Zell To Pay

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As the worldwide scandal of an actress appearing in public with a slightly different appearance than what the public remembered moved into its third electrifying day, the Internet was ablaze with speculation. What, specifically, had the actress done to herself to change her look so noticeably? How are we, as a society, responsible and complicit for moving her to commit such an atrocity?

The actress, Renee Zellweger, hasn’t been in any movies for a few years, or any good ones for even longer, and she does indeed look a little different than most of us remember: Her squinty little eyes are not so squinty anymore, her round, baby-fat cheeks are not so round, and her skin tone is not so flushed. Since the world demanded answers to this most baffling and important of mysteries, a host of plastic surgeons weighed in on various websites to opine about exactly what procedures she’d had done. Brow lift? Chemical Peel? Botox? Cheek injections? All of the above?

No one seemed to believe Zellweger’s own explanation, given to People Magazine in response to the outcry:

“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 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.”


I have written before about the tragedy of plastic surgery, the rot in our society that moves people to equate any sign of aging with irrelevance, ugliness, and death. It’s sad not just because of what it says about our fucked-up priorities as a culture, but because it almost never works; people who try to stop the aging process via plastic surgery usually start out very beautiful and end up looking with a very bizarre, wax-museum look, swelled in places and shrunk in others, like a funhouse mirror. (See also: Ryan, Meg; Jenner, Bruce; Newton, Wayne; Rogers, Kenny; Rivers, Joan; Love, Courtney; Somers, Suzanne; Rourke, Mickey; Kim, Li’l; and so many more.)

What you don’t see a lot of is people who come out of surgery looking better. Which is why I’m inclined to take Ms. Zellweger at her word (not that it’s any of my business).

While I agree that she definitely looks different, if you look closely at the photo above you’ll notice that none of her individual features has changed: left eye the same, right eye the same, nose the same, mouth the same. Also, she seems to have crow’s feet around her eyes, which is the first thing that a plastic surgeon would go after. They probably throw that in for free with any three other procedures, like a free egg roll.

Still, she has a different quality overall, like a whole different vibe. It looks a little strange and out of context on a red carpet, and most Americans are not used to seeing it from either our movie stars or the people around us, but I think the word I’m looking for is… “healthy.”

In her statement, Ms. Zellweger refers to “exhaustion” and “chaos” and making “bad choices” and “not doing such a good job” with being healthy. In case you don’t speak Hollywood, that means she was drinking and smoking too much at the very least, and was probably into some other bad habits as well. Think about it: her face was kind of ruddy all the time, she held on to the “baby fat” around her cheeks well into her 30s, and she tended to squint. Those are all conditions that can be brought on or exacerbated by your choice of recreational substance.

Also, it looks like she has eased up on the makeup and the eyebrow grooming — her undyed, unplucked eyebrows are almost invisible, which has a bigger effect on someone’s look than you’d think (shave your eyebrows if you don’t believe me) and the bright lipstick she once used to accentuate her very distinctive kisser has been cast aside — plus she has a nice golden tan, which is also a big change.

When I stopped drinking alcohol almost eleven years ago (!) I lost about 30 pounds in three or four months. My long-dormant sweet tooth, whose sugar cravings had always been more than sated by alcohol, returned with a vengeance. I started eating a pint of ice cream almost every night. I had to throw away all my pants and buy smaller ones, and then a few months later I had to do it again. My round, ruddy face became skinny. My neck seemed to get longer, my chin sharper, my jawline more angular. People said I looked different everywhere I went. When I went home to see my family my mother was alarmed that I was on a hunger strike, or had developed an eating disorder or something. I tried to explain that not only was I eating enough, I was eating probably more than ever, but removing 10,000 calories worth of beer every day from my diet was making a big difference in my appearance. I had a drivers’ license photo taken right after I stopped drinking and though the license is now expired, I still keep it on my refrigerator as a reminder of how much different I looked when I was on a liquid diet.

I’ve since seen this with other people I know who gave up booze. I saw one of my best friends from college at a wedding, after losing touch for about 10 years, and before he said a word to me I knew instantly he had quit drinking. I can name two different co-workers from the bar business who sobered up and immediately lost 30+ pounds. This is not a value judgment on drinking or drinkers, it’s just a simple fact that alcohol has a lot of calories and if you stop ingesting all those calories it’s going to change what you look like.

Renee Zellweger doesn’t look like a plastic surgery victim, she looks like she’s spent the last couple of years getting up at dawn, putting on some khaki shorts, and hiking up a mountain with a couple of golden retrievers. And we want to give her shit about that? I agree that people expose themselves to a little ridicule when they succumb to vanity and get a bad facelift, but is a positive change also worthy of all this sniggering? What exactly could she have done that people wouldn’t have shit on?

Again, I stipulate that she looks like a different person. It would be weird not to admit that, or to pretend it weren’t the case. But some changes are for the better, and this is one of them. I hope someone puts her in a movie soon, because I would be interested to see a Renee Zellweger performance where I can see her eyes and she doesn’t look like she’s doing that thing little kids do where they push their cheeks to the front of their face to look like a fat kid.

If there’s one famous person we can all agree has not had plastic surgery, it’s Mick Jagger. Right? But would anyone say his face hasn’t changed? I don’t just mean it’s wrinkly, I mean his cheekbones are more pronounced, his famously plump lips have thinned out completely, his round face is a lot longer — he’s an extreme example, because he’s been in the public eye for much longer than Renee Zellweger, but the point remains: people’s faces change as they get older. If they change them surgically, they lose because they’ve exposed themselves as shallow and vain. If they leave them alone, they lose because they look old. Now we have someone who looks different because she took the best possible option — she got her shit together — and apparently she loses too.

One Response to Zell To Pay

  1. Andy says:

    I don’t know man, I want to believe it for some reason. I mean a rogue terrorist went after cops with a machete this week and for some reason I can’t quit thinking about this chick’s face. I’m sorry, can’t do it. I quit drinking myself, lost weight and started riding my bike, my face got more tone, I look healthier and my family teased me about getting work done. Even said I got more sparkle in my eyes. But their inherent shape did not change. She had those cute droopy eyelids and now they’re standing upright. That couldn’t transform in my opinion from life changes alone.
    Maybe…Maybe.
    What do we know? She’s been an extreme work-out queen. She was getting those Madonna arms before. She hasn’t had good roles of late like you mentioned. She went out of the public eye (Dummie Moore comes to mind) and comes back looking A LOT different. She is possibly another casualty succombing to Hollywood pressure to look younger and lying about it.

    I HATE plastic surgery faces and mourn the loss of Cher’s old 70’s smile with her crooked teeth. Joan Jett even!! Joan Jett! It’s so out of hand. I’m not judging Renee. Society made this monster. We need to allow women (and now men) to age on screen and keep them working and relevant. Older people are cool and have a lot more interesting things to say. We just need to change the perception. I like subtle changes in faces but admit it’s no fun when your own face starts to show it’s not immortal. We’ve given too much power to our youth, who are super cute but certainly are not the most compelling people in the room at any given time.
    You’re a guy and so you’d be more apt to believe this jive excuse she’s giving but I call bullshit.

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