Renee Zellweger’s apparent facial transformation has taken the global media by storm, with images of her ‘old’ face being paraded next to her ‘new’ one. Seeing these striking images immediately conjures questions: has she had plastic surgery? What happened to Bridget? But, I feel most importantly, why does everyone care?

Since the initial red carpet photos hit the internet, makeup-less shots of 45 year old Zellweger have appeared. Various ‘expert’ doctors have claimed that she has undergone a blepharoplasty…whatever that is. Whether or not this is true is a topic of much speculation, with the Chicago star denying having had any plastic surgery. Her alleged response to the photographers of these most recent photos was, “Can you excuse me please? I have better things to do and I’m sure you do too.” Apparently we don’t, Renee.

Yes, Zellweger looks almost unrecognisable and it is shocking to see a familiar face transform before your eyes – think of the more extreme case of Michael Jackson – but the instant viral reaction to this Hollywood star has highlighted something even more alarming than the actress’ new brow line. If a woman in the entertainment industry over the age of 40, or even sometimes 30, leaves her body to age naturally or, as the global media would say ‘let herself go’, she will often be ridiculed. If she dares to acquire wrinkles, not be a size 10 or get grey hair, she won’t get work.

However the men can age gracefully, acquire stubble, probably even do the best work of their career and be highly respected. If on the other hand a woman gets ‘work done’, what happens? Yet again she is ridiculed. Plastic, fake, a sell-out. All of these words have surrounded award winning actress Renee Zellweger; a woman who has had her body deeply scrutinised over the past 20 years. She was too fat in Bridget Jones and too skinny in Chicago. Stunning in Miss Potter, but too much of a tomboy in Cold Mountain. What on earth do the media and, let’s face it, us, want from her?

Let’s look at another example. Take dance expert Arlene Phillips who was booted off of Strictly Come Dancing for being too old. I’m not being controversial or exaggerating, that is what happened. Who replaced her? Wide-eyed tight-skinned Alesha Dixon. This phenomena of replacing older women with a younger star is nothing new; this happens from the breakfast news to Hollywood films. What is most striking about the Arlene Phillips example is the age of her fellow judge, Len Goodman. He is 70 years old. Only one year younger than Arlene and, let’s face it, he looks far older yet he continues to judge on this primetime show.

There is a slight caveat to this rule that allows a few older stars to stick around. If you manage to get through the menopause and are still ridiculously good looking, you’re allowed to continue being a success. Judi Dench and Meryl Streep spring to mind as actresses who have been considered to have ‘aged gracefully’ and are respected for their acting ability, not merely their appearance. Yes it is possible to think of more examples, perhaps Emma Thompson or Immelda Staunton, but even these phenomenal actors are now often relegated to the ‘character’ character, the ‘mumsie’ type or even the withered old lady.

For every one of these women, there are 10 men who are their age and are still seen as sexy and talented. George Clooney and Emma Thompson only have two years between them. Alan Rickman is 10 years older than Imelda Staunton. So what do we expect Renee Zellweger to do? If we the public try and turn these talented women into mannequins then that is what they will become. Let us not gawp at cheap shots in Heat and gasp at outrageous comments in the Daily Mail, but instead consider people for their talent and actions, not how well they scrub up for a photo.

Lucy Gray

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