-clad) role in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, having been off our screens for several years. That, arguably, was a feminist issue.
It’s disappointingly, depressingly true that older women struggle to find roles, but this is like . . . well . . . Meryl Streep walking in and introducing herself as Jessica Lange. We’d find that pretty bloody weird as well.
Renee Zellweger claims that she hasn’t had plastic surgery. It’s not really relevant whether or not she has; what is relevant is that she looks like a totally different person. And for somebody whose fame amongst the general public, and in turn her success, hangs in no small part from the way she looks (not the prerequisite to look good, but nonetheless a recognisable appearance . . . another blog post, another day), this is a big deal, and inevitably will attract a huge amount of interest, if not concern. Something’s happened; what is it? Why? Are we all completely losing our minds or does she not look like . . . somebody else? Or nobody at all? We’re not being stupid, are we? Or blind? Or unfair? She doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger – does she?
No, Guardian, she doesn’t. She doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger. She doesn’t look bad, either. And she didn’t look bad before. But Renee Zellweger doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger and if I woke up no longer looking like me then I’d expect an outbreak of confused mutterings as well, and hell, I’m not famous. So rather than condemning the general public (media) for fixating on famous women’s appearances, maybe we should ask: if an actress alters her face so drastically, without apparently making herself visibly younger, will it grant her more airtime – and if so why, and how? How important is a (specifically famous) actress’s appearance when it comes to castings; not her youth, but how instantly recognisable she is? Are we, the public, concerned, curious, or aghast? And what is the Guardian, as the self-appointed liberal representative of our national media outlets, doing to stop this fixation – other than judging us for a fixation created by them, and of which they are perhaps only now realising the consequences?