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reaction to renee zellweger highlights sexism in the media

Renee Zellweger in 2010 (Image: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)

Renee Zellweger in 2010 (Image: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)

Last Monday night in California, Renee Zellweger attended Elle’s Women in Hollywood Awards. Everyone was quick to pick up on the fact that the actress looked quite different to the way she had ten years ago, when she starred as the lovable, granny pant wearing Bridget in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

By Tuesday morning, fuelled by the snide comments of the media, the Internet was inundated with reactions of disbelief and even disgust at Zellweger’s physical appearance. ‘What HAS Renee Zellweger done to her face? Bridget actress looks utterly unrecognisable as she steps out with her boyfriend in LA’ a Daily Mail headline screeched, before proceeding to waste almost 2000 words discussing whether or not the actress had had cosmetic surgery.  ‘Is that you Renee Zellweger?’ the Mirror asked. Another article attempted to give Zellweger advice on how to age “gracefully”, making examples out of celebrities such as Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep.

Not one of the articles mentioned Zellweger’s acting prowess or her new movie, The Whole Truth, which is due for release next year. The reaction to Zellweger made clear the sexism that is rampant in Hollywood and the media. It highlighted the ridiculous pressure put on female celebrities to retain their youthful appearances, a pressure that their male counterparts are not subjected to. When was the last time you read an article that focused on the lines on George Clooney’s forehead, or saw a headline that pointed out that Leonardo DiCaprio is no longer the young man we watched in Titanic? Instead, the media applaud male celebrities for the way in which they age, as exemplified in articles such as the Daily Mail’s ‘George Clooney is voted the top silver fox’ or iVillage’s ‘Sexy at every age! Leonardo DiCaprio through the years.’

Meanwhile, female celebrities are criticised as soon as they show any signs of aging. Women should not have wrinkles or grey hair or sagging skin. They should maintain the figure they had when they were in their twenties, or risk being slammed by the media. But, if there is even a slight chance that they had cosmetic surgery in order to live up to these absurd expectations, they will also face ridicule. Cue hundreds of articles that shame them for not aging “naturally” or “gracefully.” Basically, female celebrities are damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t.

Such sexism prevalent in both Hollywood and the media was further confirmed in a speech Jennifer Garner gave at the same event Zellweger attended on Monday night. Garner began her speech by questioning why it was necessary to hold an event celebrating women in Hollywood.  ‘The fact that there even needs to be a Women in Hollywood event is a little bit sad,’ she said. ‘I mean, the men in Hollywood event is every day – it’s called Hollywood. Fifty-one percent of the population should not have to schedule a special event to celebrate the fact that in an art that tells the story of what it means to be human and alive, we get to play a part.’

Garner also spoke about the highly dissimilar ways the media treats her and her husband, Ben Affleck. ‘So for example, my husband and I do kind of the same job, a little bit. Not long ago we both had one of those magical days, we call it a junket, where we both attended these lovely events where people come in every four minutes, they ask the same questions over and over again, you know the drill. We got home at night and we compared notes. And I told him every single person who interviewed me, I mean every single one, and this is true of the red carpet here tonight Elle, asked me, “How do you balance work and family?”’she said.

Garner then revealed that no one had asked her husband about his work–life balance that day. ‘As a matter of fact, no one had ever asked him about it,’ she said. ‘And we do share the same family. Isn’t it time to kinda change that conversation?’

Garner was right. Both her speech and the reaction to Zellweger’s physical appearance highlight the awful forms of sexism that female celebrities are subjected to at the hands of the media. Zellweger’s face should be none of our business, as Candice Chung pointed out over at Daily Life.  The media should be focusing on the accomplishments of actresses, not dedicating articles to cosmetic surgeons picking apart their faces.

3 thoughts on “reaction to renee zellweger highlights sexism in the media

  1. Not true on the sexist side, any time a male celeb gains weight he’s on tv shows as the flabby actor who needs to lose it. The world asked what Mickey Rourke had done to his face, the world wanted to know about Charlie Sheens’ addictions.

    It’s not sexist to ask what a female celeb has done to her face to the point no one recognises her. We didn’t now who she was and couldn’t believe she had changed so much in just a few years. Males have been asked the same thing. Women aren’t the only ones to get plastic surgery, have botox or change their looks completely, you know so it’s hardly sexist.

    • I beg to differ, Lady Jewels Diva. Men are not upheld to the same standard of appearance criticism as women.
      Just one of a million examples: watch your local news. How many women past thirty five are anchors? How many men? Men are allowed to age in public, women aren’t.

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