Actress Renée Zellweger has opened up about the speculation about her changed appearance during a rare public outing in 2014, describing it as "international humiliation".

The Bridget Jones Diary star had been several years into a self-imposed sabbatical when she walked the red carpet at the ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards in 2014, with pictures of her new look making headlines around the world.

Speculation was rife that Zellweger had undergone some form of cosmetic procedure — most notably on her eyes, with the star's trademark squint all but gone:

In a candid new sit-down interview with Vulture, interviewer Jonathan Van Meter notes Zellweger "looks like herself again" as he edges towards asking her about the fallout from her infamous red carpet appearance.

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He tells Zellweger, 50, he's reluctant to bring up the "plastic surgery kerfuffle", prompting the star to ask: "Because it probably gives you a stomach ache, asking me about that, doesn't it?"

Van Meter agrees it's a difficult topic to broach.

"Well, because there's a value judgment that's placed on us. As if it somehow is a reflection of your character — whether you're a good person or a weak person or an authentic person," says Zellweger.

Van Meter notes there was a sense of panic from fans that Zellweger did not look like herself.

"And the implication that I somehow needed to change what was going on because it wasn't working. That makes me sad. I don't look at beauty in that way. And I don't think of myself in that way," she says.

"I like my weird quirkiness, my off-kilter mix of things. It enables me to do what I do. I don't want to be something else. I got hired in my blue jeans and cowboy boots with my messy hair. I started working like that. I didn't have to change to work. So why was I suddenly trying to fit into some mould that didn't belong to me?"

Renee Zellweger is looking more like herself now. Photo / Getty Images
Renee Zellweger is looking more like herself now. Photo / Getty Images

Elsewhere in the interview, Zellweger notes experiencing "humiliation" on that scale had taught her to rid herself of superficiality.

"Nothing like international humiliation to set your perspective right!" she said. "It clarifies what's important to you. And it shakes off any sort of clingy superficiality … that you didn't have time for anyway."

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Zellweger addressed the speculation over her appearance in a 2016 piece for the Huffington Post titled We Can Do Better.

"Not that it's anyone's business but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes," the actress said. "This fact is of no true import to anyone at all but that the possibility alone was discussed among respected journalists and became a public conversation is a disconcerting illustration of news/entertainment confusion and society's fixation on physicality."

Zellweger will next be seen in the Judy Garland biopic Judy, playing the Hollywood legend in the final years of her life as she battles career and health woes.