It’s hard to please the media. Between tabloids, late night talk shows, and celebrity gossip columns, people who are constantly in the spotlight can never win. While both men and women are scrutinized for their looks, there seems to be a crucial difference in how media views aging. Aging men are often seen as distinguished and experienced, while women are viewed as old maids who are past their prime. Women are judged especially hard when it comes to aging and are constantly being pressured to look eternally youthful, a standard that, of course, no one can obtain.
Last week, talented actress Renée Zellweger revealed a new look at the Elle Women in Hollywood awards show. Monday night, Zellweger showed up to the event and walked the red carpet appearing glowing and healthy. However, reporters did not comment on this. Instead, they commented on how Zellweger, who is well known for her distinctive and easily identifiable facial features, appeared to be almost unrecognizable. While there was a noticeable difference in how she looked, it wasn’t like she had been replaced by a goat in a dress- it was still clearly the skilled actress audiences love. Reporters and journalists alike were quick to attack this new look, some saying she looked like a Madame Tussaud wax figure, others saying her new appearance was something she “won’t be able to live down” (Boston Globe, 2014). Consulting plastic surgeons, news channels and tabloids were both reporting that this new look was due to plastic surgery gone awry, citing every surgery from botox to fillers to removal of eyelid skin. Despite reporters’ already harsh criticism, Twitter users were quick to question what Renée Zellweger “[had] done to her face” and how she could “do this to herself”, only making matters worse (2014).
People everywhere were quick to judge her appearance, but what people did not care to ask was if the actress herself was happy with her appearance. In fact, according to a recent interview with People Magazine, she is “glad folks think [she looks] different” (2014). Since dedicating herself to a less rigorous schedule, she is happier with her life and her new appearance- and that should be all that matters.
The anonymity of the Internet, as well as the distant relationship between celebrities and reporters, made it easy for people to viciously attack Zellweger’s new look. Instead of talking about things that really matter, like how talented she is or the new film she is starring in, the media was quick to defer to her appearance. It should not matter what a person looks like at any age, nor should we be so obsessed with how others look. If someone is unhappy with how they look, why shouldn’t they be able to change it and who are we to call them out on it?
Even when society does comment on someone’s changing image, this kind of criticism only reinforces the idea that youth and beauty are what our culture values most. Treating people harshly for wanting to be happy and confining women to ridiculous beauty standards is something that should not be happening. If people put half as much effort towards tackling greater issues as they do into tearing down public figures, the world would be a better place.
Maddie Gallegos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.