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The Deadly Obsession with Beauty

16 Oct 2006

Physical appearance is very important. We see that being emphasized everywhere. Freshly-minted faces on magazine covers, the hard eight-pack abs of the soccer star, the exposed body of the film actress. The statistics show that good-looking people are more likely to get employed. People tend to like looking at and associating with good looking people. How far do people go to be beautiful or handsome? Would you be willing to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars towards becoming more beautiful? Well despite that fact that we live in a world where beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, there are many who would do any thing to be ‘better looking.’

Ageist And Lookist Attitudes

The West’s obsession with youth and beauty is not a new phenomenon. For generations, human beings have been fascinated with eternal youth and longetivity. The fountains of youth legends abound in Arawak legends, as well as European and Ethiopian ones. In fact in Egypt, Cleopatra bathed in the milk of asses to stay young and to have beautiful skin. Today thousands of people smear their faces with all kinds of creams which promise anti-ageing and beautifying miracles.

Although many of these creams and drugs are ineffective, there are some which have been known to reduce the signs of ageing by as many as 15 years. The appearance of wrinkles, sagging skin and grey hairs has throughout history has always bothered many people, but never has the obsession of finding a mythical 'elixir of youth' been as strong as it is today. The obsession for youth, consumerism and beauty, which is driven by the tabloid-driven press is at is peak.

The public has been wrongly programmed into thinking that aging is a bad thing. In fact, it is now considered that once one is past 40, one is over the hill and out of the game. Nowhere is this felt more than in the fairytale land of Hollywood where is becoming increasingly hard to see women above 40 being portrayed in movie roles. No actress over 40 years old has won best actress at the Academy Awards since 1995. In fact Hollywood is littered with tales of aging starlets who see their careers take a nosedive right after they turn 40. Examples of starlets who are suffering from this are Michelle Pfeiffer, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Sally Field and Melanie Griffith. Exceptions to the rule are Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, and Katharine Hepburn. But in general, the younger and more beautiful an actress, the more promotable and bankable they are as an actress.

Life After the Big 4-0

We’ve all heard the expression 60 years old is the new 40 and 40 years old is the new 20. In other words, the ageing process is being delayed. Desperate Housewives is being hailed for showing that women can be sexy after 40. The actresses are just as attractive as today's twenty-something starlets, and that should be a comforting thought. But is it? The truth is many of the forty-something women who live regular lives do not look anything like the women on Desperate Housewives, let alone other icons like Halle Berry, Vivica Fox, Julianne Moore, Elle Macpherson, and Elizabeth Hurley. Nor do 40 and 50 year old average men look like Denzel Washington, George Clooney and Sting.

The truth is, that in Hollywood, very few people look their age any more. Desperate Housewives stars Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Nicolette Sheridan have been rumored to have had plastic surgery. Even if the rumors were unfounded, there is tremendous work that goes into maintaining their glamorous appearances. The investments in personal trainers, macrobiotic chefs, top hair and make-up artists, stylists and, of course, airbrushing, which most people cannot afford, definitely pay off. How does one even begin to compete? For many, there is the ‘quick’ fix of plastic surgery.

The ‘Magic’ of Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery used to be a practice that only wealthy socialites engaged in. It was their secret to that enviable long lasting look of smooth skin, youth and beauty. But today, with the popularization of shows like Nip/Tuck, The Swan, and I Want A Famous Face, which glorify plastic surgery, not to mention the cheaper prices, it has become very accessible.

In 2004, nearly 150,000 American women underwent surgical facelift procedures. Canadians were not too far behind. Last year in America, 20 billion dollars was spent on cosmetic procedures. It saw a 400% increase from 10 years ago. What is alarming about plastic surgery is that girls in high schools are lining up along side their mothers and grandmothers generation to ‘redo’ themselves. The message that sends out is that youth is no longer enough now nor is natural beauty. So many have tampered with it in order to attain that unrealistic, delusional level of perfection. Make up used to be enough, but that is quickly being replaced by plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery is supposed to be the creation of new tissue, and reconstruction following an injury, trauma, surgery or disease. But with a vanity obsessed world, it has become cosmetic (or aesthetic) surgery, which is most often performed in order to change features the patient finds unflattering. This includes botox, veneers, lip enhancement, breast lifts, breast implants tummy tucks, cheek implants, eyebrow lifts, collagen, eyelid surgery (for permanent eyeliner), nose jobs, ears jobs and apparently one of the most popular ones, the Brazilian butt lift which is an effort to get a behind like Beyoncé or J-Lo. If that does not shock you, then perhaps the idea that vaginoplasty, otherwise known as vaginal rejuvenation, exists will.

Addiction to Cosmetic Surgery

Some people are addicted to drugs, others to alcohol, sex, cigarettes, and food. But a new and dangerous addiction has been added to the list. Many stars cannot get enough of going under the knife. Plastic surgery poster girl Joan Rivers quips,

“Every woman on television over the age of 25 has had something done.” Whether that is true or not is under debate.

There are certainly numerous examples of plastic-surgery-gone-wrong cases and stars who admit to having done it, but the problem exists beyond the celebrity world. In the quest to look like Angelina Jolie, or Halle Berry, or Jessica Alba, some people have become addicted to cosmetic surgery. Many have gone into debt because of plastic surgery. Many plastic surgeons including African American Dr Anthony Griffin admit that many of their clients take in photos of celebrities, asking to be transformed into them. He mentioned on a CNN interview that the most ridiculous offer he ever got were a pair of twins who wanted to look like the poster child for plastic surgery, Michael Jackson. Dr Griffin, a renowned plastic surgeon is considered one of the foremost authorities on plastic surgery for African Americans and ethnic skin types,

Many industry experts say the dependence on plastic surgery is a manifestation of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. According to Wikepedia Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is generally diagnosed of those who are extremely critical of their physique or self image, despite the fact there may be no noticeable disfigurement or defect. Most people wish they could change or improve some aspect of their physical appearance, but people suffering from BDD, otherwise considered normal, believe that they are so unspeakably hideous that they are unable to interact with others or function normally for fear of ridicule and humiliation at their appearances . People with BDD often battle with their body image and reflection in the mirror. They focus on their minor flaws.

Perhaps if as a society we embrace ourselves as we truly are, instead of focusing on our imperfections things could change for the better. After all there is no greater beauty than the real you.

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