However one feels about the proliferation of mostly actresses getting plastic surgery in Hollywood, we can probably reach a middle point of agreement that they’re doing so because of the inhumane beauty standards in an industry where talented women often discuss work drying up by the time they hit 40.
Women, moreso than men, are expected to be white, lithe, taut-skinned, plump-lipped, perfectly rhinoplastied and up for anything, and if you’re not, well, fuck you, no one’s gonna dress you. Jennifer Lawrence, talented as she is, is 25 years old and is cast as middle-aged women with some regularity; it is perfectly feasible that a similarly talented woman like Renee Zellweger, now 47 years old but 27 at her arguably most famous (Jerry Maguire), would feel these pressures as acutely as any actress, or any woman in the entertainment industry, for that matter.
At the same time, the public’s fascination with speculating who’s done what to their face or butt is understandable, if often cruel, though I suspect the main driver behind it is a quest for something relatable. If Kim Kardashian, say, is deemed a perfect human, there’s a pathos in wondering if she’s had work done, so that our own reflections don’t feel so incongruous with what the system deems as worthy. And whether you’re an actress up for roles against women who are either half your age or who’ve been surgically beautified, or an OK! reader who feels invisible in the mix, who can blame anyone for it? It’s a destructive, self-perpetuating cycle.
This is a generalized reading, and perhaps a generous one. But when longtime film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote an essay on plastic surgery in Renee Zellweger’s face for Variety this week, he actually complicates that pressure, in parts understanding the circumstances but also somewhat berating her for what he assumes is a change in her looks by plastic surgery, and all because he is mad that she no longer looks like Bridget Jones.
We can all agree that Zellweger looks different now, and not just older; we can speculate that it’s very clear that she has probably had something done. We can speculate on her reasons, wonder if she likes herself better now, and then conclude that, though she is a public figure, none of us owns her face. The shock that Gleiberman expresses in his piece is ironic considering the way he describes it, making many presumptions about why she may have done so, and contrasting the change in her face with the way she “has been a poster girl for the notion that each and every one of us is beautiful in just the way God made us”:
You have to realize just how radical it was that this nobody, who looked not so much like the sort of actress who would star in a Tom Cruise movie as the personal assistant to the sort of actress who would star in a Tom Cruise movie, was suddenly…starring in a Tom Cruise movie.
Never mind the fact that Zellweger’s looks were so “radical” in 1996 that she was white, blonde, blue-eyed, bow-lipped and thin! We’ve come a long way, baby.
Gleiberman’s sexism isn’t necessarily put forth here in an obvious way, but he treads to the near reaches of that point by doing a thing that we like to call extreme concern-trolling, assuming Zellweger’s face changed because she hates herself, and leaving little room for the option that perhaps she feels fucking awesome:
That’s the rub about being in a culture such as Hollywood—you might feel pressure to look younger, more stereotypically beautiful, more symmetrical, but it’s also a probability that once you do that, people are going to start treating you differently.
I would agree with most of his premise here but not his conclusion, which is that those people are going to start treating you differently in a negative way—very likely quite the opposite, similarly as when people generally start treating you better when you lose weight—in which Gleiberman substitutes “those people” for himself:
The most toxic thing about “having work done” is the feeling it can create that someone doesn’t look dramatically different from the way they looked before so much as they look…less. Less vivid, less distinctive, less there. You can’t prove it, but you know it when you see it.
There’s no denying that the Hollywood culture cycle sets us all up to reject our own natural looks and trade them in, if we can, for a more “streamlined” version. There’s also no denying that there’s so much projection going on in this piece that it barely makes any sense, and despite the sheen of best intentions, Gleiberman’s the one who sounds snippy and petty in the end.
PS: Bridget Jones would almost DEFINITELY have had plastic surgery.