Renee Zellweger, Hollywood and Why We Get Bent Out of Shape Over Image…
I really like what Amanda Marcotte had to say about the brouhaha regarding Renee Zellweger looking rather unsurprisingly unlike the person she was 10 years ago the other day. She makes a great point about how our culture seems to want a reality that is not only distinctly unreal, but utterly unachievable. One in which looking like you’re perpetually 25 or 30 years old takes no effort at all.
Of course that’s a ridiculous notion. Patton Oswalt has a story he tells on one of his comedy records about going to the premier of Batman Begins in London several years ago. At this point in his career he was still trying to find his place in Hollywood and was concerned that his appearance was hurting his prospects as an actor. At the party after the film was shown there was a huge spread of fantastic food (as there always is a big events filled with rich and influential people) and no one was eating any of it. As Patton relates, of course they weren’t eating, because this is, in fact, how Hollywood actors stay “thin and cut” – by starving themselves constantly.
I read an interview with Robert Downey, Jr. a few years ago where the interviewer had met him for the interview at his house and spent a couple of days talking to him. In the course of those couple of days Downey really didn’t eat any food. The interviewer asked him about it and he shrugged it off by saying he was doing a “cleanse.”
Disordered eating is utterly and completely normal for film and TV stars. You might even say it’s part of the job. Likewise, women over 40 getting plastic surgery so they don’t look like they are over 40 is, as Ms. Marcotte states in her article, basically part of the job. Where this gets us into trouble is that we don’t acknowledge or recognize these facts about celebrities, actors and other people who make their living off of their looks without a whole lot of tying ourselves into knots.
As Ms. Marcotte suggests, had Renee Zellwegger showed up to her event this week looking 10 years younger than she really is but as if no effort had been expended to get that result no one would have commented on it at all. That’s a problem.
It’s a problem of the same variety as when someone starts a fitness program and expects to transform their physique the way that Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth did for their superhero roles as Captain America and Thor respectively in a matter of a few months. It’s a problem because absent the massive effort and support structure those actors had no one is going to be able to replicate that kind of transformation. It’s the same variety of problem if an average person thinks they can drop 30 pounds in a month the way that many actresses do after giving birth. Again, the headline on the cover of People that says, “Kim lost 30 pounds and got her pre-baby body back in 6 weeks, we’ll show you her plan!” inevitably leaves out the part where she worked at it full time, hired a nutritional consultant to plan her meals which were prepared by a private chef and basically had nothing else to do except work on losing that weight.
It took me over six years of constant work, tweaking, trial and error to lose 50 pounds and get to a point where that change was a permanent one. I am a bit of a pitbull about things. I don’t quit. But I have known so many people, bombarded by images of “effortless” transformations who throw their hands in the air after six months and do quit. They blame themselves. “I don’t have enough willpower.” “I don’t have the right genes.” “I don’t like exercise.”
So, there’s a lot going on here. It’s easy to say “don’t compare yourself to movie stars” but that’s silly and rather pointless. Part of the reason we are fascinated and compelled by them is because they do embody an aspiration or ideal. I think it’s more important to understand that being that ideal takes a metric butt-ton of constant work, and that some of these ideals we have set up deserve some examination and thought. Aspiring to be forever youthful looking is probably not a good thing. On some level it asks women in the industry (and to a lesser degree men) to subject themselves to mutilation. Likewise, idealizing a body composition that is only achievable and sustainable via starvation, disordered eating and obsessive exercise isn’t entirely sane.