Renee Zellweger, plastic surgery and the lure of becoming generic | Women's Agenda

Renee Zellweger, plastic surgery and the lure of becoming generic

I have always loved Renee Zellweger. I loved her in Jerry Maguire, I loved her as Bridget Jones, I loved her in virtually every role I saw her play. She is six months younger than me and, to me, an iconic actress of our generation. She brought the beloved Bridget Jones to life, and she so beautifully encapsulated her adorable, awkward quirkiness that she will forever be associated with that role.

But the person who played that role is gone, because that adorable, quirky face has suddenly completely disappeared.

Renee Zellweger appeared yesterday at the 21st annual Women In Hollywood awards looking unrecognisable. Her iconic face, with its squinty eyes and arched brows and full cheeks has gone. Her squishy mouth remains, but the rest is completely changed. Renee Zellweger has transformed from Bridget Jones to Generic Blonde, and I feel genuinely, seriously disconsolate.

Before I am deemed a judgemental cow, let me state for the record: I support any woman’s right to choose to have plastic surgery. And any man’s right, too. Hell, I had my ears pinned back a couple of years ago, just because I hated them. If you want Botox, or a tummy tuck, or fillers, or a boob job, or an all-over body transformation, do it. It’s your choice. I stand by you. I am not judging Renee Zellweger. Truly. 

But I do feel sad. Though we are not our faces – any more than we are our hair colour or our toenails – the idea that we can completely divorce ourselves from our appearance is disengenous. Anyone who has seen a small child cry when dad appears without his beard for the first time, or when mum gets a drastic new haircut, knows that our feelings towards others are informed by the entire package – the voice, the face, the body, the character.

Renee Zellweger – as Bridget Jones, as Dorothy Boyd, as Ruby Thewes – was a package. She had a high, girlish voice, chubby cheeks and squinty eyes. That is how we knew her. That is how we recognised her. And whilst the voice, presumably, remains, the rest of those trademark qualities are gone. And that is sad for someone like me, who will miss her. The Renee I knew will not be appearing in any more movies. New, Generic Blonde Renee will be taking over. I’m sure Generic Blonde Renee is as fine an actor as the old Renee… but she won’t be her.

Now, I could ramble on about the pressure on women in Hollywood to stay young and gorgeous (and on men – there are plenty of male actors who look suspiciously younger than their years), and how her changed appearance is no doubt a product of that pressure. But I think it’s something slightly different. To me, this is more reminiscent of Jennifer Grey than Joan Rivers. Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing, whose career took a serious nose-dive when she had surgery on her prominent, er, nose. She looked classically prettier after surgery, sure – but she was no longer Jennifer Grey. She was just another Generic Brunette, and the world lost another uniquely attractive actress.

The pressure to conform is as strong as the pressure to stay young. The pressure to have the right nose, the right eyes, the right ears (yes, I’m listening), the right boobs, the right butt, the right hair, the right look. Until more of us resist, until more of become comfortable being unique, we will become more and more generic, making it harder and harder for those clinging to their uniqueness to stay strong.

I will miss Renee Zellweger, just as I missed Jennifer Grey. I hope that other women of less conventional beauty – whether famous or not –  resist because we don’t want a world of Generic Women. My ears are now more conventionally attractive, but today, that doesn’t make me feel proud.

What is your view on the lure of plastic surgery?

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