Renee Zellweger Is Nearly Unrecognizable! Could It Affect Her Career?

The actress' new look has people speculating that she's had major work done. Even fans didn't recognize her!

It's common practice for celebrities to do subtle "maintenance" on their faces, whether it's plastic surgery, Botox, lasers, or just crazy-expensive skin creams. Every once in a while, though, someone goes overboard. That seems to be the only explanation for Renee Zellweger's new appearance. 

This is Zellweger attending the 2001 Academy Awards, right before 'Bridget Jones's Diary' hit theaters.

Chris Weeks/Getty Images

And this is Zellweger attending a screening of 'Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story' on Nov. 2.

David Livingston/Getty Images

Bloggers are noting that her cheekbones look more pronounced, her eyes seem wider, and her skin looks surreally smooth. The change is apparently even more dramatic in person: RadarOnline claims that fans at a Saturday film screening didn't even recognize Zellweger.

Then again, maybe they didn't recognize her because she hasn't shot any films since approximately 2008. A person's appearance can change a lot in five years! And Zellweger, 44, has never been afraid of change. She famously transformed her figure for Bridget Jones' Diary, then transformed it again when she dropped those extra pounds (and more). We've also seen her face change before, most notably around 2010, when she began sporting fuller-looking cheeks and lips. She first went public with her current look -- the wider eyes and slightly different face shape -- when she walked the red carpet at the 2013 Oscars. Somehow, it seemed even more dramatic this weekend. (Maybe she had a Botox refill?)

It's always a little bit sad when one of the world's most beautiful women makes herself look less like... herself. We've seen it happen so many times. (Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Lara Flynn Boyle and Lindsay Lohan come to mind.) Most likely, they do it in order to compete with younger actresses for Hollywood's handful of decent female roles. But when they stop looking like themselves, the strategy backfires. Ryan, for example, has hardly worked at all in the past five years. Would she do better if she'd chosen to age naturally? Who knows? But we do know that other actresses of her era who have made that choice, like Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis, are doing just fine for themselves.

We'll have to wait and see how the chips fall for Zellweger. It's possible that the more extreme changes to her appearance are temporary, like those over-the-top Botox treatments that Nicole Kidman has thankfully abandoned. In that case, her much-loved squinty eyes and chubby cheeks may return to the big screen.

The bigger question might be: how does Zellweger's appearance affect the odds of a new Bridget Jones movie? Now that Helen Fielding has finally gotten around to writing a third book, there's a chance to revive the successful film franchise -- something that Hollywood rarely passes up. Will audiences still embrace Bridget if she looks a little less like them, and a little more like a movie star with a high-priced dermatologist? Honestly, we're not sure.

Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor. Find her on Twitter and Google+

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