Before she was America’s sweetheart, Renee Zellweger was Texas’ sweetheart. The Katy native and UT grad started her career with a string of ever-growing roles in Texas-based movies: tiny parts in Dazed and Confused and Reality Bites, the rodeo drama 8 Seconds, the border crime flick Love And A .45, a co-starring role alongside Matthew McConaughey in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Then, of course, her star-making turn in Jerry Maguire and the career that followed: Academy Award nominations Bridget Jones’ Diary, Chicago, her first win for the Civil War drama Cold Mountain.
But nobody’s talking about Renee Zellweger’s career this week. We’re just talking about her face.
Gawker kicked the ball off yesterday with a post innocuously titled “Here Are Some Pictures Of Renee Zellweger,” which—in an A+ example of Gawker-style snark—simply included a number of close-up photos of Zellweger from an appearance she made at the Elle Women In Hollywood awards on Monday night, contrasted with a handful of pictures of the actress from a decade-plus ago. The implication—which the entire Internet jumped on—being that Renee Zellweger doesn’t look like herself anymore, which in turn led to rampant speculation and condemnation: British tabloid The Daily Mail ran with the subtle headline, “What HAS Renee Zellweger done to her face? Bridget actress looks utterly unrecognisable as she steps out with her boyfriend in LA,” and proceeded to interview a plastic surgeon (that is to say, a doctor) who has never treated or operated on Zellweger to describe all of the plastic surgery that he’s decided that she had done:
According to Professor Dr. Fuat Yuksel, a surgeon from Longevita “it’s apparent that she has undergone a number of subtle cosmetic procedures to change the appearance of her face.”
He told Mirror Celebs: “Renee has undergone some facial procedures to contour the shape of her face including, fillers around her nasolabial folds and cheeks to give her face a fuller appearance, plus botox around the brow area to tighten her skin and make it appear more youthful.”
However he believes Renee has done even more than that, he continued: “The most significant procedure appears to be a blepharoplasty (eye bag removal and lid reduction) which has opened up her eyes and face dramatically.”
He added: “In her youth, Renee had heavier lids which after time may cause a ‘droopy’ or ’tired appearance’ but in more recent images it’s clear she’s had some skin and or fat removed which has opened up her eyes.”
Explaining why people opt to have the surgery, the surgeon explained: “As we grow older, the skin around the eyes loses its elasticity and our muscles slacken. For the eyelids this results in an accumulation of loose skin which collects as folds in the upper lids and forms deepening creases in the lower lids.”
That’s a killer opportunity for Dr. Yuksel to advertise nasolabial fillers and blepharoplasty services, but doctors speculating on the treatments that people who aren’t their patients have received based on some red carpet photos is probably a worse look than anything Zellweger did or didn’t have done.
And, sure, she does look a little different, especially around the eyes. But the judgments going around Zellweger over the past 24 hours have been weird, and it’s hard not to read this as the Internet condemning the actress for being 18 years older than she was when America fell in love with her.
One thing that Dr. Yuksel doesn’t mention is that, even if he’s right that “the most significant procedure” Zellweger had done is a blepharoplasty, that’s an operation that people with heavy eye lids like the ones that Gawker/et al lament no longer seeing on Zellweger’s face often have for medical reasons. As ABC News reported last year in a story about Medicare covering the procedure, as “the skin around the eyes [that] loses its elasticity” that Dr. Yuksel mentions causes the muscles to slacken, they “not only age a person’s face, they can impair peripheral vision too.”
An actress whose squinty eyes made her a somewhat-unconventional sex symbol in the 90’s is a good candidate to be a person whose squinty eyes might need surgical correction to improve her vision in her mid-40’s, so the hidden implication at Gawker, the Mail, and everywhere else—that Zellweger somehow “ruined her face” because of shameful vanity—doesn’t necessarily hold water even if you accept the premise.
But the question of whether Zellweger had plastic surgery or not, and if she did, if it was for reasons of vanity or because she wanted to be able to see out of the corners of her eyes, are playing the wrong game anyway. Because no matter the situation, the real outrage here is that Zellweger dared get older.
Everybody looks different as they age. Here’s a photo of Matthew McConaughey, Zellweger’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation co-star from 1996:
And here he is on Tuesday:
McConaughey and Zellweger, in fact, are pretty near-perfect parallels in terms of their career arcs—up to a certain point, anyway. Dazed and Confused and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The New Generation, followed by breakthrough roles in 1996 (A Time To Kill, for McConaughey, and Jerry Maguire for Zellweger) and a decade of rom-coms and the occasional prestige role (Cold Mountain, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) to balance out the paycheck work. But McConaughey got a McConaissance in his mid-40s, while Zellweger hasn’t worked since 2009.
Which is to say: A guy like McConaughey can age without worry, and if he has, say, hair transplants (which, as one dude who started balding early to another: yuuuup), no one is coming after him. That’s the business. But Zellweger’s aging leaves her with two choices. If she avoids plastic surgery, she’s Carrie Fisher or Kirstie Alley, essentially unemployable and prominently featured on the “celebrities who aged poorly” lists; if she has it, she has to answer questions about what the hell happened to her face.
Zellweger did answer those questions, though not with the tearful confession that People magazine was presumably hoping for when they asked:
“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,” Zellweger, 45, says of the attention she received after an appearance at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards in Beverly Hills on Monday.
“People don’t know me in my 40s,” says Zellweger, who prefers to lead a quiet life with Bramhall and a close circle of friends. Recently, she pitched in to help her pal and longtime publicist, Nanci Ryder, who is battling ALS, at the ALS Association Golden West Chapter’s annual Walk to Defeat ALS in Los Angeles.
“Perhaps I look different. Who doesn’t as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I’m happy.”
Which is the point, ultimately: We don’t know for sure what procedures Zellweger went through or why, or even if the fact that she stopped working after 2009 was because she wasn’t getting offered decent parts or because she wanted to take a step back and focus on simpler things. And it doesn’t really matter, because it’s her life, her eyes, her face, her career. It’s plausible that the supposition from the Gawker audience—that she had plastic surgery to look younger in order to preserve her career—is true, sure. It’s also plausible that she had an operation to improve her vision after deciding, finally, that protecting a “signature look” for a career that she was less interested in continuing to pursue wasn’t worth it. It’s possible that most of what people are seeing in the photos from Elle are makeup, lighting, and healthy living. And ultimately, none of it matters.
It’s worth pointing out that there are opportunities available to the McConaugheys of the world that don’t seem to come to the Zellwegers—it’s the rare actress who finds herself getting the opportunity to reinvent herself with the best scripts and roles of her career in her mid-40s, anyway—and it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the fact that shaming people in their forties for not looking the way they did when they were 26 is some serious bullshit. But beyond that, all there really is to say is that Renee Zellweger looks like Renee Zellweger: a person who moves through time in the same way the rest of us do (moment by moment, going forward), and expecting that she’d be Bridget Jones or the woman who completes Jerry Maguire forever reveals some ugly sides of us, and next to nothing about Renee Zellweger herself.
(Top image: Reese Witherspoon and Renee Zellweger, October 19th 2014; Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)