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Face Gone Weird Syndrome: The Battle Women Fight To Stay Young

By Sarah Vine, originally published on The Daily Mail

It’s not just Renee. In the battle to stay young, more and more women are robbing their faces of the very quirks that made them beautiful

Mystified. It’s the only word for it. Why would someone with a face as pretty and as interesting as actress Renee Zellweger voluntarily do that to herself?

Or, as a friend of mine said last night as we were discussing it (there really was no other topic of conversation), at what point do you sit down with your plastic surgeon, point to the ‘poor man’s Christie Brinkley’ page and say ‘I’ll have THAT one’?

It’s not so much that she doesn’t look attractive. It’s more that she doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger. In fact, she doesn’t look like anyone in particular. Her face, once so instantly recognizable, is now about as memorable as a shop dummy’s. This person, the strange-looking person who used to be the film star Zellweger, has one of the worst cases of FGW (Face Gone Weird syndrome) I have ever seen.

fgwAll the elements of attractiveness are there: blonde hair, blue eyes, plump lips, smooth skin. But a human face is much more than the sum of its parts. And that’s how you end up with FGW. All those treatments, those fillers, or those jabs, or those little nips and tucks, are fine in theory. In practice, however, it’s quite another story.

What’s more, it appears to be catching. A couple of weeks ago, Liz Hurley appeared in public with the unmistakable early warning signs of FGW. A waxy sheen to her complexion; patches of eerily smooth skin; and an almost total absence of shadows on the face, lending it a strange, one-dimensional quality.

It doesn’t only affect the older generation, either. At just 28, Lindsay Lohan appears to be suffering from early onset FGW — although with her it’s often hard to tell whether that slight puffiness is due to fillers or the fact that her liver’s having to work double shifts.

Other famous sufferers include Cher (who many experts agree might well qualify as patient zero in this worldwide epidemic), Madonna, Meg Ryan and Melanie Griffith.


All women who in their perfectly understandable quest to slow down the signs of ageing have instead succeeded in turning themselves into someone else.

This someone else is no one you’ve ever seen before. She looks like everyone and no one. And you don’t just see her in the pages of the magazines or in the movies, either. She is everywhere, in swanky West End restaurants, laughing into her champagne at parties, walking her dog in the better postcodes of London.

I come across her often in my line of work. She’s common at political fundraisers, dripping in diamonds on the arm of some corpulent industrialist with a bulge in his back pocket and a yen for a peerage. There she is again, at a charity concert, or picking up the kids in her white Range Rover before speeding off to the Cotswolds for the weekend. You’ll see her turning left on a half-term flight to Barbados, or exercising with grim purpose at a gym in Knightsbridge.

fgw3Melanie Griffith

Her friends worry about her. They wonder, should they intervene? But how can you?

How can you say to a woman who looks at herself in the mirror each morning and sees a reflection of her ‘happy, healthy lifestyle’ (as Bridget Jones star Zellweger attributed her new face to yesterday) that she just looks weird. That the fillers and Botox and little lifts here and there have erased many of the signs of ageing, but in doing so they’ve also removed much of the character that made her, as an individual, special?

The problem with FGW is that while the outward signs may be physical, the root cause is a complex tangle of psychological factors. It’s not as simple as wanting to look younger. It’s to do with a whole variety of pressures, emanating from many different sources.

fgw4Kylie Minogue

For FGW, you see, is the ultimate expression of the hyper-critical self-loathing that many women, rich, poor, successful or otherwise, feel when they look in the mirror. It is — and I truly believe this — a form of self-harm, every bit as distressing and as damaging as bulimia or anorexia.

It used to be the case that when things weren’t going her way, a woman would repair to the hairdressers for a new cut, or treat herself to a new shade of lipstick. She might go blonde, or lose weight — anything, really, to lift the spirits, to take back control and get back on top.


Now she books herself in for some Botox. And while she’s at it, maybe a few fillers. And is it really true that there’s a jaw-lift that doesn’t involve surgery? Can I really have the fat under my chin dissolved by a simple injection? A tweak here, a tweak there. Always close to the desired result, but never quite. Perhaps one more chemical peel, doctor, do you think that will do it?

None of these things on their own are necessarily an issue.

I, for example, have Botox two or three times a year in the vertical frown lines between my brows. It doesn’t make them disappear, it just softens them very slightly. I’m always being offered other treatments — peels, lasers and the rest.

fgw6Nicole Kidman

But I say no. At 47, I’m OK with the way I look. Granted, I’m not as dewy as I once was, and my jowls are definitely more on the wobbly side than I would like; but the only thing that really depresses me is that wretched frown line, and so that’s as far as I go.

