Renee Zellweger has finally had enough.
In October 2014, the actress stepped out on the red carpet for the first time in almost five years.
The Bridget Jones’ Diary star quickly found herself the subject of tabloid speculation, with many claiming that her face was unrecognisable and that she must have had undergone plastic surgery.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman even went so far as to pen an essay about Zellweger’s face, titled “If she no longer looks like herself, has she become a different actress?”
While many celebrities criticised the piece, and spoke out in defence of Zellweger, the actress herself did her best to laugh off the invasive comments.
"I'm glad folks think I look different,” she said at the time. “I'm living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows."
However, despite the fact that the 47-year-old has repeatedly shot down the rumours, many reporters continue to speculate that she has undergone several plastic surgery procedures.
And, now, Zellweger has decided it's time to fight back.
In a blistering online op-ed, which has been published by The Huffington Post, the actress directly addressed tabloid speculation about her appearance – and argued that society needs to stop subjecting women to our toxic culture of humiliation.
“It’s no secret a woman’s worth has historically been measured by her appearance,” she writes.
“We have evolved to acknowledge the importance of female participation in determining the success of society, and take for granted that women are standard bearers in all realms of high profile position and influence.
"[But] the double standard used to diminish our contributions remains, and is perpetuated by the negative conversation which enters our consciousness every day as snark entertainment.”
Zellweger, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Ruby Thewes in the 2003 film Cold Mountain, went on to explain: “Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes.”
However, the actress continues to explain how, as a woman in the public eye, she is unable to deny the rumours made about her, as it “implies an attempt to cover up the supposed tabloid ‘exposed truth’”.
And choosing to maintain a dignified silence has a similar effect.
“[To do so] leaves one vulnerable not only to the usual ridicule, but to having the narrative of one’s life hijacked by those who profiteer from invented scandal.”
Zellweger holds our society accountable for the portrayal of women in the public eye, but specifically focuses on the damaging effects of tabloid speculation and “exploitative” stories in the media.
She says: “What if immaterial tabloid stories, judgments and misconceptions remained confined to the candy jar of low-brow entertainment and were replaced in mainstream media by far more important, necessary conversations?”
The actress concludes that “we can do better” for ourselves, if only we could make more careful choices about the stories we choose to read.
She finishes powerfully: “Maybe we could talk more about why we seem to collectively share an appetite for witnessing people diminished and humiliated with attacks on appearance and character and how it impacts younger generations and struggles for equality, and about how legitimate news media have become vulnerable to news/entertainment ambiguity, which dangerously paves the way for worse fictions to flood the public consciousness to much greater consequence.”
Her words echo those of Reese Witherspoon, who told The Hollywood Reporter that she found the tirade of speculation about Zellweger to be “cruel and rude and disrespectful”.
She said at the time: "I know this is so Pollyanna of me, but why — and it's particularly women — why do they have to tear women down? And why do we have to tear other women down to build another woman up? It drives me crazy.
“Like, this one looks great without her makeup but that one doesn't look good without her makeup, and it's all just a judgment and assault that I don't — look, men are prey to it as well. I just don't think it's with the same sort of ferocity."
Writing in a guest column for the same publication, Rose McGowan also sought to defend Zellweger from the “harassment and abuse” that women receive in the public eye.
She said: “How dare you bully a woman who has done nothing but try to entertain people like you. Her crime, according to you, is growing older in a way you don’t approve of. Who are you to approve of anything? What you are doing is vile, damaging, stupid and cruel.”
And Jennifer Aniston, in a scathing op-ed of her own for The Huffington Post, recently slammed the media for continuing to pen speculative articles about her personal life.
“For the record, I am not pregnant,” she wrote. “What I am is fed up.”
The Friends actress continued: “I resent being made to feel ‘less than’ because my body is changing and/or I had a burger for lunch and was photographed from a weird angle and therefore deemed one of two things: ‘pregnant’ or ‘fat.’“…I’ve learned tabloid practices, however dangerous, will not change, at least not any time soon. What can change is our awareness and reaction to the toxic messages buried within these seemingly harmless stories served up as truth and shaping our ideas of who we are.
“We get to decide how much we buy into what’s being served up, and maybe some day the tabloids will be forced to see the world through a different, more humanized lens because consumers have just stopped buying the bulls**t.”
With so many inspiring women taking on the toxic culture of tabloid speculation, we can only hope that their words do not go unheeded.
You can read Renee Zellweger’s full essay, titled We Can Do Better, at The Huffington Post.
Image: Rex Features