Moving Parts

Uma Thurman’s New Face Freezes the Internet

Will tabloids ever allow celebrities to age or look as they want, without constant gawking and shaming? Not likely, as the newly smoothed actress is discovering today.

02.10.15 8:55 PM ET

“What has Uma Thurman done to her face?” the Daily Mail shouted Tuesday, demanding answers right away—or, second best, its readers to weigh in. Well, what has Thurman done? Put her nose where her mouth should be? Stuck an ear to her chin? Oh, she just looks…smooth.

Thurman’s crime is that, like Renée Zellweger a few months ago, she doesn’t look how she did when she played a really famous part in a movie quite some time ago.

And yes, Thurman may have had something “done” to her face. But her face doesn’t look that different. She hasn’t morphed into Jennifer Lawrence.

In Zellweger’s case—way more radical a change than Thurman’s—she no longer looks like Bridget Jones. In Thurman’s case, she doesn’t look like how she did in Pulp Fiction, crawling around with a black bob. Twenty years later both actresses must endure having their then-and-now faces planted alongside each other.

“The 44-year-old actress turned heads for all the wrong reasons as she stepped out with a suspiciously smooth forehead and puffy face along with an extremely tight smile,” said the Mail of Thurman, armed with its best, judgiest magnifying glass.

Surgeons told the Mail that Thurman looks as if she has had eye bag removal, fillers around her mouth, and chemical peels.

Us Weekly was much nicer, opining that while Thurman “looked almost unrecognizable,” it might have been due “to a lack of makeup around her usually very distinctive eyes.”

Hollywood Life, on the other hand, said her look didn’t just make the actress look younger, “but like a stranger!”

OK, this is getting silly. Uma Thurman looks like Uma Thurman. While beautiful, her look isn’t fixed in our minds. She could walk past us on the street, and we would probably not register it. It’s to her great credit as an actress and a public figure that her look isn’t that defined.

Yes, both she and Zellweger look different. Perhaps it’s Botox, perhaps there has been surgery, perhaps it looks jarring to some. But the same papers and websites who profess such shock at these women’s changed faces also regularly regale us with tales of the latest plastic surgery procedures, Botox and filler treatments, and chemical peels. They want us to buy into this madness, yet revel in the celebrities who do it too obviously.

Perhaps those journalists and editors indulging in this no-win sport of ridicule and shaming would like to put photos on the page of them from 20 years ago, alongside pictures of themselves today, so we can compare them as stringently as they demand we compare the facial transformations of Zellweger and Thurman.

The same papers and websites pile on like jackals around a fresh sheep’s carcass if a woman is having a bad hair or makeup day on a red carpet, on their way to the store, or leaving the gym. So even if they look the same as they once did—even without a facelift, if they look just as they look every day, no chemicals or scalpels—it’s not as if they can escape the scrutiny.

And while the red carpet can make us all look like deer in the headlights, these are actresses with faces they still use for work. We are in a frozen world. Turn on your TV. By the magic of extreme makeup, airbrush, filters, editing technology, colorists, fillers, Botox, or surgeon’s knife, not many people’s faces move that elastically these days. And still we watch them aspire to emote. We’ve become used to faces not being entirely natural.

The reaction to Zellweger and Thurman shows how conservative we are when confronted by the too-obvious manifestations of the cosmetic progress that our media itself promotes. We recoil at faces too obviously changed. They are judged to have gone too far.

Yet what kind of attention, and pressure to look younger, got the same women running to their doctors’ and surgeons’ offices in the first place? What’s really ridiculous is a society so focused on defying aging.

If we’re going to become so unforgiving about men’s and women’s looks as they get older, we have to become a lot more understanding when they start showing up on the red carpet looking radically different. Our looking-glass society has led us to this frozen-expressioned place. I’m more revolted by that than by Zellweger’s and Thurman’s changed faces.