No one’s impervious to the outrageous expectations we put on women in the public eye. Even in private, an eye lift doesn’t seem so bad.
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Last week I had one of those horrible colds that make you wish there was a worse word for it than a cold. Aside from the red nose, I noticed my eyelids were swollen—I call those Tippy the Turtle eyes. It occurred to me between bouts of self-pity that those eyelids might actually be a thing that will be permanent in my future. Today I’m 47, I say that with pride because on Saturday I’m going to turn 48. I started googling eyelid lifts and realized that, unless they started doing Kickstarters for vanity surgery, I was shit out of luck. I tucked it in the back of my mind where it stayed until yesterday when all of my social-media feeds were erupting in a frenzy over Renee Zellweger’s new face. (I had not realized this until yesterday, but apparently she’s been out of the public eye for four years.) And yes, I looked and I was bummed because I truly hate plastic surgery—my mom’s two older sisters had face lifts and eye lifts and I always thought (and think) that my mother is so much more beautiful and soft looking. But my mom lives in the woods, and squirrels don’t judge. And I am a writer who goes from sweaty gym clothes to jeans and a hoody that has my kid’s middle-school name emblazoned on the front, and rats don’t judge.
I know I used to mock celebrities who had excessive plastic surgery (okay, I still do but never publicly! And never on a Sunday!), but in the past couple of years I’ve had my turtle eyes opened. When Kim Novak was mocked at the Oscars and admitted how hurt she was, that she’d been terrified about appearing in public for the first time in years (she is FUCKING 81 YEARS OLD) and she just wanted to look her best, I felt heartbroken. I think after reading about her response, everyone got a grip and felt pretty bad.
Then last week, Frances McDormand came out against plastic surgery in the New York Times. “Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45—sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally,” said McDormand, who has been married to director Joel Coen for 30 years, “Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.” And I loved her for saying it, but let’s face it, Frances McDormand and Renee Zellwegger are two totally different people with two totally different kinds of careers. Frances was never the girl in Jerry Maguire. Renee was not Marge in Fargo.
It’s not news that male actors aren’t under the scrutiny that women actors are—they have eons longer on the screen playing to younger and younger women. They are allowed to age and have gray hair and it just ain’t so for the gals.
I’ve been working on a book about celebrity for the past couple of years and interviewing actresses, like the lovely Julie Warner who has told me that she fields all kinds of questions from people who might cast her: “Is she fat?” “Does she look old?” And it KILLS me—she’s a knockout and a fabulous, crazy-talented actress. She’s smart and sane and down to Earth, and this crap even gets to her.
I think about one of my favorite Tina Fey quotes: “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”
And that’s comedy! Not drama or romance. My guess is that Renee was not home alone with a cold thinking about her eyelids or her forehead; she’s surrounded by managers and agents and stylists and people who MAKE MONEY FROM HER and they obviously made her think whatever she did was a good idea. I’m pretty sure her motive was not to get the internet to break out in guffaws. And I am heartbroken for her. The idea that she is 45 years old—two years younger than me (until Saturday) and she’s being laughed at for trying to look younger and fresher and more like she used to in a business where you need to look younger and fresher and more like you used to! I mean look at Kenny Rogers. Clearly, money and access to the best plastic surgeons does not guarantee the results you want.
According to Renee, who felt forced to answer the critics, the change in her look is “from living a happier, healthier, fulfilling life.” What a bummer that her reentry into the public eye was met with this reception. I hope she’s happy and healthy enough to rise above it.
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