Anything else would be a slippery slope. Because it’s the layering of treatments that does it, the slow, silent creep. In the same way that you never notice you’re getting fat because the process happens in a series of small increments over a long period of time, it’s hard to recognise FGW in yourself.

It’s not until, say, you step out at an awards ceremony having been out of the public eye for a few years and the whole world goes ‘Whoa, there lady, what have you done with our Renee?’ that maybe you realise you might have gone a smidge too far.

But then I have one big advantage over all these women. I am not a film star. I don’t have to appear ten times magnified in glorious Technicolor on a big screen, or be photographed on the red carpet and my pictures beamed around the world. I don’t have newspapers and magazines scrutinizing my every look.

And because I’m too old to be a fully paid-up member of the selfie generation, I’m not endlessly taking photos of myself on my smartphone and posting them on Facebook either, a fact that goes some way to providing me with a certain immunity to FGW.

The same, sadly, cannot be said of my daughter’s generation. Already, aged 11, they all have their special ‘photo-faces’, certain practised expressions and angles they have learned to adopt in order to look their best. I have yet to acquire mine: if someone points a lens at me I just grin like a baboon, all chins and piggy eyes. Hashtag fail, as young people say these days.

Question is, will FGW spread beyond the rich and famous to ordinary girls and women? Now we have the means — salons offering an array of so-called non surgical procedures up and down the country — will all women gradually morph into broadly the same person?

Sad to say, I’d put money on it.

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. Very True… So sad

  2. When i read various write up about this yesterday i kept wondering why Renee would go this far? I’ve not seen something as drastic as this in my generation, the ones I’ve seen don’t change their faces dramatically, instead an epic facelift or botox massacre becomes visible.

    It hit me then that we are the cause of this. Men are not placed under this kind of microscope, the female stars on the other hand are scrutinized. Their every picture, beamed to the world, a wrinkle made fun of and any sign thereafter that she even tried to take care of that wrinkle also made fun of.

    We like to see Meryl Streep and say, there goes a lady aging gracefully but how many women can be trully secure with the amount of pressure the world place on them to stay young and beautiful?

    Renee trully went drastic and truth be told, i don’t think this new face would even fetch her more jobs and she badly needs to work again. Her face was a breath of fresh air and what a lot of studios sought out for while casting her but now that she has gone to look like the cliché Hollywood, i don’t think its going to be quite the career bomb she expected.

    • shakespeareanwalter

      You’re right, Anyi. The world of visual perfection, especially heightened in the movie industries, can be a very tough one to deal with. And I laud women like Meryl Streep and Sharon Stone who adamantly want to age gracefully. I know, not every female celebrity feels comfortable enough in their own skin enough to brave the biting focus of the spotlight. Heck, I’m just the guy next door and sometimes I look at the mirror and be like, ‘Ok, if I have boatloads of money, that’s what I’ll change.

      But this, Renee’s surgery, Ay! It was no minor nip and tuck abeg. She quite simply transplanted another face on her shoulders. And her other face was such a cutesey adorable darling face. Now she looks like such a hard blonde. The kind you watch kicking Angelina Jolie’s ass in an action movie flick.

  3. Renee’s face has been a hot topic for a few days, so i had to go and look up the change. I was shocked and sad at the lenght she went to look younger. Am not sure it worked. Before i judge her, i wonder if i would do the same, just to stay/look younger for a little while. Ps. I love your blog

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Thanks a lot mimiedes. I appreciate that. Take a look around. 🙂 More stuff to see, read and comment on. 😀

  4. Renee! that transformation was seismic…
    is it the pressure or the innate vanity inherent in every human?

  5. Podgy and pretty hardly mix but Renee had that peculiarity about her and she had a face, so memorable! One you couldn’t help but stare at in a crowd! Added to that is her accent, very exotic, refined! I absolutely loved her and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’ Diary: Edge of Reasoning! I just dunno what or who made her do ‘this’ to herself! Can’t even recognise her no more! Plus, back in the days, Mickey Rourke used to be this hunk of a bloke, eye-popping! He goes under and re-emerges in the flick ‘The Wrestler’, looking like horror! Women are not the only ones guilty of this creepy syndrome! Whatever assails and ‘assaults’ their senses to wanna do away completely with their natural looks, that folks have grown so accustomed to and learnt to love ’em for it too, beats the crap outta me! If women like the gorgeous Lliz Hurley are a tad insecure ’bout their looks, what should others; who are not so endowed in that department do? Hang themselves?! Its so downright disturbing; this sickening trend! Psst!

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