Monday, May 11, 2009

Cosmetic Choices

At the beginning of each episode of Nip/Tuck, one of the show's two plastic surgeons asks the prospective patient: "Tell me what you don't like about yourself." Most of us can identify a part of our body that we dislike; for some, it's a laundry list.

I've been thinking a lot lately about cosmetic enhancement and where we draw the line. I can't think of anyone I know who doesn't alter her natural appearance in some way--whether it's wearing make-up or self-tanner, tweezing her eyebrows or shaving her legs. But, when do you stop, and if so, what causes you to stop?

Methods for improving our appearance seem to exist on a continuum--from hair cut to hair color, Botox to breast augmentation. The majority of women, Jane Goodall types aside, are comfortable changing some aspects about themselves. For many, though, when in comes to body enhancement, there's no clear finish line, thus the stories we hear of women who endure multiple cosmetic surgeries.

Health risks aside, are you selling out if you choose liposuction over Restylane, a face lift over Retin-A? Or, are they just ways to help you feel better about yourself?

Should we find better ways to feel better? A character on the show once said: "Don't make the mistake of healing the internal problem with an external fix." How many of us agree with that?

Assuming money is no object, where do you draw the line?


azusmom said...

This is a really good question. I recently had my eyebrows done for the first time in 3 years. And I like the way it looks! Does that make me vain? I honestly don't know. I don't usually bother with makeup or fancy clothes. I don't have a closet full of shoes. I don't buy expensive moisturizers. But how much money have I spent in my adult like on diet products, books, programs, workout DVDs, etc? I even considered liposuction a few years ago. Not that I could afford it. But I thought about doing it if I had been able to.
The best deterrent, for me, as far as plastic surgery goes, is watching any of the shows about it (such as "Dr. 90210"). Because I am, at heart, a wuss. And I've decided that if anyone's gonna cut me open, it'll have to be for a REALLY good reason. Like if I'm dying and it's the only way to save me.

azusmom said...

(That was supposed to be "adult life," not "adult like.")

vesta44 said...

Even if money were no object, I think the only thing I would have done is electrolysis to remove the darker hairs over my upper lip. I quit shaving my legs and underarms years ago, I don't color my hair (I've earned every one of those gray hairs and I'm proud of them), I don't do make-up at all, and I don't follow fashion. After a lot of failed diets and a failed weight loss surgery, I decided I was meant to be fat, so I don't worry about that either. I want to be comfortable in my clothes and happy with who I am as a person, and fashion/cosmetics/surgery won't change that, so why bother? I have better things to do with my time than worry about how I look to other people, and I have lots better things to do with money than spend it trying to meet some "ideal" that means nothing to me (books come to mind here, and internet, and games, and my grandkids). When I was younger, I worried about my looks and that I wasn't "hawt" enough. At 55, I've learned that there are much more important things to worry about than looks and size.

Lissy said...

what important questions you ask. they're at the very heart of where i am now. for some reason, i've gotten carried away with how i look lately. i feel like i need to break the cycle -- there's too much upkeep being very blonde and tan and thin and well-dressed and made-up and shaved and tweezed and on and on. i saw myself considering eyelash extensions. that's too much.

i don't know where to draw the plastic surgery line. i wish we weren't all so afraid of aging. what IS wrong with looking older?

the whole thing becomes a crazy cycle. so expensive and soo much time. how can we/i make a difference in the world if i'm in a chair for hours, getting lash extensions.

donna said...

Even if money were not an object, I still wouldn't get a boob job. Even though I hate that my chest isn't bigger, I don't see the point in doing it if you have to replace them every 10 years- we're talking major surgery here. It's just not worth it. As far as the rest of my body goes, there is nothing that cannot be corrected through diet and exercise.

Anonymous said...

if I had infinite money, upkeep is the big dividing line-I wear make up, but not every day. I keep my hair cut, usually, but won't color it. I don't want to have to remember more stuff to do every day. And I don't want things that are obvious if it takes me a bit longer to get to them. Thus, my fingernails don't usually have color on them. That said, I think it's important to be pretty hands off with regards to body modification. How can I tell what gains are worth what sacrifices to someone else? I try to respect other people saying "eh, it's work but it's worth it" and expect them to respect my "eh, not worth it" if it isn't. Though that's a dream.

The Bald Soprano said...

um... hi. I think I'm your mythical woman.

I don't wear makeup.

I don't shave my legs or armpits (haven't in more than a decade now).

