Why Do We All Have Feelings About Renée Zellweger’s Face?

Photo: Charles Sykes/REX USA
Renée Zellweger is trending, mostly thanks to a super subtle Gawker story that went up yesterday, simply titled, "Here Are Some Pictures of Renée Zellweger." This prompted a flurry of posts — mean-spirited, think-piecey, and everything in between — that discussed, at length, the curious case of "What happened to Renée's face?"
By now, we all know the story: She showed up at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards two nights ago looking, in short, very different from the Renée Zellweger we fell in love with in Bridget Jones' Diary 13 years ago. This, according to Dr. Dara Greenwood, a social psychologist at Vassar college, makes the public feel duped, which is what spurred this media shitshow.
"We want our deified celebrities to somehow be both perfect and authentic," she says. "When we identify a breach in the authenticity of someone’s appearance, we feel betrayed or confused, as though we had a contract with them to remain recognizable — and hence, meaningful — to us." Tack all of that onto the relative anonymity of the Internet and our penchant for zooming in on and scrutinizing photos, and suddenly we're all playing one big game of "Spot the Plastic Surgery." (Assuming, of course, she's had some.)
But, as we've said before about the obsession with Kylie Jenner's lips, is it anyone's damn business whether a celeb's tucked this or lifted that? “Everyone’s so interested in their private lives, so it’s not surprising that plastic surgery is also something that intrigues the public,” says Victoria Karlinsky, MD, chief cosmetic surgeon at New Look New Life Surgical Arts. “And, when they go overboard, it generates even more hype.”
What does Zellweger herself think about all this? In a People interview, she said, “Perhaps, I look different. Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy.” She didn’t address any procedures she may have had done. Instead, she explained: “I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn't allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things."
Photo: Charles Sykes/REX USA
This was an honest acknowledgment of the unfair pressures placed on women of a certain age in Hollywood — and in society at large. Yes, the actress' face has changed. But, the hard truth is that faces, particularly from your 30s to your 40s (Zellweger is 45), tend to do that — a lot — and that's a phenomenon the younger, Internet-rumor-starting generation may not be familiar with. (We should also note that Zellweger has, sadly, dealt with negative comments about her face from the beginning of her career, as illustrated in a recent piece in Time.)
“[Renée] also hasn’t been in the spotlight for a few years," points out Dr. Karlinsky. "If you don’t see somebody for a couple years and you see them again, your reaction will likely be, ‘Oh, your face has changed.’ Especially at the critical time when you cross over into [your] 40s.” You may, for example, experience volume loss and even bone resorption, which could alter your facial shape. Throw in a few surgical tweaks and a several-year absence from the red-carpet scene, and it’s the perfect set-up for a media shit storm.
The biggest issue here is that the public openly shames women who choose to have plastic surgery, and yet criticizes those who don't elect to have any procedures, but don't "age gracefully." It's an unrealistic expectation — and a lose-lose scenario.
As Dr. Greenwood says, “I think part of [celebrity] scrutiny is about our own anxieties surrounding authenticity and perfection.” Perhaps, we should all look inward before looking at our computers.

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