Renee Zellweger

I already posted on the discussion about Renee Zellweger’s changed appearance in 2014. As the link shows, I do have concerns about not only the changes to Zellweger’s face but also the criticism of their scrutiny. The topic has reemerged thanks to release of the trailer for Bridget Jones’ Baby, third installment in the series on the plucky British chick lit heroine.


It has raised to a fever pitch due to Owen Gleiberman’s Variety post asking “If (Zellweger) No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become a Different Actress?” and actress Rose McGowan’s (mostly ad hominem attack) Hollywood Reporter response calling Gleiberman’s post “vile, damaging, stupid and cruel.” Social media is buzzing about the two pieces; most of what I have seen is very critical of Gleiberman.

It’s right to note the double standards that women face compared to men when it comes to appearance and its regulations. It’s also right to be concerned about men in the media industry writing critically about women’s appearance. However, I don’t think it’s fair to outright dismiss Gleiberman’s piece based on those concerns. For one thing, he’s asking a lot of the same questions I admit asking in my own research. What does it mean when a mediated body changes? What are the effects? How is the body used and interpreted differently in relationship to these changes? How do identity factors like race and gender relate to this? How are those changes perceived and by whom?

For another thing, in my interpretation, he is speaking exactly to the concerns that people have about the pressures actresses face over appearance. This quote below is my focus for understanding the piece. Read More

ELLE's 21st Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration - Arrivals

Alright, are we really being Internet busybodies by talking about Renee Zellweger? Let’s be honest here since Zellweger and company haven’t been. The problems here are due to sexism, ageism, and lookism in the US entertainment industry, true. But her own comments make Zellweger complicit in this. She is not “revealing the hard work of beauty” but eliding it. By attributing her “new look” to tropes of aging and wellness, she’s leaving this look up to nature as if scalpels had nothing to do with it. A good rest–even spanning several years–does not stretch your skin tautly across your face, changing the shape of your eyes and nose. Audiences may not deserve to be privy to all the intimate details of cosmetic procedures, but to show up to an industry event–where you’re expected to be photographed and interviewed and to gain attention accordingly–and act like your “new look” won’t–or shouldn’t–cause a stir is ludicrous.

This is an industry-wide–indeed, culture-wide–problem and Zellweger’s just one part of it, but reflective of the changes that need to happen to make this a better business for women, on and off the screen. In teaching prep the past few weeks I’ve been watching doc after doc on women in the industry, and it gets tiresome after a while hearing these women talk about the dangers of Hollywood’s representations of women while seeing how little their faces move and how much bigger their cheekbones are than when they were in their 20s. Part of chipping away at the problems with these -isms is going to have to involve ending the conspiracy of silence around these fitness regimens and cosmetic procedures, and being honest about what “work” is really going into these bodies.