I stopped waxing my chin a year ago. It turned out to be triggering the dormant rosacea from when I was a baby. I keep the hair on my lip/chin neatly trimmed now, but that's it.

TropicalChrome said...

Lissy asked: what IS wrong with looking older?

It's not the looking older that's the problem; it's the whole host of negative assumptions that come along with it: they're tired, they're ugly, they're stuck in their ways, they can't keep up with current technology, etc. etc.

All of which has nothing to do with aging and everything to do with individual personalities. But everyone gets painted with the same negative brush.

As for makeup and the like, I do. Not all the time, and unless I'm going out on the town nothing complicated. When I do, it's because it's how I want to present myself at that time - a far cry from when I was younger and I felt it was the mask that kept me from being socially unacceptable.

I've recently started polishing my fingernails again. It's not because I think they're awful without it - it's because there are SO many great colors out there now. The first time I did them I realized I kept looking at my fingernails and smiling because I just loved looking at that color and here it was with me all the time!

Nope, the right color of nail polish or eyeshadow is not going to fix me or my life or address all my issues. It's not going to make people like me better. It's not going to make me prettier. All I ask is that it bring me a little joy, and if it does, it's done all I require of it.

CookieGirl said...

I don't know. I'm 25 and have already had two cosmetic surgeries. No one can tell but me, but there are still things about me I do not like, and can see how, in future decades, I would want them changed as well. It's a scary, frustrating thought. But I have had years of therapy, anxiety/anti-depressant drugs, and nothing else could change my perception of myself. If you come up with a magical cure Dr Stacey, do let me know. xoxo

danni said...

I would get electrolysis... shaving is annoying but I'm 10x more comfortable if I do so regularly. I wouldn't dye my hair any other color, and would at least hold off on covering grays (though that'll be a while yet).

I almost definitely wouldn't get any kind of plastic surgery, the only way I can see is in the case of some kind of game-changing event (accident, illness, etc.) and it would still be conditional and I would still be wary. I don't like the idea of adding things (implants, injections, etc.) or things that can't be put back the same, an inability to return to the natural state. It's the kind of thing you generally can't undo.

Also I see many (though not all) cosmetic procedures as being meant to mimic beauty ideals that were originally idealized because they indicated good health, and if you create those appearances falsely, you miss out on the more important aspects... like if you stay out of the sun, you'll have less wrinkles, but you'll also avoid skin cancer. If you jog every day it could help you maintain your weight, but more importantly it improves cardiovascular health. And so on.

Leigh said...

What timing you have. I was reading the LA Weekly yesterday and there are a ton of those cosmetic surgery ads, each one with dramatic before and after photos.

I found myself comparing my stomach to the before in one of them...the cost to become an after was close to 600 bucks, not something I can afford or is covered by my mediocre health insurance. I couldn't believe I actually was imagining doing it! The very first time in my life I had ever considered surgery.

I wouldn't, of course, not only because of the expense but also because a) I'm afraid to be cut open if it's not to save my life and b) liposuction does not create a permanent condition in your body. A year later, that blobby abdomen could come right back!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to say I'm one of those women who would never have plastic surgery or a permanent/semi-permanent cosmetic procedure, but I would have Botox if I thought I could afford it. The only reason I don't consider a breast lift is because of the cost and the fact that there is scarring and it may interfere with breastfeeding--not because I don't really want one. Similarly with face lifts and that kind of thing--I'm just afraid they would come out wrong or else I would probably be much more tempted.

I have electrolysis done on my chin (the hair is pretty much gone now) and I was getting eyebrow and bikini (not extreme, just the edges) waxes there for a while--I liked how it looked when I had it done once for a trip, and could afford to keep it up--but I quit when I started going to someone more expensive to get my hair cut.

Now that I haven't waxed in a while, I can see that it may have been a bit of a slippery slope--you get into the habit of doing one or two additional grooming steps, then you start to feel they are "necessary," then other things I don't do now such as wearing makeup every day, always having a manicure and pedicure, or getting highlights might also start to seem "necessary." Which is fine and I'm not judging women who do these things, it's just interesting to me how being more "high-maintenance" came more naturally to me than I would have thought.

RunnerGirl said...

Money aside, I would have a hard time drawing a line. I would certainly get liposuction on my hips, thighs, butt and stomach. Get stretch marks lasered, my nose done...and when I got older I'm sure more stuff to look younger.
Actually, if it weren't for my graduate school debt I would probably take out loans for these things.
As it is, I try to wear sunblock, moisturize, and exercise (run, do squats etc).

rhydwyn said...

