Are the Women of Hollywood Literally Losing Face?

Much has been made in the media about Renee Zellweger’s facial transformation. Regardless of the angle people took in their commentary, the unifying theme was that it was unfortunate. The subsets of these remarks were about the pitfalls of celebrity, the harshness of Hollywood toward aging women and the perversion of societal priorities.

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Has Hollywood become unfair to women over 35? Image source: Glen Scarborough. 

What struck me from that flurry of visceral and vicious reactions were two things:

First, the content in my newsfeed has become ever more trivial and awash in click-bait. That week, ISIS’s growing power grasp, Assad’s unrelenting attacks and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine took a backseat to the fixation on a Hollywood face apparently rendered unrecognizable by some allegedly decent cosmetic surgery.

Second, the commentary was seemed to be coming mainly from women… which has left ample space for a male point of view. Just weeks later, but in what in cyber-time feels like months, I think a quick retrospective is in order.

So, it was October 20, at the Elle magazine Women in Hollywood gala where Ms. Zellweger emerged from half a decade of obscurity. One of the first points made was that Hollywood is cruel to women over 35 years old. Demi Moorereluctantly admits that it’s been hard for her to get desirable roles because of her age.

Another is that there are actresses who we allow to gracefully age, and others who are expected to remain frozen in time:

“Hollywood is horrible to aging women, broadly, but it’s particularly horrible for women whose images are rooted in a youthful form of themselves. That’s why Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon keep playing variations on the same roles, praised for their apparent agelessness, and why Demi Moore and Nicole Kidman struggle to reinvigorate their stardom.”

But we see Hollywood as another public utility, albeit a handsomely compensated one. With social media, we feel exponentially more empowered to directly impact public figures (see: Charlotte Dawson). Sure, celebrity is a Faustian deal: we drop an hour’s wages at the box office to pay the salary of their pool boys. It’s hard to feel sorry for multi-millionaires, no matter how they arrived at their wealth.

But, back to my male viewpoint and my own visceral reaction: my heart goes out to women. My buddy pointed out to me a few years back that treating a girl to a meal is quite a bargain compared to what it costs her to simply step out the door. A nice steak dinner with a bottle of wine comes out to less than a couple of the bottles that line her bathtub.

So when I see what Renee supposedly saw as a necessary surgical procedure, I sympathize–and can’t begin to empathize. In my humble opinion, we men have it easy. Aside from height discrimination, there isn’t much we can’t overcome with some money and humor. Case in point: Louis CK–he makes a living off baldness and self-deprecation. Anthony Quinn siring into his 80s. Harrison Ford with Calista Flockhart, Jack Nicholson still doing his thing.

Ms. Zellweger looks great–for her age, for anyone’s age. But yes, she literally lost face. It’s the face of a double-standard, but the standard is being perpetuated at least as much by women as men. And I sympathize.