Narcissus has a lot to answer for. He started it and it’s just got worse and worse . So it’s no surprise that we are so obsessed with our physical appearance and how to attain perfection. We pay a high price for this predilection although we’d prefer you to gawp at the transformation in silent amazement and accept that this is the work of nature, nothing else.
We’re obsessed by physical attributes, many of them worthy to be counted among the manmade wonders of the world. We’re constantly measuring ourselves against the ideals of impossible celebrity beauty, perpetuating the myth that beautiful is good, lucky, successful and happy and ugly is bad.
It’s impossible to escape the beauty trap.
Almost 100 million selfies are snapped and posted each day, probably by the same people still trying to capture for eternity their best side, and we check our phones 100 billion times a day, probably to get affirmation that it was indeed their best side from people we don’t know and would be wise not to get to know.
Every which way we look popular media from billboards to reality television are telling us what beautiful is. The more superficial and unattainable, the better.
But there’s an ugly side that needs to be seen and the wounds run deeper and the scars last longer than any from a facelift, boob job, trout pout, chin or tummy tuck, pectoral implants or unfortunately aimed botox jab. They come from faceless abusers trolling Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media channels telling your teenage daughter or son that they are not one of those beautiful people. They are fat and ugly and have pimples and are a loser, socially unacceptable and not worthy to be anyone’s friend! It’s death by a thousand cuts and the consequences are terrible.
Every period of history has had its own standards of what it defines as beautiful, and every contemporary society has its own distinctive concept of the ideal physical attributes we should aspire to, if skin deep is as deep as you go.
In the 19th Century being beautiful meant wearing a corset – causing breathing and digestive problems and crushing organs.
Now we try to diet and exercise ourselves into the fashionable – read thinnest – shape, often with even more serious consequences. Or we follow Kim Kardashian’s advice for instant voluptuousness with her pneumatic corset.
Why anyone would want to follow Kim Kardashian’s advice, let alone look like Kim Kardashian is beyond me. Kim Kardashian doesn’t know what Kim Kardashian looks like.
Humans have been willing to endure grievous sacrifices and indignities to conform to society’s ideal of beauty.
In Africa and Asia, the women of certain tribes still wear strangulating metal coils that deform their neck and shoulders and black and brown people who want to be white using the most dreadful lead-laced powders.
In China, where foot binding was in vogue, there remain elderly women crippled by the procedure.
We have Victoria Beckham with her bunions from crushing her tootsies into sky-high heels and Sarah Jessica Parker paying for her shoe obsession as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City with the unwanted take-home prize of a new bone growth in her foot.
The obsession with youth and beauty rather than truth and beauty invites risk taking.
Why would people want to inject their faces with botulism toxins, smear sheep placentas or bird poop over their faces? What is the appeal of taking a bath in poo? Why would you lie in a coffin called a sunbed and go orange, staple your tummy so you can’t eat without leaking but have the figure of a 10-year-old with skin skirts flapping to your knees?
And why play God with stem cell treatments sold on line or by pyramid sellers, let fish nibble your feet, go for ‘thigh gap’ chemo and let surgeons recreate a new you in an image of a person you don’t know from head to toe, bosoms to bottom, batwing arms to cat eyes and teeth so white they look like stars and probably will come out one night.
Comedienne and acerbic fashion commentator Joan Rivers, who died of apparent natural causes following a cardiac arrest during outpatient surgery, was as famous for her potty, punchy, self-deprecating mouth as for her love affair with cosmetic surgery procedures – 739 – and counting.
“I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware,” she once said and described her addiction to beauty surgery like being a member of a coffee club. “Every time I do something new I get a 10th one free.”
Recent statistics from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons show demand for anti-ageing and cosmetic procedures is soaring with boob jobs still the most popular, followed by heavy demand for facial rejuvenation treatments, in particular, eyelid surgery and brow and face lifts. Fat transfer procedures are also more popular than liposuction ops – must be the Kim Kardashian effect again – and men are also wanting to look better with male brow lifts really rising, along with a lot of waxing.
The good news – and please listen Nicole Kidman and newsreaders – is that “frozen face” botox usage is on the way out and non-invasive treatments like laser resurfacing and peels that freshen the face are on their way in.
There’s also a growing choice for non-surgical facelift procedures with ranges of serums, skin peels, fat zappers, fillers and a harvest of sheep after birth to rejuvenate the over plucked, tucked and tired skin of the cosmetic surgery junkies like Melanie Griffith, Donatella Versace, the Bride of Wildenstein, Paul McCartney, Bruce Jenner and other melting moments.
And of course the makeup brush, a massive chest of cosmetics, falsies and fillers and the contourist is a real friend for the chisel cheeked, pouting mouth, spider-eyed look – oh it’s a Kim Kardashian moment again! What a fashionista and worthy woman of the year there!
Offering her best advice for women approaching older age, Sue Kreitzman, 73, one of the stars of the Fabulous Fashionistas documentary that celebrates the beauty, guts and energy of six wonderful women who are neither ugly nor nearly dead says: “Be the best you can be. That does not mean Botox and plastic surgery – Bah! Think about others. Do what you are passionate about. Don’t make money your first goal (although money is by no means unimportant). We are very lucky; although things are never perfect, we have freedoms and opportunities that many others can only dream of. Make the most of them.”
Apparently eating is also in, provided it is nutritious, raw and resembles horse chaff or otherwise is high fat with minimum vegetables unless it is fibrous kale juice. Look out for the headlines when Nicole Kidman or Jennifer Anniston or a starlet are reported to have been sighted with a disfiguring if slight bulge – if it’s not a baby – they must have had hundreds by now – then it could be a mouthful of food sitting there waiting for the digestive juices to reactivate or the enema to work.
Feminist and Hollywood celebrity killjoy, Naomi Wolf, writes in the Beauty Myth: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
We are obsessed with skinny and it’s a life and death issue. Why would emaciated airheads like Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and other billboard and television talking toothpicks be held up as role models to young girls who will become the next generation of the fat phobic, stung for life by being called “fat”, the first and meanest insult thrown at her by another girl?
But then fat women, who are coming out, also suffer if they are not the right kind of fat to fit with popular culture and clichés of Barbie-like waist-to-hip ratios, bouncy boobs, generous bottoms and of course no tummy overhang or multiple chins.
Beyoncé or Rihanna may be the ideal of a beautiful black woman and deemed to be super affirming and progressive because their feminine and sexy hourglass figures are a size 12 and not a 6. Get real!
There are some lessons for life for all of us from the six Fabulous Fashionistas in the documentary by award-winning director Sue Bourne. She introduces us to six extraordinary women with an average age of 80, who are not letting growing old get in the way of looking fabulous while having fun doing it. Jean Woods, Sue Kreitzman, Bridget Sojourner, Daphne Selfe, Gillian Lynne and Baroness Trumpington, all natural, intelligent beauties sans botox or plastic surgery, are redefining aging in style.
Their advice is simple and savy: avoid beige – it might kill you, adopt inspiring role models, find inspiration in unusual sources, be curious and keep on learning, stay in shape, eat well and enjoy the odd vodka, embrace change and take risks. For their style tips and secrets for a fabulous life go to: http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/article/TMG10293103/Style-secrets-of-the-fabulous-fashionistas-average-age-80.html
The last word belongs to Joan Rivers speaking about her surgery in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the 2010 documentary about her career. “I became a big advocate of it, then I became the poster girl for it, then I became the joke of it,” she said matter-of-factly. She died, it is reported, in full makeup, every hair in place, thanks to her daughter who brought in the appropriate artists—as Joan would have wanted.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is God’s gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
Joan Rivers RIP