As I sat staring aghast at the before and after pictures of Renee Zellweger that circulated all over social media this week I wondered – am I against plastic surgery or just bad plastic surgery? Or at least the extensive kind since bad is clearly in the eye of the beholder when it applies to things like elective medical procedures and reupholstery which, when you stop to think about it, are sort of the same thing.
For those not up to snuff, some rather shocking photos emerged of Ms. Zellweger at a red carpet event where her face was very much unlike the quite famous one we have all come to know since she emerged seemingly out of nowhere as a full blown movie star in Jerry Maguire – a film where she not only held her own against the megawatt presence of a younger Tom Cruise but matched his charisma frame for frame. Needless to say, anyone who has made following the movies their business or even hobby knows that aside from this being not an easy feat to pull off it is actually pretty near impossible to do against the handful of actors we in the public vaunt into cinema royalty in any given generation.
Of course, it’s been almost 20 years since Jerry Maguire and both Ms. Zellweger, all of you and, most importantly, myself are also almost two decades older. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by this now unfamiliar image staring at me in the face that was identified as her face. Even though I am more than a decade older than Ms. Zellweger and on a given day absolutely as vain as any movie star I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help wonder why anyone as talented, accomplished and yes – attractive as she – would choose to alter their physical self to such a very large extent.
Then it hit me – if her alterations simply made her look like a younger version of herself rather than an altered version of, let’s say, her distant cousin raised in Slabovia twice removed – would I have been so troubled by it? Or even noticed? I was quick to comment that this new RZ decision was “sad” and wrote/told those within ear or eye shot on social media to “be themselves” and not adhere to the pressure to “do that to yourself.” Well, whom was I kidding? It didn’t seem to matter to me when I met Jane Fonda last year that at 73 she suddenly looked about 20 years younger. Or that somehow, clearly only through exercise and Scientology, 52 year-old Tom Cruise seems permanently frozen at 38. On the other hand, I was appalled several years ago when I saw the shiny, waxily frozen face of Sylvester Stallone to my right waiting for the valet to bring around his car or the alternately scary images of Mickey Rourke, Kim Novak, Barbara Hershey and Burt Reynolds in recent years in photographs, awards shows, on film and yes, regrettably even in person at the supermarket.
Age is a very, very tricky thing, let me tell you. Physically, psychologically – and in all other ways you can think of. But let’s not get into our mutual expiration dates for fear of depressing the hell out of the room and just stick with the outside wrapping. You don’t want to look like you belong in a rocking chair but at the same time you don’t want to live a pathetically striving existence of trying to compete with people 20 years your junior and then lie yourself into thinking that you appear as refreshed as those that age who are not excessively drinking or drugging up daily over the top doses of some lethal co-combinations or quantities of said substances. Stand next to any healthy individual of that age at your age and the lie becomes too obvious. That is, if you choose to live in reality.
Well, luckily the entertainment business has perfected the art of creating alternate realities and we have perfected incorporating what they sell into our everyday existences. With so much available, the fountain of youth is just one more item to be obtained with one, two or three clicks at the most. True – virtues like intellect, humor, love and decency are what we say we want but they can’t stare back at you in the mirror – either rear view, bathroom or vanity style.
Which brings us back to Ms. Zellweger. In answer to the outpouring of…reaction…to her new look, she issued the following series of statements:
“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…
My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”
That is a lot more than any of us want to know about her life or even have the right to know but let’s not try to pretend it answers the question which is – why does an accomplished, more than reasonably attractive person (Note: I always thought she was flirty and really pretty but lets go with the former) endure the risks of major surgery and perhaps a life-altering change in appearance in order to look…younger? More attractive? Or less or more….???????????
Certainly, Ms. Zellweger is under no obligation to say anything at all. And for those who want to advance arguments, the correct answers are not things like:
- She makes her living as an actress and at 45 years old this is the price that must be paid.
- Plastic surgery is always a gamble and she just got unlucky. Besides, she doesn’t look all that different.
- Why are you specifically raking her over the coals, anyway?
Actors the caliber of RZ play real characters and as they age they have the ability to adapt and become all kinds of more interesting and even older people; to say she doesn’t look all that different is like me trying to pose as a full on Divan rather than a mere Chair; and I am a huge RZ fan not only for her commercial hits like Bridget Jones, Chicago, Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain but in lesser known films like The Whole Wide World, Nurse Betty and My One and Only. In fact, in the latter 2009 road movie she gives a charming performance as the fictionalized version of actor George Hamilton’s beautiful Southern belle mother who determinedly drives cross country with the younger George in tow as life lessons abound. Watch it on DVD or Netflix and see if you don’t agree.
The truth is there is something truly insidious about what the scientific advances in beautifying medical procedures have wrought on our culture. I live in L.A. where so many are surgically enhanced. But this is not limited just to the movies or on the left coast anymore. It’s in most big cities. And smaller ones, too. Go to an upscale restaurant and you see it everywhere. And not just on women. I go to the gym and I see it in the faces of guys I used to know who now have foreheads and cheeks (not to mention other body parts, I presume) that you could bounce a quarter off of. This is the same city I came to more than thirty years ago where I spotted a still dazzling attractive man in his late seventies stumbling a bit tipsy down the streets of Beverly Hills. He was tanned and had deep bags under his eyes and lines on his forehead and cheeks but wouldn’t you know that with his thick black glasses and gray black hair Dean Martin was still devastatingly handsome. And he wasn’t even sober! Not to mention a few years ago at a private screening for eight I also found myself wildly attracted to sixty something year old Helen Mirren, sexy as hell despite wrinkles in her face after a day of filming but with a healthy, quite upright body and refreshingly blunt intellect to match.
