As 99% of you probably know, the actress Renee Zellweger had plastic surgery. The Internet opined. My apologies if you are ready to be done discussing, but the storm of talk has made me feel as I often did in business meetings, compelled 3/4 of the way through to leap from the table and start writing on a white board.
“Let me just see if I can line it out,” I’d say, scribbling. Then add a few rectangles and arrows. Or a bulleted list. Anything to reveal the logical structure of the debate.
Here’s what I think about Renee. What she did is just fine, except. Let’s analyze the motivations, briefly.
- People want to be physically attractive. Although in an perfect world we don’t care about surface beguilements, in reality we’re animals hard-wired to the physical. Not ideal, but perhaps we can make our peace with it. In any case, I am not sure we’ve got much choice in the matter. So, those things people do to become attractive, are they OK?
- Yes, except when driven by an uncomfortable sense of inadequacy and therefore subject to misery.
- Yes, except when the remediation is taken to extremes and backfires, either in your own eyes, or in the eyes of those you wanted to attract.
- Yes, except when women care much more than men, because gender expectations should be fair and balanced. We want our intellect, competency and good lucks to matter only as much as it does for men.
- People want to look young. This is not so fine. Let’s look at two specific variants.
- The need to look young for your job. Not fine. Workplace bias against age is so not-fine that in the US we have laws establishing those over-4o as a protected class. Employers have every right to look for au courant, modern,and strong, but not to assume that any of those attributes in inextricably linked to age.
- The desire to look young for beauty. More complicated. Not fine, and yet so hard to deny. The afore-mentioned hard-wiring to the physical is designed to produce more of us. And women, due to engineering that optimizes us to care for babies when we’re young but does little for our lifelong physical attractiveness, spend over half our lives off the production line. Please excuse the machine-centric language. So men may be hard-wired to find beauty in fertility. Hard to get past.
- People want to be recognized. They also want to talk about each other.
- Wonderful. Except when we need recognition to fill a hole in our soul, and when we talk about others for the same reason. Need and mean feed off each other.
Back to Renee. I think the problem is that her actions exposed many of the Not Fines that appear Kind Of Fine when seen separately. Imagine a Venn diagram with circles for Obsession With Surface Beauty, Ageism, Sexism, Celebrity Displays, and Internet-Enabled Public Humiliation – poor Renee’s face smack-dab in the overlapping center.
And when she showed us what she’d done, we all start talking at once. Whether we re-erect the screen, or see clearly and maybe make progress, well, that’s up to us.
Have a good weekend.