What the Hell Have We Done To Renée Zellweger?

(Photos: Getty)

If you had posted a picture of Wayne Brady and said that it was Renée Zellweger, most of us would’ve been just as inclined to believe it as we are the photos of the “new” Renée that are now circulating around the internet. If you haven’t seen the pictures of Zellweger’s appearance at ELLE’s 21st annual Women In Hollywood Awards last night, suffice it to say that she looks — different. And by different I mean that under no circumstances would you ever in a million years be able to figure out it was Renée Zellweger unless someone told you in advance and presented you with a DNA sample for confirmation. It’s almost kind of fun to imagine the confused reaction from the paparazzi when this woman very few people had ever seen before suddenly took to the red carpet like she owned it last night. No one would be blamed for an audible chorus of “what the fucks” once it finally became evident just who was standing there in front of the cameras.

Not only has the 45-year-old Oscar-winning actress drastically overhauled her face through cosmetic surgery, she’s had the kind of procedures that have now rendered her utterly unrecognizable. Her eyes are different, her nose is different, her mouth is different, the very shape and size of her face and head seem to have changed. She is almost literally an entirely different person, leading one to jump to the conclusion that this is all some kind of Jimmy Kimmel gag (and a sigh of relief would be in order if it turned out that was the case). She looks great, there’s no doubt about that — she just doesn’t look like Renée Zellweger. Not anymore. The question is, why the hell would she do something like this? We’re talking about a woman who was lovely to begin with and one whose look was at the very least distinctive — so why decide to make herself look nothing like the person the public has known for the past 20 years?

Mary Beth Williams over at Salon writes today about how Zellweger’s new face is “the elephant in the room,” something we simply have to acknowledge and comment on because to not do so would be comically disingenuous. She also calls out, in ways both subtle and direct, the ones responsible for helping to create Zellweger 2.0 — us.

I don’t want to be down on anybody for looking different, especially in a world that viciously puts them down for being too fat, too thin, too “puffy,” too old. I don’t expect a performer who has her first film in five years coming out in a few months to look exactly like she did in “Jerry Maguire.” But I am eternally dismayed at a culture that obsesses so profoundly on bikini bodies and lineless countenances that some really strange results continue to happen to people who try to hang on to what they once were. They wind up looking like who they’ve never been. And it makes me downright angry to know full well that if Renee Zellweger had shown up at that event looking like a 45 year-old woman — even a beautiful one who has access to great skin care and hair products — there would have been a world of remarks about any remote signs of aging she may have displayed.

Obviously, only Renée is truly responsible for Renée, but the point about our culture is an unassailable one. We need our female stars to be physically and even personally flawless at all times and throughout every stage of their lives or, at best, we mercilessly criticize them while, at worst, taking away their livelihoods. The irony of Renée Zellweger’s new look is that you can’t help but think it’s counterproductive: sure, she appears young, but she doesn’t look like the person who was once in-demand as an actress. She has a movie in post-production right now — The Whole Truth, co-starring Keanu Reeves — but beyond that it’s difficult to imagine producers and directors lining up to put her back in the spotlight. Not when that spotlight would be focused more on who she’s transformed herself into than the performances and talent her name calls to mind.

Put it this way: there’s been talk of a Bridget Jones 3 for years, but at this point casting the star of the first two hit films would be like casting someone else entirely. If Renée Zellweger is cool with that then good for her. Everyone is entitled to make changes to his or her appearance that make that person feel more comfortable — and in the end that might be what really matters. When you’re someone with a recognizable and even bankable appearance, though, altering it can mean an inexorable slide into career oblivion. What’s unfortunate is that Renée Zellweger was probably caught between that fact of Hollywood and the other one — the one that demands that young, fresh-faced actresses stay young and fresh-faced forever.

(Renée Zellweger in 2010)

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