Published on October 22nd, 2014 | by Darren Byrne0
The New Look Brand Zellweger
I was called out last night for retweeting what I thought was a fairly amusing tweet by a PR company. I scoffed at first, but then I started to wonder if I was wrong. Have I become one of those guys who objectifies women? Am I sexist? I was always so proud of my liberal, forward thinking attitude. Have I been deluding myself?
Well, no! And yes, also, kinda, just a little.
On Tuesday evening, the Internet and celebrity media erupted with photos, comments, criticisms and jibes at Renée Zellweger’s apparent new look at the 2014 Elle Women in Hollywood Awards. Surgery? Botox? Nips? Tucks? Lifts?
There are reasons that Renée Zellweger’s new look, her plastic surgery self-improvements, have garnered such fervent responses, both negative and positive, in recent days. Furthermore, there are reasons people feel justified in commenting and joking and offering lengthy opinion pieces (myself included).
I never weigh in on Lyndsay Lohan’s latest morose, misguided mugshot, I don’t comment on Beyoncé’s post-pregnancy paunch, I pay no heed to Catherine Zeta’s cellulite or Madonna minus make-up.
So, what made me immediately think it was fine to say, “wow, Zellweger’s had work – it doesn’t even look like her”?
She’s a brand! Well, that’s true. She has taken her name, her face, her body and all but patented it. She pays agents, stylists, personal trainers and marketeers large sums of money to help sell her brand. When Coca-Cola change the look of their bottles, I’m allowed to comment on that, negatively or positively, and no one criticises me. At the very least, they don’t castigate me for having an opinion on the new look. So, I should be able to have an opinion on Brand Zellweger’s new face, right?
Well, wrong! Every celebrity is a brand. They all carefully package and sell themselves, to varying degrees of success, and I don’t offer my 140 characters to their disastrous award show dresses, latest hair mishaps or monstrous make-up decisions. It can’t be the fact that Zellweger is a brand that justifies my two cents. It’s part of it, but not the whole story.
Is it down to how dramatically changed she is? Is it the Jennifer Grey effect?
For those of you too young to remember, Jennifer Grey was once the next big thing. She was in this small movie called Dirty Dancing. You may have heard of it. Flying high on the movie’s success, she decided to treat herself to something she always wanted – a nose job. And yes, she looked stunning afterwards, but she stopped looking like herself and the work quickly dried up. Who put Baby in the corner? Baby did, Baby put Baby in the corner.
So look at this picture. There’s no doubting it. That’s a beautiful woman. She’s attractive, well-dressed and smiling. But that’s not the Brand Zellweger I and everyone else in the world knows. Maybe it’s just stage one of her and her manager’s rebranding campaign, Project RZ Relaunch, but for the moment, I don’t like New Coke.
There’s my justification for commenting on Renée Zellweger’s new look then. She’s a brand, true. But she’s a brand that had a literal facelift, a complete change from that which we all know and have known for years.
Nope! That’s not enough. It certainly helps me argue my justifications, but it’s just not good enough and it’s lazy. Plenty of celebs have gone through seismic shifts in their looks over the years: Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman, Christina Aguilera, Madonna (the Queen of reinvention), Mischa Barton, Victoria Beckham. All of these are arguably brands that have seen great change and I never felt justified, nor have I particularly wanted to share my thoughts on their changed selves.
Is that it then? Have I actually become a sexist, a misogynist, another man who haplessly jumps on the woman-judging bandwagon, mindless of the consequences?
Did you really think I’d give up that easily?
Brand Zellweger is very different to these other brands. Renée has made a career out of welcoming the public’s judgment on the characters she has portrayed. We’ve always been in on it with her. So, why the surprise now when all we’re doing is participating in the same game Brand Zellweger carefully constructed over the last 15 to 20 years?
Consider Renée’s introduction to the zeitgeist. She played the wonderfully beautiful and surprisingly troubled Gina in 1994’s Empire Records. Scantilly clad for much of the film, her character’s main crisis point is her belief that all she has to offer the world is her looks. She has no belief in her own mind, no self-confidence. Renée Zellweger’s first significant role immediately sets her up as someonoe who is wrapped up in our culture’s obsession with image and beauty and she uses that to garner our sympathy and win us over.
In Jerry Maguire (proof positive of her excellent acting abilities), she plays a youthful beauty, drawing us in with a down-to-earth naivety, acutely aware of her looks at all times however. A collection of standard rom-com’s came next. Unsurprisingly, as she was the starlet of the moment and made use of that fact.
But then Brand Zellweger found its footing. Obviously, I will now spend some time on Bridget Jones.
Zellweger purposely dressed down. She purposely gained weight. She purposely puffed up her cheeks, smacked on a dopey grin and donned a one-of-the-people British accent in order to pick apart society’s ideals and perceptions of beauty and what it is to be a woman in today’s world.
Bridget Jones was not Julia Roberts. Bridget Jones was not Meg Ryan. She was not Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz or Kate Hudson. She wasn’t even Renée Zellweger. Bridget Jones was a real, everyday woman and she was truth as far as millions of women worldwide felt. Brand Zellweger massively capitalised on that and there is no doubt that the Brand happily accepted that these millions of women felt Renée was one of them. The Brand used that goodwill to forge a strong career. Even her stunning performance in Chicago was all about an everyday woman striving for societal success.
Renée Zellweger has been out of the limelight for almost five years. This week, at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards she presented a very new look. Reports vary, but it’s obvious she’s had “some work done”. And there is nothing wrong with that. She’s more than entitled to do whatever she wants to herself, her face, her body. But Brand Z cannot and should not be shocked that millions of people have opinions. She was “one of us”, she was of the people, she was down-to-earth and real.
Who is this person on our screens now? We’re justified in asking. I’m justified in commenting. Is it cosmetic surgery? Is she trying to build a new image? Is she worried about the Jennifer Grey effect? Is she returning to Bridget Jones? Could she? Should she?
I do think I’m justified in asking these questions and I do think I’m justified in retweeting an amusing tweet from a PR company about a website facelift. Oh, and I don’t work for Elevate. Although, if they’re hiring…
I want to briefly touch on feminism and ageing in Hollywood. If you were paying attention, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention a single man in my article. I didn’t mention any male celebrity’s facelift or tummy tuck. I avoided Mickey Rourke’s fall from grace, Jack Nicholson’s sense of style or Christian Bale’s ever fluctuating waist line.
Why? Hollywood has a disgusting attitude towards woman and particularly in the imbalance between how men and women are treated. Worse still is the attitude towards those who are getting older. Men in Hollywood are allowed to age gracefully or disgracefully without there being a disproportionate effect on their careers or their role opportunities. Woman, on the other hand, can expect their Hollywood careers to begin nose-diving from 40 onwards. For every Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange and Helen Mirren, there are thousands of forgotten starlets. I could harp on this topic for 20 more pages (yes, I do write things down in my notepad before typing them up) but I think this is enough for one day.
My questions to you are not based around what you think of Brand Zellweger’s new look (incidentally, I sincerely hope this is a fresh start – I would love to see what Renée does next on the big screen). I want to know if you agree that we are justified in opining on Brand Zellweger. Or does it make us sexist, small minded or worse, mindless media drones?