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On a day when the Canadian parliament was attacked by a terrorist, a serial killer confessed to killing at least seven women in Indiana, and it was announced that an Ebola serum might be available in two weeks, everyone had one question on their minds: "What happened to Renee Zellweger's face?" Hang on to your butts, because I think I might have the answer:
She changed it. End of column. Now, let's tackle global warming and save Detroit!
Has anyone tried to fix the windows?
I'm trying to figure out how we went from admiring beautiful women to claiming a proprietary stake in their face-skin to the point where we are indignant when women change themselves. And before continuing, this topic is on my mind on the daily. I have a kid who's in driver's ed, who's (hopefully) less than three years away from leaving home altogether. My high school class just celebrated its 20-year reunion. My mom was a grandma by the time she was my age. I can sing the 1983 HBO feature movie introduction with Adam Tod Brown, and I could easily do any opening dance from Blossom if someone just asked nicely enough. I'm on the youngish side of old, is what I'm saying, and I've got a lot of skin in this particular game. Some of the skin is puddling together at my neck area.
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At the 2014 Academy Awards, 81-year-old Kim Novak was skewered for looking "unrecognizable," while 67-year-old Sally Field was praised for keeping things natural. What everyone forgot was that no one recognized Kim Novak, because no one has looked at her for five decades and that Sally Field's beautiful, fresh-faced Oscar glow was a little bit shocking for a woman approaching 70. Beautiful, yes, but in an eerie, Paul Rudd way.
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I suspect we wouldn't know what natural aging looked like if it slapped us in the face with its weirdly new white skin patches that look like reverse freckles. While we're at it, are my weirdly new white skin patches that look like reverse freckles normal? Don't answer that. When we see a celebrity go overboard with the lip-plumping and the Botox, our first instinct is to point to Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Susan Sarandon as paradigms of natural aging, conveniently forgetting that all three women were bombshells up until a decade or so ago. You don't get to hold up Helen Mirren as the pinnacle of aging gracefully when Helen Mirren started out looking like this:
That's like holding up Buckingham Palace as an example of good housekeeping. Pointing to any Hollywood icon as an illustration of how to age is as rude as pointing to an elderly lady working at Walmart as an example of how not to age. It's an apples to oranges comparison, but in this case the apples are Paltrows and the oranges are everyone else. Claiming that someone is creeping closer to their inevitable death the "right" or "wrong" way is stupider than getting plastic surgery in the first place.
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What's really bizarre about Renee's new face isn't Renee's new face. It's that every A-list actress who sits in an interview chair is now asked about their feelings on plastic surgery and Botox -- like that's a part of their routine talking points.
Now who's ready to ask me about my bowels?
So, of course, when you ask beautiful women whose faces have been shaped by God himself what they think of plastic surgery, they're going to say, "Not for me." What you don't expect is A-List actresses to rain a hellfire of judgment and scorn for everyone else who gets it done. Gwyneth Paltrow thought Joan Rivers looked like a freak; Sofia Vergara isn't impressed with Madonna's cheeks; Rachel Weisz doesn't think actors should be allowed to get Botox; Tina Fey thinks people who get Botox look like shiny candles. These are actors talking presumably about other professionals in their field, not bloggers writing to no one, like the rest of us. If I told my co-workers my opinion on their faces, they'd assume I was crazy. And then they'd sue me for making the workplace hostile.
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It says here Soren Bowie is suing you for saying he has a "pretty mouth" -- is that right?
So what makes otherwise civil people think that a person's face is open ground for public debate? I'm asking myself here, because I specifically mentioned Michael Jackson's plastic surgery in my last column, and because I've privately and publicly said that perfection is boring. But think about the arrogance required to make that call -- to take a proprietary interest in the face of a stranger and feel justified in complaining when they change it.
By the by, when's the last time you heard of a male actor getting praised for aging gracefully? Which brings me to my next point.
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Sally Field has been an award ceremony staple for as long as I've been alive. She has more awards than you have fingers and toes, and she's killed it in every genre from sitcoms to big Hollywood dramas to whatever we want to call the phenomenon that was Smokey and the Bandit. She's never gone more than a few years without working, and she rarely sucks. Yet, after 50 years in an industry that thinks highly of her work, she gets the "Good for you!" treatment when she steps out:
We were expecting you'd be uglier by now.
