'What has Ruby Rose done to her face?' That's the headline on a Mail Online article this morning after Ruby, the actress best known for roles in Orange Is The New Black and Batgirl, showed up to a red carpet event in the US. She looked a little different than usual. She has possibly had some form of procedure, such as plastic surgery or facial filler, designed to change, tweak or rejuvenate her appearance. But the emphatic headline shows that one thing has not changed: the way we police the faces of women in the public eye. We claim to have put our most judgmental days behind us. We claim to have got on board with the Be Kind movement. But really, we haven't at all, because we're talking about Ruby Rose in the same way that we discussed Renée Zellwegger all those years ago.
Cast your mind back. In 2014, Renée showed up to the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards looking visibly different, and promptly found herself on front pages all over the world. People balked at her 'new face'. There were think pieces and circles of shame. Unsurprisingly, it prompted her to step back from Hollywood completely, and she even found herself subjected to what she described as a 'pretty painful' incident on the tube during a stay in London. 'They were talking about... how Hollywood ladies are so silly, and especially that Renée Zellweger,' she recalled on a radio show years later. 'How could she do that? Why would she go and have surgery on her face like we wouldn't know? She doesn't look like herself, and you can't just do that where you go and don't look like yourself, cause we expect you to look like yourself.' She was left stunned by their gall.
Years have now passed. Renée has returned to A-List status and picked up another Oscar. But her career restoration is completely deserved, and we all owe her an apology for behaving in a way that, essentially, chased her out of the limelight. When women like Renée speak out on the pain that such an experience caused her, we quickly feel chastened, we apologise, we promise to change, to learn, to grow. And then... someone else steps out of their limo with a visibly smoother complexion or a narrower nose and we return once more to form. And we don't just do it to women. We did it to Zac Efron mere weeks ago, despite his previous discussions of his personal struggles with body dysmorphia.
I don't judge the instantaneous reaction of thinking 'Gosh!' when you see that a famous woman looks different to how she looked last month. We have spent years - decades, in some cases - watching these people on our big screens, poring over magazine editorials and best dressed lists. It is completely natural for us to see a photograph of that person looking younger and to instinctively, internally acknowledge that a change has occurred. We are visual creatures, and we react to what we see. But we don't then have to take to Twitter to start speculating. We don't need to text pictures to friends saying 'have you seen Ruby Rose's face?' We don't need to write headlines that could find their way to her. Hollywood actors and actresses often go to surprising lengths to maintain a youthful appearance. Is it vanity? Perhaps. But in most cases it's more like perceived necessity. To keep getting the roles, to keep booking the campaigns, you have to look ten years younger. We shouldn't be mocking them. We should be criticising the system.
Even if Ruby never reads these headlines, even if Renée had never taken that tube journey, then comments like that are still dangerous. Because they have the power to make other women who are feeling sensitive about changes in their own appearance question how you see them. We all have friends who have had a tweak here, a Botox injection at the dentist there. You wouldn't greet them with a 'what have you done to your face?!' But they will see the way you respond to Renée, to Ruby, to Zac. And they will assume that's what you're saying about them behind their back. As always, the rule to stick with should always be: if you wouldn't say it to their face - their old face, their new face, whatever - then you shouldn't say it online. Otherwise, one person ends up looking pretty ugly. And it's not Ruby Rose.