For the last 24 hours, you could not turn around on the internet without tripping over someone’s opinion about Renée Zellweger’s appearance. Zellweger recently attended the Elle “Women in Hollywood” Awards and the internet nearly cracked in half with speculation about her face, so much so that Zellweger had to issue an official statement to People Magazine about it. I’m conflicted about even linking to the site, because I don’t want to give this conversation any more traffic than it deserves. Just Google it.
Actually, I’ll save you the trip. Renée Zellweger’s statement was:
“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.”
And now everyone is dissatisfied with her answer, demanding that she admit to having plastic surgery.
I get it; I understand why we are so fascinated/repulsed by this “story” (I refuse to call it news). I used to think that I would never have elective cosmetic surgery. I would wonder why so many naturally beautiful women would choose to change their bodies. I would label them and judge them.
And then I got some tattoos. When you have visible tattoos, especially as a woman, suddenly everyone can police your body. Total strangers can come up to you and grab you, demanding to see your tattoos. Co-workers can ask you “How is that going to look in a wedding dress?” And people (a lot of people) feel free to say “You’re such a pretty girl; why would you ruin your looks that way?” The first time that happened to me I was furious, until I realized that I was saying the exact same thing about other women.
A couple months after my most recent tattoo.
That’s a tough pill to swallow right there. Realizing as a self-identified feminist that I was actually perpetuating body-shaming is really rough. So I hope that I have said this as kindly as possible, but it needs to be said:
If Renée Zellweger decided, as a 45 year old woman who makes her own informed decisions, to get some plastic surgery, that is her business. If she wanted to get a little, that’s fine. If she wanted to get a lot, a full on Death Becomes Her… guess what? Also fine.
If she is absolutely comfortable with herself and her appearance and had plastic surgery and doesn’t want everyone to know her business because 99.98% of her life is under a microscope because she has been a Hollywood actress for the last twenty years? Also fine!
If she had elective cosmetic surgery as a result of the tremendous pressure placed on women to maintain a youthful, perfect appearance, are we helping her by speculating and accusing? Are we helping anyone? (Other than employees at People.com or Perez Hilton?) Putting Renée Zellweger under a microscope for maybe having plastic surgery is not going to change our culture’s crippling beauty standards. It’s not going to close the wage gap. It’s not going to eradicate rape culture. You know what it will do? Sell a bunch of magazines and online ad space, and probably make a lot of women including Renée Zellweger, feel like shit. Although, if I were Renée , I would just look at my Oscar on the mantelpiece and be like “Yep, I still win.”
And, just as it happened when several famous actresses had their photos stolen and leaked, there are people who believe that being a public figure invites this behavior. Don’t get me wrong; I am not equating the two, the theft and distribution of those photos was a sex crime. But this endless dissection of women is still a violation, and being a public figure does not invite it any more than walking down the street invites harassment.
Anyone who needs or wants cosmetic or reconstructive surgery should not be made to feel like they are shallow for this choice. Telling women that they can’t choose how to inhabit their bodies is once again affirming the twisted idea that women are not supposed to have bodily autonomy.
This speculation culture is perpetuating the unattainable standard for women, a system that has failure built into it. I mean, here are the rules:
1.) You have to be beautiful. You worth is determined by your beauty, which has to be of a very specific type.
2.) You are not allowed to do anything to actually change your appearance, or at least never admit to it, or you will be judged for being shallow (because you were honest about caring about the thing that we want you to care about in secret).
3.) You are never allowed to call yourself beautiful.
How are we supposed to succeed? That’s the thing; no one can.
Your body is yours, however you choose to modify it (or not). Your body is yours to inhabit without judgment or scrutiny. Do not extend that judgment or scrutiny to others. Do not reduce anyone’s value to just their appearance. Use your voice well.
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