Now, counter those comments praising men who are "aging gracefully."
Here's all the headlines I could find about overweight celebrities who are said to be "aging gracefully."
Aging gracefully, it turns out, is code for being gracious to those around you by either disappearing or getting old without getting fat or dowdy or looking like you're trying too hard. As long as your looks aren't hurting anyone else's eyes, you're aging gracefully. It's the viewer who's determining how well you're aging -- and the viewer probably knows jack squat about you or your life.
Personally, I'm not buying into aging gracefully. I'm a regular 38-year-old woman who works at home and sees maybe half a dozen other adults during my average work week, and I'm promising this: I will get my boobs done. You won't know when and you won't know how much, but it's going to happen. Why? Because the alternative is to not get my boobs done and watch them get long and skinny like double-dutch ropes. No way. Not on my watch.
Although, I guess it would be kind of a fun thing for the neighborhood kids.
No one is going to mind if I mess with my own boobs as long as I don't go too far, like "Double Ds on a broomstick" too far. And that's when everyone gets huffy. The second a woman crosses the line from "natural" to "bigger," everyone has earned the right to comment on her nippular region. Can you believe we started pulling that shit on Britney Spears when she was only 16? HOW GROSS ARE WE? On a scale from zero to a million, I'm going to go with infinity gross.
I hate us. We're the worst.
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If pop culture has taught us anything, it's that there's more than one way to degrade women. One way is to objectify them, only value their youth, and toss them out on their saggy asses when things cease to be taut. It's sucky, but dropping people when they're no longer beautiful is easy to understand. We're projecting our own fears of aging onto others, we hate to see something beautiful fade, etc. But what happens to aging women in Hollywood is more sinister than simply disregarding them when they're not young.
After commenters got over the initial shock of not recognizing Renee Zellweger, the next reaction was "This is what Hollywood does to women." First, no. This is what women do to women. Go back and look at those quotes from A-list actresses if you need a reminder of how harsh women are with each other. Calling another woman "fake" is this generation's equivalent of calling her a slut, which is to say it's a sick burn. And you don't have to be famous to get the side eye from fellow ladies. Ask anyone who sat at my cafeteria table in seventh grade.
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Fix your forehead wrinkles and people will like you again, Shelly.
The more sympathetic among us pointed out how Renee has been made fun of for her hooded eyelids since she was in her early 20s. Our youth-obsessed culture is to blame, like Hollywood itself kidnapped Zellweger, drove her to Dr. Frankenstein, and picked her up when the doctor fixed what was broken inside her. I'll say this once: Renee Zellweger is a grown-ass woman who can do what she wants to her image.
Renee Zellweger isn't broken. Neither is anyone else who chooses to spend money on erasing wrinkles or sucking out fat or getting stupid hair implants that look stupid. (See what I did there, fellas? It works both ways!) Even if Renee Zellweger was a deeply troubled person with major self-esteem issues, A) we wouldn't necessarily know it, because we can't see her insides or the color of her mood ring, and B) those internal conflicts aren't the sole drivers of why people look the way they look. If they were, I'd alternate between looking like Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and Lady Miss Kier from Deee-lite, depending on my mood.
This is how I look on the inside.
Again, I'm as guilty as everyone else in the judgment department. I'm a sucker for wanting to mother skinny girls. I WILL WANT TO FIX YOU IF YOU'RE SKINNY. Forget Renee's face; I'm still sending casseroles to the 2003 Chicago-era skinny Renee. It's starting to get expensive. Here's the thing: skinny girls who aren't my daughters or friends or friends' daughters aren't my business. Correction: skinny girls who aren't me aren't my business. I shouldn't use their bodies as my joke playground, and I certainly shouldn't presume every skinny girl is sick. And even if every skinny girl was sick, that also wouldn't be my business.
Assuming Renee Zellweger had some work done on her face assumes she had to go through a very deliberate and informed process to make it happen. That she met with a doctor, looked at her options, talked to him or her about her specific concerns, weighed the benefits and drawbacks, maybe got opinions from her closest friends. In other words, acted on her own agency. Like a grown-up, not a victim or a mirror who exists only to reflect our approval. And the next time someone complains that they don't recognize her, tell them: no duh.
That was probably the whole point.
For more from Kristi, check out 5 True Stories Behind Iconic Pictures of Badass Women and 5 Life Lessons from a Former Mean Girl.
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