Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Is Different Than Different ...

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, I worked at the Chicago Tribune. Looking back, my job wasn't particularly stressful, and yet, when I worked there, I arrived at a point at which I was chugging Mylanta straight from the bottle and subsisting on a diet of Lender's garlic bagels and Diet Pepsi. It was about all my stomach would keep down.

Consequently, I lost a lot of weight.

So much so that one day, not long after I had left the Tribune, I spied myself in a full-length mirror and I didn't recognize myself.


I stopped and stared and tried to make my eyes and my brain arrive at a consensus. Yes, that woman in the mirror was me but hell if I could make myself understand that.

It was truly disconcerting.

Maybe my brain is wired differently than other people's brains. But yesterday, when I saw this ...

... I had the same disconcerting feeling again.

I still do.

If you showed me that image yesterday before I knew the story behind it and asked me, "Who is the woman on the left?", I would have said, "Renee Zellweger." And then if you asked me, "Who is the woman on the right?", I would have said, "I have no idea. Who is it?"

I wouldn't have said, "Hmm, she kind of looks like Renee Zellweger. Are they related?"

I wouldn't have made any association to Renee at all.

To me, those images look like entirely different women.

A friend on Facebook got a little testy with me, demanding to know what seemed so different to me about her two looks.

Looking more closely, yes, her lips are the same. And yes, her nose is the same. Her eyes are what are completely different, but look at how much difference they make.

I read this piece a few minutes ago, which begins with this lede:

"All Renee Zellweger did was what we told her to do: look different."

It goes on to discuss what demands are made of women to look different every day.

Oh, I agree.

Women – and yes, men, too, but this post is about women – are told every day that we should be thinner and we should have thicker, shinier hair and for the love of God, that thicker, shinier hair shouldn't contain any grey. We should have whiter teeth and we surely should never, ever, under any circumstances let on that our skin contains pores. Our lashes should be fuller – we might need a prescription to brush on every night to grow lashes if we lack them – and our lips should be fuller and our skin should be supple and would it kill us to slather on a lotion that contained a bit of bronzer or tanner and some sparkle, too? Because it's not enough to have soft, tan skin, we should shimmer, for God's sake. Honest to God shimmer. Like the air around a unicorn. We should do everything possible to hide all evidence of cellulite and stretch marks – even though it's not really possible – and we should definitely have bodies that look like Victoria's Secret models.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, we're told that every day. And it's exhausting. And it takes its toll on our psyches because not even models look like models. They're airbrushed and Photoshopped into fictions of themselves.

But Renee doesn't look different to me. She looks unreconizable.

And some women are saying, "So what? Good for her! It's her face!"

And I don't begrudge her her face. She says she's happy. I'm glad she's happy. Good for her for being happy.

I'm just saying that – to me, anyway – she doesn't look like the same person.

And maybe that was her intent. But if you've shown up for all of your career with one face, and then you show up one day with a different face, yes, people are going to say something, not to be unkind – at least, that's not my intention – but because it's a disruption in what we've come to expect, whether or not those expectations are valid.

Plastic surgery is common. I get that. And while I think Meg Ryan, for instance, didn't enhance her face with her plumped-up lips, I still recognize her as Meg Ryan. I think Jennifer Grey looked fine before her nose job, but I see pictures of her now and I still see her, I just see her with a different nose.

But our eyes are a different matter. And that's what different about Renee's transformation. She's transformed the one feature that, for most of us, stays the most constant. Paul Newman's eyes were Paul Newman's eyes even as he aged. We can often identify a person just by their eyes, even if we can't see the rest of their face.

I suspect this story will go away after today or once the images of Before Renee and After Renee are seen by a wide enough swath of people that the change no longer comes as a surprise.

But I'm thinking there won't be a third installment of "Bridget Jones."


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