Stop telling me I’m not allowed to ask about Renee Zellweger’s face

RenéeZellwegerFeb09I am lucky.  I chose a creative life and have the opportunity to do satisfying work that is sometimes meaningful, just like Renee Zellweger. You know why else I’m lucky? Because, unlike Renee Zellweger, I’m not famous.

That’s because I don’t want to be.

OK, it’s because, also unlike Renee, I’m not talented enough at anything to be famous. But it’s all good. When you’re famous people speculate about you and make you part of the larger conversation and I would hate that. But I think that if you are famous, you asked for it, to a degree, and you don’t get to bitch about it. If people suggest that you’re doing something illegal or immoral, and you’re not, then you get to smack them down. But if they’re just wondering whether you had plastic surgery, I think you should just suck it up.

I’m responding to an op-ed Renee wrote for the Huffington Post yesterday titled “We can do better.” For context, go read it here, then come back and finish this counterpoint.

In it she complains about the speculation regarding whether or not she had something done to her eyes in 2014, cagily skirting the actual question – “I did not make the decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes” – then argues that such discourse is harmful and should be beneath us.

She writes:

“The ‘eye surgery’ tabloid story itself did not matter, but it became the catalyst for my inclusion in subsequent legitimate news stories about self-acceptance and women succumbing to social pressure to look and age a certain way. In my opinion, that tabloid speculations become the subject of mainstream news reporting does matter.”

She makes a valid but obvious point about the way society judges women by their appearance (we shouldn’t), then suggests that this is somehow taking attention away from more important news stories. An argument people like to trot out when aiming for moral high ground – how dare you pay attention to that when SYRIA.

It was, of course, met with breathless, effusive praise. But it annoyed me because I’m sick of being told that if you walk into a room – or in this case onto the red carpet in 2014 – looking like a totally different person from the last time I saw you, I’m morally bereft for wondering what the hell happened to your face. It’s not OK to be nasty or cruel, but most people are just trying to make sense of what they’re looking at. And you don’t get to tell them they don’t have that right.

What’s with this weird argument people keep making that it’s somehow anti-woman or anti-feminist, when faced with a dramatically changed appearance that looks very much like it’s due to cosmetic surgery, to do anything other than pretend you don’t notice anything?

Isn’t the opposite – pretending people’s appearances just magically change for no reason – actually the anti-woman thing to do? To act like rich people’s wrinkles just disappear? Like their lips get plumper and their thighs thinner by magic?

While I haven’t read any of the think pieces Renee is talking about, the topic of “self-acceptance and women succumbing to social pressure to look and age a certain way,” as she calls it, is, I think we can all agree, an important one. And her reality, whether she likes it or not, is that she’s now part of that larger conversation.

Dear Renee: If you don’t want to be part of the larger conversation, don’t be famous. You had a choice, you know. People don’t usually become famous by accident. They sometimes do, like Monica Lewinsky or Justine Sacco, but actors usually don’t. You have to want that shit. You have to seek it out and work for it. You could have gone into any number of careers where this wouldn’t have happened. You know who tabloids don’t care about? Almost everyone. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, salespeople, mathematicians, baristas, graphic designers, carpenters, plumbers, marketing managers, IT techs, developers, veterinarians, project managers…. You had a lot of career options. But you chose to be a star. Now you have to live with that. And you don’t get to tell me that I’m lacking moral fibre because I’m looking at you. It’s what you wanted.

I’ve seen a lot of your face. I’ve seen it in Jerry Maguire, Bridget Jones, Chicago (I LOVED you in that)…um…Bridget Jones 2… and it looks different now – VERY different — and I am curious as to why. You make your living appearing on screen and on camera. To suggest that I’m not allowed to notice and question details of your appearance is, to use one of your own words, disingenuous.

You know what, Renee? I sponsored a Syrian refugee family and I volunteer weekly at a refugee shelter, I buy conscious fashion, I champion conscious farming, I donate to many charities, and am an advocate for several causes – and I still wonder what happened to your face. I can care about all the things. The funny thing is I don’t actually care that much. But dammit I will defend my right to care a little bit.

If other people have loftier concerns, or better things to worry about, good for them. The fact that is does pique my interest, however, doesn’t make me a misogynist, idiot loser.

Not that you asked but here’s how I think you could better serve your own interests and those of all the women out there whose interests so concern you. You could honestly address what is different about your face and why — you know and we know that it’s something. You could talk openly about why you made the changes that you did and what lead you there, whether it was medical need or cultural pressure. (I hope, by the way, that it was nothing terrible. Knowing my life, I’ll find out that it was EYE CANCER and I’ll feel like a total asshole, but I truly hope that’s not the case and suspect that it is not). That would have been a useful contribution to the conversation. It also would have stopped all the cruel speculation and nasty commentary in its tracks and all this would have gone away.

You don’t have to. It’s your right to not answer the question as much as it is my right to ask it. But women face enough psychological adversity when it comes to their appearance, as you note in your article, Renee. And the pseudo secrecy around the magically changing appearances of the rich and famous is part of that problem. Chastising people for natural curiosity while hauling out the same old tired observations about cultural sexism is, in my opinion, not useful. It’s harmful. It adds nothing new to the conversation. And this conversation needs something new.

You can do better.