So I don’t know if you heard but Renée Zellweger made an appearance and debuted her “new face” last week. There were just a couple of articles about it – pretty low-key…
Oh, how I jest – I wish that it had been a low-key affair and had barely registered on the news but the fact is that it DID register. Quite strongly – the media seemed to be in a frenzy over the actress’ different look.
Over the space of a few hours, articles started flooding my news feed that typically took one of these approaches:
1) OMFG she’s changed her face COMPLETELY who is this person anymore it doesn’t even look like her I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not anymorrrrrre!
2) *shrugs* Who cares if she’s changed the way she looks? It’s none of our business and our commenting and making a fuss about it is only making matters worse.
To which I say: this is Renée Zellweger’s face now and whilst, yes, it might look quite different to how she used to look, it is her choice to make whatever changes she likes to her appearance so there’s not much point in waving your arms about and getting in a tizz about it. However, I DO think we should definitely care and talk about the underlying reasons why Zellweger felt such drastic changes to her appearance were needed. “We”, as a society at large, have most likely been indirectly involved in this.
There has been a spate of research conducted over the past 30 years that has investigated the effect of societal ideals and cultural factors on women’s body image. This research has shown that, due to almost-constant sexualisation and objectification from men, women adopt a third-person perspective of their bodies and start to view their body and appearance as things to be evaluated. This can lead to women frequently comparing their appearance to that of other women in order to see how they “stack up”. Women are also indoctrinated from a young age that the “thin-ideal” as put forth by the media is to be desired and achieved. This thin-ideal can realistically only be obtained by a select few in the world yet the majority of women (especially in the Western world) internalise it and feel dissatisfied and disappointed when their body does not meet society’s standards. This can often lead women to engage in drastic weight-changing behaviours such as dieting, extreme exercise, and fasting.
Keep in mind, of course, that this research is relating to your everyday, walking down the street, going to uni, heading to work, staying at home with the kids woman. Now imagine what those findings might look like in a situation like Hollywood – extremely competitive and beauty-driven. It’s like everyday society on crack.
Celebrities feel immense pressure to maintain the way they look – that’s the moneymaker, after all. We’ve all read the articles detailing their insane workout routines and super strict (and boring, might I add) diets. Beyond that though, the miracle anti-aging beauty regimes and practices seem to be getting more and more inventive – I’m thinking placenta face cream and Gwyneth Paltrow’s snake venom. So I’m not surprised Renée Zellweger (and many others) has felt the need to change the way she looks, whether it be by surgery or other means. Society says she must look a certain way, which was different to the way she looked naturally, so she must change to fit in.
And this is how we have all, as a society, indirectly affected Renée Zellweger’s decision to change the way she looks. This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip, I swear! Instead, what I’d really love people to realise is that they can make a difference by not buying into the ideals spread by the media and accepting – hell, even being happy with – the way that they look.
I’m finding that a lot of the reactions to Renée Zellweger’s appearance are not particularly helpful to anyone. They certainly aren’t helpful in starting the right conversation – one that discusses how much the media and beauty industries have pushed their ideals, standards, expectations, and demands on women and how we should be pushing back.
A lot of people have been commenting that women are in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation, particularly in Hollywood/celebrity contexts. It certainly seems that way. Women are told to maintain their youth, never show their true age, cover all the signs up – yet when it’s obvious that a woman has done just that and tried to conceal her aging appearance, they are berated and brought down. And it is true that Zellweger does not seem fazed in her response to the media’s reaction in saying “I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows.” That still doesn’t change the fact that she believed she should change her appearance to conform to what is demanded of her.
By going against the grain, refusing to bend and conform to what society demands, and being happy and proud of what you’ve got because that’s YOU – that’s how we can start pushing back. Besides, we can’t let petty little things like how our thighs compare to the next person’s get to us when we’ve got a much bigger problem at hand. Cue Jennifer Garner’s quote:
“The fact that there even needs to be a Women in Hollywood event is a little bit sad. I mean, the Men in Hollywood event is every day. It’s called Hollywood. Fifty-one percent of the population should not have to schedule a special event to celebrate the fact that in an art that tells the story of what it means to be human and alive, we get to play a part!”
What are your thoughts on the matter?