We can dismiss all this by saying these are exceptionally attractive people who have aged well but that doesn’t address the very fact that there is a way to still look great on the outside to both strangers and yourself without going under the knife and taking the risk that if she were not forewarned even your own mother might pass you by on the street. That kind of extreme alteration used to be reserved for fictional characters in soap operas and murder mysteries who had committed a crime and needed to change their identities. Getting older is not a cause for either of those.
All of this is not so say one can’t be well groomed and use beauty aids. Do NOT get cute and try to employ the where do you draw the line argument here. You’re in charge of the line and you’re the master (or mistress) of how you look.
Cher, the ultimate show business survivor and, among other things, admitted plastic surgery user, had the best answer to those who questioned her employment of cosmetic procedures to look good and, as she says, “keep the package viable.” And that is:
If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.
I would only add to that statement: There are lots of people who will still find you equally or even more attractive if you choose NOT to do that. Perhaps even yourself.
And that goes double for anyone else – famous, unknown or even infamous – who might be considering cutting into their face now or at some future date. This gets harder to say as you get older but it’s a lot easier to maintain as an alternative as the years go on.
I just had a colonoscopy. I had seven feet of steel camera put up my ass so the doctor could look around and give me an all-clear on colon cancer. This was not plastic surgery, but it was age-related. It is now a rite of passage for men (and women) after age 50. Is it absolutely necessary? No. Is it a good idea and can it give you peace of mind? Yes. Plastic surgery, to RZ, apparently offered some peace of mind, so if she’s happy – fine.
The RZ situation makes me think about:
1) Are we upset that the “Authentic” RZ is no longer available to us? Possibly, especially in a time when everyone is reading labels and attuned to adulterated and overly-manufactured products. Maybe we crave the “real” non-GMO artisanal home-made RZ, and not one that has been made to look more appetizing in a medical laboratory. This craving for the “real thing” has been a growing force in culture for several decades, even though it’s an illusory goal. The RZ we like was probably never really real.
2) Is it just about age and keeping the package viable? If that’s true, then possibly the “new look” RZ will be an effective re-boot of the product. To a younger audience who never saw feisty RZ melt Jerry McGuire, they will just be evaluating this older RZ as a smoothly rendered character, familiar like the slightly plastic characters in so many video games.
3) Possibly RZ has stepped into the “uncanny valley.” The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers. This is the most interesting theory – because if true – there was something about RZ’s “original” features that greatly contributed to her movie stardom (good-looking but not threateningly so.) But now, the “revised” RZ does not have the original subtle combination of winning features, and this could be a deadly career killer.
Last, there is also a decent documentary about how it’s impossible for an actress to remain viable after 40, “Searching For Debra Winger.” Worth a look.
This is so smart and I agree on all counts. We can never know the real Renee but the artisanal one feels so much more appealing than the genetically engineered version. And yes, it’s a bit daunting to even let in the notion that the smoother, more video game iteration might fair better in the current marketplace – but I don’t think so. Unfortunately, the latter notion of the “uncanny valley” might be the case. Even an older looking version of the original feels more appealing – though that is not for the public to decide. If she truly feels better about herself despite what anyone else thinks – as might other folks who continue to have extensive, multiple surgeries that most would fine troublesome, then at the end of the day that is all that matters. But it’s changing the standards of “beauty” and “age” in the world to a ridiculous extent when it involves public figures and this is not necessarily a good thing. I did see “searching for Debra Winger” and it is fascinating. On the other hand, it depends on what kind of public figure via one’s career one longs to be. It gets to the point where an actor with too much work becomes uncastable. They are not their real age and also not their pretend age. They have somehow become an “other.” As for colonoscopies – it’s a rite of passage and not nearly as awful as I had anticipated, especially when the doc told me I was okay.
The most horrendous plastic-surgery fest (and in truth one of the most horrendous culture products I have ever seen is EXPENDABLES 3. I just watched this at home (terrible mistake.) But an amazing train-wreck of formerly A-list talent all jammed into the same senior convalescent film.
I can’t believe Stallone did this. (Does he think it’s “good?”) — But then I suddenly understood the success of this franchise. It’s secretly a zombie movie, where the nearly dead still walk and kill.
I really appreciate this post, and the comments. I had a similar reaction when Tori Amos, who I idolized in the 90s and saw in concert dozens of times, turned up with a “new look.” After my initial feeling of betrayal and shock (because the plastic surgery seemed antithetical to everything Tori had always talked about and radiated in her music and in her interviews), I realized that I had no right to feel anything about her choices of plastic surgery/alteration. I realized that in my younger years, I’d literally made her into an idol – someone/thing that had a power over me which I, myself, gave her – and that in doing so I felt I had the right to expect her image to conform to my personal “version” of her. I hope that makes sense. Anyway, I came to my senses, partly because I grew up and had stopped idolizing her a long time ago, but also because I realized that we have no right to feel ownership over anyone’s appearance – celebrity or otherwise. It’s judgmental, and therefore it’s immoral.
I hear what you’re saying. In this case, it’s not so much idolization or disappointment – though I will cop to being shocked at the images. It’s the bigger issue of our standards of…beauty? youth? relevance?…in society via the knife or the injectables to the face and how it’s infiltrated values and self-worth. It’s an endless cycle that influencing young people, not to mention those middle aged and older. And is dangerous. It’s not just random and people with money anymore. Hence, the RZ occurrence seemed a good way to speak about it in that she is a very public figure and it was timely. But all of many others, as was mentioned, not to mention the myriad that were not. Certainly anybody can do anything they want in terms of their appearance and the only person who owns that is the individual. But what is going on from a societal point of view on this issue is profoundly disturbing. As what is immoral – that is a slippery slope of judgment.
Yeah I do hear you on this – agreed. I was sharing a slightly different take on it. What I meant was that being judgmental of another person’s appearance is what’s immoral.