What the reaction to Renée Zellweger's face says about us

In the wake of the media frenzy surrounding Renée Zellweger's new face, Nadine Silverthorne reflects on her aging body at 40.

Renee-Zellweger-aging
Photos (left to right): Getty Images; Lee Roth/Rothstock/PR Photos

Full confession: I’ve never really been a big Renée Zellweger fan, although I do believe her performance in Bridget Jones’s Diary is pure comedic genius. And, like the rest of the Internet, I’ll admit that I lost my mind a bit when photos of her latest red carpet outing took over all of my news feeds yesterday. If you were giving birth or had the flu, maybe you missed it, but the 44-year-old star of Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain had some work done. The kind of plastic surgery that makes you go, “Oh my gard! Why would anyone have that done to their face?”

Key complaints include that she’s unrecognizable, or that the plastic surgery is so obvious. Why would she do that to her adorable movie star face?, we cried.

Because we are mean to women when they are young, but we are downright evil to women when their faces and bodies start to grow older.

Read more: Courtney Cox on aging—and chilling with daughter Coco>

I’m a 40-year-old mom of two. I haven’t been out much in the past 10 years since all this mom stuff started. I’m pretty active on social media—I do media appearances for my job—but I believe I have some old friends from my life before kids that haven’t seen my face in a decade. And maybe if I put some of those photos together without an Instagram filter on the recent ones (I love you, Valencia), people might be saying some shiz about me, too. Because we love that, don’t we? We love taking someone down a peg.

Zellweger’s enhancements were obvious, and to that we take offence. The horror! It shows! Who does she think she is, we ask, the late Joan Rivers? Ann Helen Peterson said it best on Buzzfeed: “Ideal femininity never illuminates itself as a construction; it must present itself as ‘natural.’ Which is also why it comes as such a surprise when someone like Beyoncé speaks openly about the exhaustive regimen necessary to get her body into post-baby shape: It speaks truth to the lie of the effortless, immaculate, eternally young and fit female form.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m done lying.

I’ve never been a model or a Hollywood actress, yet how I look has affected so much of my thoughts and actions for as long as I can remember. In my 20s, I wore too much makeup and too-short skirts. I was constantly worried about my skin or cellulite or the size of my thighs, and if I looked sexy enough. In my 30s, I fretted about the stretch marks two pregnancies left me with, the aftermath of breastfeeding on my not-big-enough boobs, about my hair falling out and the C-section scar that left my belly looking like the chin of Peter from Family Guy. The acne that never seemed to go away. The sun damage I accumulated in my 20s while Spring Break-ing in Mexico. The wrinkles forming around my eyes. Call them laugh lines if you want, but I wasn’t laughing about it.

What I did not fully appreciate in the past 25 years is that I had my health. That I had a body and it worked. That I had lots to smile about. That I had sunny adventures with friends, a honeymoon with my best friend. I am starting to see that when I look at the photographs, but it took me turning 40 to get there.

I look tired. At least I think I do. I catch glimpses of myself at 40 in elevators or window reflections and I see the slow slide, the “elevens,” the saggy under-eye area, the inevitable aging. I know that it’s not pretty for women. I know that in another 10 years, I won’t really be anyone’s sex symbol. But did I ever need to be? Maybe that was the biggest lie of them all.

Getting older is a privilege not granted to all. It should be respected, honoured, treated with awe, respect and kindness. I look exhausted because I was up late last night; someone wet the bed or had a night terror, or that last load of laundry needed doing. I have people who love me, who need me, and my face is starting to tell that story. I have the soft belly of someone who would rather race home for dinner than get a workout in, the hips of someone who slung babies on them while taking those tots along for the ride. My body, my face, they tell you of my journey here, to now.

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And so does Zellweger’s. The face we saw this week tells us that getting older in front of the world, in a world where your face equals your next paycheque, is not something one can do quietly. How do you let your face do the talking when everyone has something to say about it?

Nadine Silverthorne lives in Toronto with her husband, two hilarious kids and one self-entitled cat. She spends her work week as Content and Products Director for Today’s Parent, dreaming up all the ways she can get our great content to as many parents as possible. When not sharing details of her life from her iPhone or laptop, you can find her doing something with food: reading about it, stuffing her face or devising creative solutions to get her kids to stop calling her healthy cooking “yucky.”

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