Renee Zellweger doesn't want you "digging for nefarious truth"

The actress claims she's "peaceful" -- and expects us to leave it at that

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 22, 2014 2:08PM (EDT)

Renee Zellweger     (AP/Jordan Strauss)
Renee Zellweger (AP/Jordan Strauss)

I'm still on your side, Renee Zellweger. But, c'mon. Let's be for real here.

The actress created a stir this week when she appeared at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards on Monday looking drastically and undeniably changed. Her face was thinner, shiny and taut. But it was her wide eyes – the peepers that in the past had given her that trademark squinty gleam -- that rendered her whole face nearly unrecognizable.

What followed after the photos emerged was a collective gasp of surprise, and a scramble to figure out how to talk about it. When a celebrity appears in public looking so dramatically altered, it would be ridiculous to quietly pretend nothing has changed. That's not an invitation to make fun of the person for her appearance. It's simply a statement of the truth that change often demands acknowledgment. Soon after Zach Galifianakis showed up at a screening this month for his new movie "Birdman" looking significantly thinner, he admitted to Jimmy Fallon that he finds the conversation about his body "boring" -- but had the conversation anyway. But it's Zellweger's response to the speculation about her new look that raises more questions than it answers.

Speaking to People early Wednesday, the Oscar winner cheerfully said, "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." OK, let me jump in right here. I am delighted when anyone says she's living a happy, fulfilling life. But "perhaps it shows"? Perhaps it shows when a person gains or loses five pounds. When you have a radically changed face and it makes headlines around the planet, that's not a perhaps.

Zellweger went on to call the commentary around her face "silly" and to say, "It seems the folks who come digging around for some nefarious truth which doesn't exist won't get off my porch until I answer the door ... 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."

If Zellweger has taken stock in the last few years and is feeling wonderful and rested, that's fabulous. I genuinely hope and am willing to believe all of those things are true. But when she starts in with this business about a "truth which doesn't exist," yeaaaaah, I don't know. I don't how much "taking care of" oneself can affect the shape of the entire face and eyes. I'm not saying that such things aren't possible. I'm just pointing out that if you're an actress and you're 45 and your face is so very altered that you look like a different person, maybe, just maybe, there may be another factor. And maybe, if you're going to address the questions, you could not turn it into an accusation of "digging" toward a "nefarious truth"? Because that actually ticks me off.

It ticks me off the same way it ticks me off when Nicole Kidman insists her face is "completely natural." It ticks me off the way it does when I see beautiful actresses well into their golden years looking frozen and waxy. It's that steadfast denial of any outside intervention, the insistence that it's all just good genes and sunscreen and drinking lots of water and being in a happy place in life, that's borderline toxic. It's toxic because the tacit implication is that, hey, this is attainable to everybody. Just make good choices and eat right and find your center. If that's all it takes, then maybe you too can have a super-smooth face and newly big wide eyes in your mid-40s! And that, my friends, is a crock.

We all age differently, and there's no question that some get dealt a better genetic hand than others. But the industry taboo on actors and actresses around any procedures they may have stigmatizes the pursuit of youth. Why else would Zellweger presume that questions around the origin of her changed face are "nefarious"? Zellweger's response -- the same response that nearly every performer has when the subject of cosmetic procedures is broached -- asks that we buy into the notion that faces suddenly change entirely naturally and all by themselves. So get your rest. Eat your vegetables. Be as happy and contented as Renee Zellweger says she is. But don't be surprised if your face, unlike hers, stays the same.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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