The internet has been alive this week with commentary and criticism about Renee Zellweger, who recently appeared at an event looking somewhat unlike herself. The articles and posts that I have seen have been speculative about what she is or is not doing to her face. Furthermore, most of what I have seen has been terribly unkind, including some truly vicious comments.
This makes me so angry. What a woman looks like is, barring accidents or illness, her own business. How she chooses to present herself to the world and the grooming steps she does or does not take is for her to decide, not us.
That said, Hollywood puts so much pressure on women to look a certain way. Even thoughwe humans all look different, actresses are expected to conform to a narrow “norm.”
And because there’s this narrow Hollywood ideal, many actresses do what they’re told and alter their appearances because their careers depend on it. They grow out their hair, cap their teeth, lose weight, and go through any number of other procedures because they have to conform to certain standards. These expectations have been around for as long as Hollywood has been making movies and TV shows. Through the decades, actresses have been told to change their appearances in order to make it in the business.
Even still, for a long time, there was some variety, even if only a tiny bit. You could see natural teeth. Women had different hair styles. Breasts weren’t always enhanced via padding or surgery.
However, in the past decade or so, things have gotten more homogenized.
For example, I’ve noticed in recent years that there’s a definite arc in how women look on TV shows:
Season 1: Lead actress has an interesting look that is in line with her character’s personality and lifestyle. If she plays a cop, then she has simple, low maintenance hair and cop-like clothes.
Halfway through the season, however, it becomes obvious that the actress is growing out that initial role-defining haircut.Season 2: Lead actress has either grown out her hair or gotten extensions. Her hair now falls in soft waves halfway down her back, regardless of her character’s lifestyle. If she plays a doctor, she’ll perform open heart surgery with her hair carelessly tossed behind her shoulders.
Sometimes she has pin-straight hair that took two hours to flat iron, even though her character is a single mother with two jobs and therefore no spare time for this level of upkeep.
During this season, the actress’s wardrobe is amped up in the glamour department too. Even if she plays a cop, she’s chasing perps while wearing 4-inch heels and then interrogating them with her blouse unbuttoned down to her diaphragm.
Season 3: More of the same.
Season 4 (or maybe Season 5): Lead actress now commands a hefty paycheck and a fair amount of power, so she no longer needs to kowtow to the network executives’ demands about her appearance. She’ll cut her hair (or remove the extensions).
The actress has also developed bunions from running around in ridiculous shoes, so she demands a new shoe wardrobe for the show. No longer will she tolerate tottering around on 4-inch heels.
It used to be that actresses had a wider variety of hair styles. Then in the first decade of the 21st century, hair extensions became more readily accessible. This has ensured that all Hollywood ladies, regardless of age, race, or hair type will go through at least one period of their careers — if not a decade or more — with the fantasy princess hair that certain men in power find attractive.
Women are so amazing. We come in all these different sizes and shapes and colors and textures. All that variety, yet there are some who would shoehorn us all into a narrow look.
Aging is normal. It’s natural. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But the pressure, it is so great. Regardless of their ages, Hollywood women are encouraged to fight Mother Nature. They are applauded for looking younger than their years. No one is supposed to look her actual age.
Earlier this year, 81 year old Kim Novak presented at the Oscars. Afterward, many people were harsh and cutting in their comments about her appearance. This is a legendary Hollywood actress who’s in her ninth decade and all people could talk about was how she looked. Really?
Getting back to the beginning of this post. I am not going to speculate about what Renee is or is not doing to her face. That’s her business. I am not going to judge in any way. As long as she’s happy and healthy, that’s what’s important.
And that’s the thing of it, in the photos that came out this week, Renee does look happy and healthy. She also looks her age, which is, I think, a totally expected and reasonable way to look. I agree that she does look radically different and if she has had “work” done, I’m a bit sad that she felt the need to do so. Still, it’s her face and her decision.
Updated to add: Renee has spoken about people’s reactions to how she looks.