Uma Thurman (AP/Andy Kropa)

Leave Uma Thurman alone

The actress shows off a new look, and the media predictably loses its mind


Mary Elizabeth Williams
February 11, 2015 9:45PM (UTC)

If you're a female and a performer and over 40, you must really have to steel yourself for the deluge of commentary about your appearance any time you bravely allow yourself to be seen in public. You're either "amazing" for how you're holding up, or you're an "Oh my God, what happened?" And this time, it's Uma Thurman facing that damning second kind of commentary.

The 44 year-old actress set off a storm of speculation when she appeared on the red carpet in New York City Monday night to promote her new television event, "The Slap," sporting simple, sleek hair, deep red lipstick, glowing cheeks, and seemingly no eye makeup. Her face looked undeniably different from the more traditionally glamorous Uma Thurman we've seen in the past, or even the more low-key woman of "The Slap" trailer. Naturally, this was like chum in the tabloid water, with the Daily Mail unsurprisingly leading the pack and asking the inevitable "Now what has Uma Thurman done to her face?" The paper went on to conclude, "Experts agreed that Uma was looking dramatically different, especially around her eyes and speculated that any work Uma has had done was quite recent." The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, noted, "Her smoothed, once-angular features suggested that it might have been more than makeup that enhanced her latest look." And E! concluded, "Something looks different here... and we can't quite put our finger on it."

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I don't necessarily buy it that we're all just supposed to play along when a performer appears in public looking radically altered. There's a difference between the gross faux headline shockhorror of someone experiencing the natural process of aging, or gaining a few pounds, and wondering what's going on when someone seems to have done some drastic intervention. I don't think it's automatically sexist or ageist to notice that – and I think Hollywood's rather ludicrous cone of silence about actors' use of cosmetic procedures contributes to the problem of overzealous work. I don't think we have to be complicit in that.

But Thurman's case is unusual. Just a few weeks ago, she did an NBC Universal press tour looking very much her familiar self. As far I can tell, the most radical thing about her face Monday is that she wasn't heavily dolled up. Hey, entertainment reporters, have you by any chance ever seen a woman without makeup? I mean, really without makeup, not the "Famous beautiful woman walks in looking fresh faced" celebrity puff piece BS. I mean like what a woman really looks like with just her face.

We are accustomed to famous women walking around in heavy makeup regalia. We have also, in recent years, taken a detour toward a particularly extreme, porn star in the eighties ideal of beauty. Kim Kardashian's heavily lined, boldly contoured, and wildly false eyelashed look is somehow considered totally normal. But let me set you straight – it's the facial equivalent of silicone implants. Regular person eyelashes do not stop somewhere around the eyebrows.

So why did Thurman go for such a different look? Could be any number of reasons. A colleague notes, "As an extreme allergy sufferer I just have to say there are some days when eye makeup is not feasible, no matter how many cameras are going to be around." She has a preschool-aged daughter, and I can attest that I spent at least half of my children's early years coming down from pinkeye. Or maybe she just really wanted to switch it up. On Refinery 29, Thurman's makeup artist Troy Surratt said that they wanted to go for a look that was "more editorial than it was celebrity… sort of a reaction against all the fake lashes we've been seeing on the red carpet."

Sure, there may be more going on here. A makeup artist friend told me Wednesday, "My gut feeling is if you have a 'Holy cow, what has she done?' moment, it's not just makeup. Makeup can change your perception of facial structure, or how the eye is shaped, but I see a lot of women without makeup and this seems different." But I'm still asking why one of the most jaw-dropping moments on television of the past year involved a woman taking off her eyelashes. And I find it pretty crazy that Thurman's appearance was deemed so "shocking" because, ironically, it was so unmade up.

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

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

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