Renee Zellweger's Face Gets More Medical Scrutiny Than Ebola

The worldwide panic over her new look is rooted in a sense of betrayal to the "be yourself" values that Bridget Jones embodied.

10.21.14 6:50 PM ET

Renee Zellweger’s new look has attracted more medical scrutiny than Ebola.

The Oscar-winning actress appeared noticeably different at Monday night’s Elle Women in Hollywood benefit. Within 12 hours, Zellweger’s years of relative obscurity ended. Her evidently new face became the source of perverse delight and unending scrutiny. The obsession over Zellweger’s physical appearance that began when she bulked up to play beloved Bridget Jones has exploded into derision. 

You can almost hear the cackle behind the U.K. The Mirror’s headline “Is that you Renee Zellweger?” The article draws bold red arrows on her face pointing out what they say is botox, blepharoplasty, and “fillers around her nasolabial folds and cheeks.” The Mirror isn’t going off facts but rather speculation from a plastic surgeon who thinks it’s professionally acceptable to make medical conclusions based on a single photo.

Not to be outdone, the Daily Mail enlisted multiple doctors to determine that “the distance between the brow and her eye is much smaller than before.” Without the slightest hint of self-awareness, the article quotes Zellweger as saying “It’s not very pleasant to read reports which say you’ve gone too far or this or that."

The rush to make a mean fuss over Zellweger’s appearance is all too consistent with the way we’ve scrutinized the actress synonymous with Bridget Jones for well over a decade. Nary a Hollywood starlet avoids scrutiny about her appearance, but the glare has always been harsher on Zellweger because of her role as the iconic Jones, one of the most famous and relatable modern female literary protagonists who struggled constantly with insecurity about her weight.

When Helen Fielding’s books were brought to the big screen in 2001, Zellweger’s weight became Hollywood’s obsession: how she added to her thin frame was drooled over in almost pornographic fashion. When she agreed to do the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the tabloids were even more consumed with what Zellweger was consuming, like her supposed “doughnut diet”.

The reality is Zellweger’s Bridget Jones appeared to be a healthy weight to many viewers because she was. As a chubby adolescent, it was comforting seeing an actress who looked slightly closer to the people I saw in real life, which is probably why I and so many people fell in love with Zellweger’s version of Bridget Jones. It didn’t matter that Zellweger earned an Oscar nomination for Chicago and a win for Cold Mountain, she and Bridget Jones are inseparable.

But perhaps because we loved Zellweger for not being a “stick insect” as Bridget Jones would say, we couldn’t stop tracking her weight. When the Bridget Jones movies ended filming and Zellweger’s weight returned to its former level, tabloids continued to obsess over her poundage.

To a certain degree, there is an irrational sense of betrayal. We loved Zellweger as Bridget Jones for owning her weight, finding love, and never settling for less than she deserved. Zellweger’s subsequent weight loss after the movies implied you couldn’t actually look like Bridget Jones and achieve all that she did. Now that she has once again altered her appearance in dramatic fashion—evidently through plastic surgery—the obsessive scrutiny has returned. Ironically, lost in the over-analysis of Zellweger’s new look is the most important message of Bridget Jones’s Diary: we like you, Renee, just as you are.