Renee Zellweger has been all over the news recently regarding her facial transformation. This news is so ubiquitous that it twice has made it onto a daily ‘top ten world news items’ email that I subscribe to.
Her new image caused me to do several double takes. I searched her name on Google in order to see even more unrecognizable photos. And I must admit my first few thoughts surfaced quickly: I judged her. Harshly.
‘What has she done to her face?’ I thought to myself. “It’s horrible that I can’t recognize her anymore! WHY would she do that?”
And then the opinion pages popped up all over the internet:
“She shouldn’t have done that to herself- she should be natural!!”
“Goddammit! Why?? She looks totally different! I liked her old face!!”
“The horror!! She looks even older now!”
And like a rapidly dividing cellular organism, the opinionated groups split and split into voices screaming everywhere:
“Be natural,” “Looks like an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PERSON,” “Trying to look younger,” “Horrifying” “Don’t talk about it anymore!”
But we’re talking about it. Even when we shut up, we’re thinking about it. It’s part of our culture to judge and put beauty and the act of aging under a microscope. Celebrities are under the microscope more than non-celebs, but only because they have more photos/video taken of them, and are seen by more people. Aging is judged for us all, and so people who try to combat aging are judged and reviewed even more. And this media frenzy has happened right now because Renee Zellweger seems to have “failed” the aging test.
In our society, women aren’t supposed to look like they’ve aged if they want to be valued; so the question strangles us from a young age: how do we stop letting age show on our faces and bodies? How do we pass the aging test? Can we eat perfectly “clean” and follow the ‘right’ exercise and sleep routines and be balanced and meditate and never stress out? Can we ‘make up for aging’ in some other way, by perhaps excelling with our creative talent (the Meryl Streep argument), utilizing our outstanding intellect, accomplishing our inner goals and dreams? Will these things make us better?
Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but the purpose of all the above achievements and routines was never to make us LOOK better, but to make us BE better.
Becoming a better person inside doesn’t always show physically. It seems fair that inner beauty will always shine through on the outside, but life isn’t fair- when did we ever think it was? It is 100% certain that we will all age. There will be people who naturally look younger when they are older- a combination of luck and some habits and genes. Then there will be people who look their age or older- also a combination of luck and some habits and genes.
If successfully ’passing’ the aging test means looking looking naturally younger or “natural but still very good” then you will have ‘passed’ if you luck out by aging well ‘naturally.’ If you don’t feel like you have aged well naturally, then you’re stuck being judged for ‘looking old.’ So you can try to fix this with plastic surgery, Botox, or other outside help- but you will only have succeeded if the ‘help’ is a secret..if it’s completely and mysteriously invisible.
So the ‘aging test’ goes into super difficult bonus round challenge if you reveal the secret…you’re not allowed to show that you’ve had-gasp!- surgery! You can’t show that you’re trying to beat the system ‘unnaturally’– that’s cheating!
What’s that? Did I just write that we’re set up to fail?
I think so. The system that’s in place is set up to be all but impossible to beat. It’s a system of hypocrisy and double standards, of secrecy and judgement. The only way to beat it now is to join it, to believe in it or live in shame. And that’s not really beating it at all.
Our system is broken. It’s NATURAL to AGE! It’s Natural that age shows on our faces and bodies. But what our culture wants is a youthful look at all costs. So let us not judge plastic surgery. Let us judge our culture.