On October 20, Renée Zellweger caused quite a commotion with her appearance at Elle’s 21st Annual Women in Hollywood Awards. The 45-year-old actress was almost unrecognisable to fans who know her best from her earlier movies such as Jerry Maguire and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Within minutes of her posing for cameras in a little black dress, the Internet exploded, mostly with vitriol, over the fact that her face had changed — and how.
Many joked about Zellweger entering “witness protection”, possibly having undergone a “head transplant”, asking if she switched faces with Robin Wright, and even questioning whether the photos really are of her.
“I hate that we get all in a tizz over what celebrities look like, but Renée Zellweger’s face has been tripping me out for an hour now,” @ hipsterocracy said.
There were a few, though, who defended Zellweger’s new appearance, or at least let the Internet know her appearance was no one else’s business.
“Remember when you’re tweeting about Renée Zellweger/anyone: a person’s body is theirs and your opinion means nothing,” @ tweeteuan said.
“You guys want to know what happened to Renée Zellweger? She AGED. It’s that simple. She got older and she aged. It happens,” tweeted @RenagadeGirl.
The 45-year-old Oscar winner issued a statement to People magazine late Tuesday. “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,” she said. “People don’t know me in my 40s. Perhaps I look different. Who doesn’t as they get older?!”
The star also wants her fans to know that she’s healthy, and has been taking time out to look after herself better: “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… Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted.”
It wasn’t just social media, but news sites as well that jumped right into the fray. “Can I still call you Renée Zellweger? Are you still Renée Zellweger?” the Atlantic rhetorically opined. Gawker ran a post called “Here Are Some Photos of Renée Zellweger”, with photos of the actress in 2003 and 2014, to drive the point home that the two photos looked incredibly different. “Renée Zellweger’s face is the elephant in the room,” wrote Salon.
For LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson described how there are three types of famous women who get plastic surgery. “The two most common are beautiful women who do it before they’re famous (Megan Fox, Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian) and beautiful women who do it to stay famous (Kim Novak, Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman). No one gets angry at Jennifer Lopez for making herself more lovely. Instead we get annoyed at women like Zellweger who belong to category three: quirky actresses who become famous and then agree to change their body and face,” Nicholson writes.
As writer Jessica Goldstein points out in her Think Progress piece: “If we’re going to perpetuate an entertainment industry that fetishes female youth and rejects everything else, we don’t get to trash talk women who choose to alter their looks through whatever means are at their disposal.”
Over at Salon, writer Mary Elizabeth Williams ponders, “To comment on the dramatic change seems cruel, while to not comment on it would seem an act of absurd denial.”
There have long been rumours of the actress going under the knife. But two cosmetic surgeons told Live Science that her transformation could be the result of relatively minor procedures, as well as weight loss and normal ageing. The biggest difference in Zellweger is around her eye area, Dr Michael C Edwards said.
Dr Robyn Silverman, a body image expert, summed up all the criticism succintly. “Society seems to demand a forever-young appearance by way of zero effort and freakish genetics,” she told Yahoo Style.
Zellweger’s transformation has already influenced pop clutute. ABC’s new sitcom Selfie poked fun at her appearance in an October 21 episode, with a reference to “reinventing looks”.
Compiled by Aleesha Matharu