A few days ago, actress Renée Zellweger appeared at a film industry event and her appearance in the red carpet photos was heavily questioned and criticized. There were questions about possible plastic surgery that may have taken place, and many insults aimed at her age, facial structure, and industry standing. I’m not writing about Renée Zellweger’s face. I find the media pile-on and the social media vitriol horrific and I salute those who clapped back.
#ReneeZellweger remained a trending topic as the day went on, which is like a calendar year in internet time. Over on Twitter, I began to see a number of tweeters who seemed indignant at being criticized for criticizing her looks. They threw out comparisons between her and others, bitterly seeking a twisted sort of permission to drag Renée like they drag them. (The collective din became so loud that Ms. Zellweger herself felt inclined to issue a public statement.)
Do we, the collective public, favor certain celebrities over others? Why yes, yes we do. Are women in the public eye more scrutinized, especially for their looks, and usually subject to more scorn if they end up on the dark side of the celeb favorites game? Why yes, yes they are.
What I’m describing is an injustice within an absurd system of public judgment that is unfair to begin with. It’s exponential ridiculousness. Society’s collective obsession with celebrities is its own beast, and within that, this predilection toward picking apart female celebs’ looks brings out the ugliest of social media comments and mean-spirited internet memes. Within that, the hypothetical pitting of one female celeb against another with negative intent is just appalling.
The truth is; you as a member of the general public have every right to be a fan or not of any particular entertainer. But it’s horrible that so many people feel the need to join in the public scorn of a woman’s appearance, let alone compare and contrast the different levels of scorn dished out to different ladies without a clear intention to move the conversation forward.
There genuinely is a legitimate conversation to be had about why more people came to Renée Zellweger’s defense than, say, Kim Kardashian’s. But please don’t make it about “why does Renée Zellweger get defended and Kim Kardashian didn’t” if you’re asking that question with the intent to further disparage Ms. Zellweger. You can defend Kim K. without doing that. Here’s what that might look like:
Why is the Kardashian family plastic surgery accepted as a running gag but people are being chastised for mocking Renée Zellweger?
What it doesn’t look like, and what I’m seeing too much of, is this:
The Kardashians have [disparaging description or measure of plastic surgery] and everybody jokes about it but I say Renée Zellweger looks like [something awful] and I’m the bad guy? Oh.
The better question is; why do you have to sling insults in either direction? Why are their appearances yours to measure, compare, judge, and comment on? I want equality for us all but I’m not sure being evil in equal amounts is the type of equality that will move us forward as a society.
We are a society that has much work to do on breaking down systemic racism, and as such, there’s another legitimate query around why many people rush to the collective defense of white women when brown and black women are the butt of jokes and the object of scorn on a daily basis. Why is it that when earlier this week during a series of heated exchanges between Snoop Dogg and Iggy Azalea that began with Snoop insulting Iggy’s looks, TI ended the ugliness by calling Snoop, which led to Snoop publicly apologizing? It certainly wasn’t in defense of her basic rights as a woman to not have a man publicly disparage her physical appearance and call her names, because just this summer TI himself hurled horrific insults at and threatened Azealia Banks with physical violence over a similar internet beef.
Just like this is not about Renée Zellweger’s face, it is also not about Iggy Azalea’s. It’s about these ladies vs. others and how I hope when we ask these questions it is to dismantle the favoritism and the root biases, not reinforce them and add insult to injury.
Why is Beyoncé labeled a [redacted] but Emma Watson’s feminism is beyond reproach? Why is Nicki Minaj’s ass a problem while Lena Dunham’s was celebrated for opening the Emmy Awards this year naked? Why was Iggy Azalea protected while Azealia Banks was thrown to the wolves? And if we look at the root cause of that one, why would a rap legend in his forties use social media to disparage her looks in the first place?
Regardless of your answers to those questions or how you feel about those particular celebrities, we have to admit to a societal bias toward some and against others. For example, Azealia Banks has publicly alienated many people and if we want to be childish, she “started it” with TI by insulting his wife. But there is a civilized social contract to respond in kind, and for Ms. Banks’ tweets to be met with what could be perceived as public threats of violence from a man doesn’t fit that bill. Yet not only did no one come to her defense like TI did for Iggy, but when Ms. Banks brought up the disparity during the Iggy/Snoop foolishment, she was mocked as trying to make it about her.
If it’s wrong to threaten someone with violence or you draw a moral line regarding vicious language, make it a straight line. You can’t just make a loop around someone you don’t like and expect your argument to hold up next time you trot it out. Which entertainers we support is a matter of taste, but don’t hide behind equality if you just want to add insults, and maybe do what you can to avoid unnecessary insults on public forums altogether.
I’ve publicly critiqued people based on their work or stance on cultural or social issues. Legitimate criticism is always fair game, but public entitlement to female celebrities’ appearances has got to stop. And playing favorites is just plain silly. Stand up for what you believe in and let’s all unpack this terrible bias, but in the service of progress, not more insults.