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.”

Tina Fey expressed it best:

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:

Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett on "Castle" (season 1).

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.

Stana Katic in Season 3.

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.

And none of this addresses the issue of aging. Women age. That’s part of the natural cycle of things. We develop lines. Things droop. Hair thins and changes color.

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.

So let’s all just be kind to everyone. Let’s see others for who they are and now how they look. And let’s not judge anyone for what she is or is not doing to her face.

Updated to add: Renee has spoken about people’s reactions to how she looks.



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13 Responses to Womanhood

  1. I don’t know. These actresses who are getting work done on their faces are all well-established and definitely not hurting for money. I would prefer that they use their popularity, influence, and wealth to work against Hollywood norms, rather than kowtow to them. It is hard to respect a woman who chooses to get plastic surgery rather than make a statement against Hollywood’s unreasonable expectations for her gender. Especially if that woman can afford to go against the flow…

    Not to mention that few of them look either good or normal once this work is done…and that goes for the men, too, with their lack of forehead lines. It all just looks freaky.

  2. bdaiss says:

    I’m going to have to agree with suburbancorrespondent on this one. I’m glad she now feels comfortable in her skin (or so she has said), but I’m also disappointed that she felt she needed to alter her very unique looks to feel that way.

    To each her own…but let’s also lift each other up so no one feels they need surgery in the first place.

  3. Julie says:

    I did a mental gasp, as I have not recalled seeing her face in public lately….so when I did a googly on her, and found what mailonline had to say and post with pics, I was stunned. I literally did not know that the most recent photo of her, was in fact, her. Such complete obliteration of what she used to look like, and was recognizable for, is rather tasteless…I’m also sure she had no idea that she would look so radically different than what she had normally looked like, pre-surgery or whatever else she had done to achieve such a “look”. She doesn’t necessarily (in my opinion) look *bad* but I would not say she looks good, or even her age, either. At 44, she’s aging, and I do believe she was, or is, a smoker, so lines will factor into that even more. Makes me sad. But I know that Hollywood dictates most if not all, of what these actors do to themselves. I laugh whenever I see the aging men actors, though. They look so high and tight, it’s just ridiculous. Think Kenny Rogers, et al…

  4. Cassi says:

    Renee hasn’t exactly had a lot of big roles lately, so perhaps she felt she needed to do this for her career. I liked her old face, although she certainly is very pretty now.

    I very much wish women didn’t feel the pressure to be perfect (starting in MS) and forever youthful. There is so much more to life, and I’m just grateful that my career didn’t require that ever-youthful look.

  5. Ally Bean says:

    Love your analysis of Castle’s Beckett. So accurate and sad.

    As for RZ, if she’s happy then I won’t criticize her, although I’d love to know how she rationalized her plastic surgery. Was it pressure to look younger? Or was it a personal decision to be new person going forward? Maybe she was just tired of how she looked! That could happen, right? Whatever. If she’s content, then so be it.

  6. God bless Meryl Streep. She makes me feel like there is hope.

  7. Jenny says:

    My husband and I have been watching a number of British detective shows lately and see a much more diverse group in most of them. Women and men of different ages and sizes, normal looking people attracted to each other, not to mention hardly any guns or car chases.

  8. I’m grateful that there are still actors of both sexes who are willing to age gracefully and lean into what God and nature intended.
    That said, societies all over the world have standards of beauty that involve many different ways of changing original looks.

  9. Becky says:

    What I’ve taken away from this is how sad that this beautiful, successful woman clearly doesn’t have self confidence.

  10. Jen, I should just cut-and-paste the first line of most of my comments on your blog because . . .

    I agree with you.

    I posted a Bridget Jones photo of Renee on Facebook with a caption from the Billy Joel song, “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.”

    I was totally disgusted by CNN (and others) and more-than-totally disgusted by an article I read in The Atlantic by Megan Garber in which she lists a series of presumptuous and offensive questions for Renee. What the? This writer has a public platform and she uses it to shame someone?

    Look, I’m not saying that when I see that another actor has undergone a procedure that changes his or her looks that I don’t take notice or that I preferred the way they looked before, because chances are that I do notice and I do prefer an aged face over something else. But it is not my face and it’s not my business. Period.

    Thank you for posting this. You and Tina Fey rock.

  11. amen! To what you and Suburban Correspondent and Jenny all said.
    I’m happy as pie to watch BBC’s real people in action and I am embracing all the shades my hair takes on naturally as well as the sags and wrinkles because if I don’t, I’m sending a pretty horrible message to my sons and anyone else who pays attention to me.

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