Last week, the highly regarded Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote about Renée Zellweger’s appearance, and how he thought she’d lost her essential self through plastic surgery. He hardly mentioned her magnificent range, vulnerability, or the kindness that shines through her acting. Instead he chose to focus on the idea that, “In the case of Renée Zellweger, it may look to a great many people like something more than an elaborate makeup job has taken place, but we can’t say for sure.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all.
I’m using “actress” in this piece for gender clarity even though I’m not a big fan of the word. To me, it implies a diminutive, lesser quality to a woman’s abilities compared to ”actor.” “Actress” seems to be more appropriate to an ingénue, which might be a tad insulting to a revered, seasoned woman like Dame Judi Dench.
Most of the time as an actress — especially while I’m working — I feel blessed to be in this profession. But my job is also tough for many reasons, and getting older is one of them. I am on the “wrong” side of 40, close to Zellweger’s age.
Do I have lines around my eyes when I smile? Yes I do. Are my lips as full as they were when I was in high school? No they’re not. Is my body the same since I’ve had two big, healthy, happy boys? It isn’t. I live in Los Angeles where if you haven’t had your face and body “enhanced,” you begin to feel inadequate. I struggle all the time with these kinds of doubts.
I booked a job after I lost the baby weight from my first child. The head of the costume department called me up for my sizes and I proudly gave him my new weight, which was the lowest it had been since high school. I may have even been too thin. He replied, “Oh, so you’re normal sized. Good. That makes things easier for me.” I had practically starved myself for five weeks, but in film and TV, this was considered “normal.”
Last year, my agent submitted me for a pilot in which the lead character was an obese woman. Every scene was her either having a hard time getting a dress over her head, getting winded or talking about how fat she was. I tried to explain to him that, even by L.A. standards, I wasn’t a good fit for the role. He consoled me by saying that if I did well in the room, they might consider altering the character for me.
I laughed this particular incident off because it was absurd, but being scrutinized constantly for my looks takes a toll. It’s hard for me to focus on a job I was hired to do when I’m worrying about how to stand so my tummy won’t bulge and my legs will look slimmer. It can even be self-destructive.
I feel like I look fine, yet I’m still ashamed to say how old I am. I don’t lie, but I avoid the subject because if I reveal my age, I’m worried I’ll be cast as a grandma (and not a young one). I should be proud. I’m comfortable in my skin, but because my profession takes place within an industry where youth is a calling card, it’s a challenge to stay grounded and honest. I’m afraid that if I admit my real age, I‘ll be judged not based on my abilities, but by shallow perceptions of what unimaginative people think a 40-odd-year-old person should look and act like.