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In defense of Renee Zellweger: 22 thoughts about a startling new face

Renee Zellweger hit the red carpet at the Elle Magazine Women in Hollywood awards this week looking dramatically different, prompting rumors of plastic surgery. (Video: Reuters)

1. On Monday night in Beverly Hills, Elle magazine hosted its “Women in Hollywood Awards,” a standard evening of showbiz self-congratulation animated by a gentle pro-feminist spirit. On Tuesday morning, all anyone was talking or writing about from the event was Renee Zellweger’s face.

2. She looked … different. Maybe not bad. Just not at all like herself.

3. UK Mirror: “What happened to Bridget Jones?” “Is that you, Renee Zellweger?” “Fans: Renee Zellweger nearly unrecognizable after mysterious facial changes.” Random (but representative) person on Twitter: “Umm is this Renee Zellweger or are we at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum?”

4. The shock that greeted a 45-year-old Oscar winner’s makeover indicated that our society has grave concerns about chasing a youthful look — likely through cosmetic surgery. The data suggests otherwise. Americans had more than 11 million cosmetic procedures in 2013, according to stats from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery — 12 percent more than in 2012, and six times more than in 1997. Let’s just hazard a guess that the number of per capita “procedures” is somewhat higher in Los Angeles than in the U.S. as a whole.

5. So maybe we don’t have a problem with anyone having cosmetic surgery. Maybe we just have a problem with people who get caught having it.

6. Or maybe it’s just so commonplace that even those of us who disapprove can’t quite tell anymore when we’re seeing a face that’s been fixed versus one that’s untouched.

7. Certainly, no one in the entertainment industry seems particularly eager to talk about it, at least as it pertains to themselves. There’s a lot of hairsplitting: It’s not for me, but . . . “Never say never,” Naomi Watts told an Australian magazine vaguely, “and I certainly don’t judge anyone who does it.” “I don’t think anything’s wrong with plastic surgery,” Courteney Cox hedged in an interview with In Style, but, “I don’t understand when people change drastically.”

8. But Frances McDormand is talking about it.  “Something happened culturally,” the proudly wrinkled actress, 57, recently raged to the New York Times. “No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face. . . [My husband] literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done.”

9. When she was 35, Judith Light was cast as the spunky single mom on “Who’s the Boss,” love interest to Tony Danza, who was two years younger. We saw her most recently on “Dallas,” at 63, and the actor playing her son was only three years younger. This happens so often in Hollywood we can’t even enumerate it.

10. Face it: They’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t. A high-profile woman who looks her age is said to have let herself go; one who has obviously erased some years is called vain and desperate.

11. Unless, of course, they’ve had really really good work done — such expensive and elaborate work that we can’t see the seams. Then we often judge that they are indeed “aging gracefully.” Whatever that means.

12. Sample captions on the photos of the event published by the Mail Online: “Renee embraced Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine, who looked incredible for 80.” “Speaking of evergreen: American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy embraced his muse, Jessica Lange, who isn’t looking so bad herself at 65.” For those of you keeping score.

13. Kim Novak was widely mocked when she showed up at the Oscars with a preternaturally puffy face. Twenty years ago we might have made the same cracks about an aging star, but it’s unlikely she would have heard us. Instead, the 81-year-old felt the need to explain herself on Facebook: “I’m not going to deny that I had fat injections in my face. They seemed far less invasive than a face-lift.” It sounded like an apology.

14. Zellweger was 27 when she became a star in “Jerry Maguire,” 18 years ago. She had a startlingly unconventional beauty — those squinchy eyes, those chipmunk cheeks, that kewpie mouth, bursting with youth. Did she become a star despite that face, or because of it?

15. She was 35 when she won an Oscar for “Cold Mountain.” That was 10 years ago. Her last major theatrical release was “Case 39,” a horror flick that bombed at the box office. That was five years ago.

16. Look, obviously she did something. Obviously, it was a mistake. Maybe this wasn’t the look she was going for either, though.

17. Jennifer Grey, the long-ago star of “Dirty Dancing,” once said that she regretted her nose job: “I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous.” You probably saw a lot of people making that comparison on Twitter Tuesday.

18. At the 2009 Oscars, we saw Melissa Leo up close and were transfixed by the delicate spiderweb of fine lines around her eyes and mouth. Nothing unusual on a woman in her late 40s. It’s just that literally no one else on the red carpet had them.

19.  A couple years later, it was the deep forehead creases on Sean Penn that preoccupied us. Every other man in the room had a brow like a freshly ironed sheet.

20. Proposed: As long as there are going to be 11 million “procedures” a year, maybe the industry should introduce a class of independent consultants. Professionals who can tell you what to do to your face — and what not to do — so that you’re not getting this advice from the doctors with a profit motive to do more.

21.  By the end of the day, Twitter sentiment seemed to have swung from “what did Renee Zellweger do to her face?” to “leave Renee Zellweger alone.”

22. Sadly, that’s probably not the look she was going for either.

Jennifer Garner, Jessica Lange and Tina Fey were among those honored for their work in film at Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood Awards. (Video: Reuters)