Well I am not a women, (trans* genderqueer for what it is worth)

Money being no object, I get a lot of laser/IPL as I am not fond of body hair in general. I would get some big microdermal peices something like these Some not safe for work

Oh and some tattoos.

Mary Lynn said...

I would say anything that is permanent is a no-go.

magickal_realism said...

What an intriguing question - especially since the real stopper is "Tell me what you DO like about yourself." Women have been taught to see their bodies as projects to the point of almost culturally-expected self-loathing. I have to wonder how the world would change if the energy of our endeavors shifted focus away from a need to aesthetically and emotionally please others.

L1z4 said...

A lot of people don't know this, but liposuction is permanent. I know a couple of people who have had lipo on their belly areas. By the time we're adults our bodies don't make new fat cells, the ones we have get bigger or smaller as we gain and lose weight. If we remove fat cells from one area of the body, then gain weight, the remaining fat cells get bigger, resulting in disproportionate-looking weight gain. For example; one person I know had lipo in the torso area then gained quite a bit more weight and it went to her neck/face/shoulders/ and then head area. She looks weird now, very unnatural.

I did consider lipo suction for my double chin/face, but after I observed the strange looking effects, I would never do that to myself. I didn't think there's anything wrong with changing hair color, or removing hair, or wearing make-up until I learned about the chemicals and lead in cosmetics and hair products. It can damage your organs.

Throughout history we humans have knowinly altered our appearance to fit in even tho it has damaging effects. If you've been to the pro-ana websites you will notice that cutting oneself is a common occurance. I believe if you hate yourself, and your body so much that you express it by cutting youself, then undergoing surgical procedures is not a far stretch. Maybe the same woman who cannot fathom the idea of cutting, is just fine with the idea of sticking bags of silicon in her chest. In the end it's all self-abuse. However, cosmetic surgery is an accepted form of self abuse in our culture. If you've ever waxed delicate areas of your body, or any area of your body, you know the pain that must be endured. That is self abuse. Shaving your legs? Not so much, it's not pain-inflicting, which is the goal of self injury.

I think altering your appearance with cosmetics that have non-harming ingredients is ok. Sometimes it's a mood boost to primp yourself, or indulge in spa treatments. I draw the line at using harmful chemicals and chemical processes, pain-inflicting waxing, and surgery. I won't harm myself knowingly, I've consciously drawn that boundary with myself.

Maya said...

I had my legs armpits and bikini area lasered and love the results.
Botox scares me even though I dislike the lines in my forehead.
I would consider getting those removed if I had the money. Otherwise, I am an athletic, active 48 year old, who doesn't mind her silver highlights.

Glutton For Punishment said...

that's an awesome question that i could go on about for days...there are people who take the whole plastic surgery thing a little too the past couple of years I've lost over 100 pounds...and I have skin. I'd like to have it removed when I have the money...not all of my skin, just the extra...anyway, i think as humans we try to find the quick fix for things as opposed to getting tot he root of the problem. i have no problem w/plastic surgery or modifying your appearance...i just think some people, *joan rivers* cough cough, take it way too far!

drstaceyny said...

Just wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed reading all of YOUR comments! Great discussion!

Anonymous said...

Honey, botox is as invasive as an ear piercing. People read too much into such things! As far as I'm concerned the only line is to cross is the one where you redo precedures. Such as multiple boob jobs.

healingmagichands said...

I drew the line ten years ago. I don't use makeup, I don't dye my hair, I don't shave my legs, I don't tweeze my eyebrows. I don't tan-- well I'm tan but it is because of working in my garden, does that count?

I also don't read Vogue, Cosmo, or any of those sorts of magazines, nor do I bother with Family Circle or its ilk, and I don't read People or any of those periodicals. In fact, I limit my magazine reading to Ode, National Geographic, The Week, Missouri Prairie Journal and Organic Gardening. None of those are bombarding me with cosmetics ads or telling me what is fashionable. I do not watch television shows that tell people what to wear or do makeovers of any sort. I have better things to do with my time.

I haven't figured it out, but I'm sure I save a lot of money by having drawn this line. I'm generally in good health and I feel good about myself. My husband seems to think I'm sexy and attractive (if he doesn't he's a darned good actor). I'm 56, by the way, and I have grey hair and some wrinkles and I'm slightly overweight.

I like your blog, by the way, except I don't think I have an eating disorder. But then, I'm not every woman either.