I was a bit late to the new season of Arrested Development — I spent Memorial Day on the beach rather than on my laptop watching Netflix — but it didn’t take long to hear people who did watch the new episodes complain about Portia de Rossi’s face. While it’s been seven years since the original run ended on Fox and everyone has gotten older, it’s de Rossi’s appearance that has sparked the most buzz online.
Here’s a quick round-up of the kind of talk Portia de Rossi has incited in the last few days:
“I get that there’s pressure in Hollywood to stay young and to remain beautiful and to do whatever it takes to Benjamin Button yourself into movie roles. But it’s still sad when you see a beautiful actress like Portia De Rossi change her face like this.” [Crushable]
“Could one reason behind the lack of excitement be that one of its main stars, Portia de Rossi, is practically unrecognizable?” [The Daily Beast]
“In fact, actress Portia de Rossi’s streamlined forehead and sunken, wide-open eyes were so distracting that I couldn’t keep pace with the narrative, especially when seven-year-old clips from season 3 were cut in, making de Rossi’s tweaked features crystal clear.” [Macleans]
“It appears that Portia underwent nasal tip reconstruction. Her nose used to point downward, and you can clearly see it is now upturned. She also may have had blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) to make her eyes appear wider. Lastly, she definitely appears to have Botox injections (judging by her perfectly smooth forehead) and filler injections to the border of her upper lip.” [Hollywood Life]
“Something doesn’t seem right.” [BuzzFeed]
“There is a very specific type of pressure we put on the females of Hollywood – for de Rossi, now 40, the pressure is no longer just to be thin and beautiful, but to be young. By giving herself up to the public eye of the red carpet, de Rossi struggles with having foregone the right to exist in a world that asks her to do anything but worry about her appearance while simultaneously being ripped apart for doing so. But imagine the actress had let herself age naturally? Damned if you do, Portia…” [National Post]
Additionally, plenty of amateur critics took to Twitter to vent their frustrations about de Rossi’s appearance and share their own hypotheses as to why she looks the way she does — has she had plastic surgery, or was it some kind of gag referencing her character’s own vanity?
It didn’t take long to figure it out once I watched the third episode, dedicated to Lindsay Bluth-Fünke, last night. It’s likely that the wig she was wearing (which, I’ll grant you, was a terrible one) gave the illusion that her hairline was much higher. The wig, of course, was a cover-up to explain why her character suddenly (after seven years, I suppose) has a much shorter hair style — we see her cutting it in the last moments of the episode. Also, she’s wearing lighter makeup than what was fashionable in 2006. Oh, and it’s been seven years since she’s played that character. Of course she looks different.
But so does everyone else on the show. Everyone has subtly aged a bit in the last few years — David Cross gained weight, as men typically do in their 40s, and Michael Cera lost a lot of the baby fat still visible in his face back when he was 17. But most of the focus has been put on Portia de Rossi, who, having turned 40 this year, is at the age where her looks can (and will) make or break her.
De Rossi, who has been very honest about her struggles with eating disorders early in her career, now must deal with a new kind of pressure from critics and audiences: staying youthful and beautiful while also “aging gracefully.” That her appearance has been cited as a reason why the fourth season of Arrested Development isn’t as good as the previous three, suggesting her face is so distracting that it’s impossible for anyone to laugh at Mitch Hurwitz’s jokes, is more disheartening than the notion that she’s succumbed to pressure and had any sort of plastic surgery.
Of course, most websites are fueling this alleged controversy, creating outrage among fans as if we should be personally offended that Portia de Rossi changed something about herself. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter! But more interesting is that when websites have been posting “before and after” images of the actress, they’ve contrasted pictures of de Rossi in 2007 and screenshots of her first appearance in the fourth season (such as the one at the top of this post) — the episode in which she’s clearly wearing a wig. Looking at images of de Rossi at the Season 4 premiere, it doesn’t appear much about her face has changed at all.
What we should be talking about instead is how a woman’s appearance can be the center of conversation and why we are so obsessed with an actress’s looks, why we are so obsessed with parsing the lines of a woman’s face, and why the conversation so rarely includes a male actor’s appearance. The answer is an easy one: we live in a sexist culture in which the women we admire for their talents, good looks, and celebrity must at all times retain the subjective ideals we place upon them. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that anyone unable to enjoy a show because one of its stars does not look perfect says more about the viewer’s own problems and less about the actor’s.