When I was searching for a quote to go with today's opinion piece about aesthetic plastic surgery, I found this poem by Emily Dickinson:
Beauty—be not caused
Chase it, and it ceases
Chase it not, and it abides
It says exactly what I wanted to say, but I decided not to use it. Then I found this one from Miss Piggy:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.
That one was pretty good, too, but quoting Miss Piggy might not add credibility to my column. So, I went with a quote from Garrison Keillor, a mix of seriousness and humor. You'll see it here if you read on.
A young Chinese woman named Xiaoqing was recently rejected by her boyfriend, a man who she has described as having an obsession with the American actress Jessica Alba. In an effort to win back this boyfriend, Xiaoqing has chosen to undergo plastic surgery to look more like Alba. A hospital in Shanghai is so delighted with the chance to show off its skills, it has offered to perform the series of surgeries free of charge.
As misguided as Xiaoqing may be, she is not alone in her quest for manufactured beauty. As the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery states in one of its online advertisements, “Every woman deserves to be beautiful.” Apparently, quite a few women are convinced they aren’t beautiful enough just as they are, and they are willing to submit themselves to painful medical procedures with all of the risks involved with surgery.
According to the ASAPS, residents of the United States spent more than $7.2 billion on plastic surgery in 2008, with 92 percent of those procedures chosen by women. While some of those surgeries were done to correct severe defects or repair damage caused by various tragedies, most were merely a matter of vanity.
Breast augmentations, liposuctions, eyelid surgeries, rhinoplasties and tummy tucks are the top five surgical procedures chosen by American women. But we’re doing so much more in an attempt to achieve some level of perfection. We are having our arms lifted, our foreheads smoothed, our cheeks and chins augmented, our faces stretched, our knees trimmed and our lips enlarged. We’re having fat sucked from one spot and injected into another. We’re having our toes tucked so we can more easily fit into high-healed shoes. And we’re having our earlobes plumped as we age.
These procedures do not come without risks, even the risk of death. In November 2009, Solange Magnano, former Miss Argentina, successful model and mother of seven-year-old twins, died from a pulmonary embolism as the result of a gluteoplasty, also known as a butt lift. And there are other documented cases of women dying during procedures seemingly as harmless as liposuction and facelifts.
Women, and the 8 percent of men opting for aesthetic procedures, claim they are choosing to surgically change their bodies in order to increase their confidence and self-esteem. Some of them believe they’ll be more able to compete in the market place if they appear younger than they are. Some even think they’ll seem more masculine or feminine, as if those terms are objective and fixed, as if being born a man or woman isn’t quite enough.
All of that money that’s being spent by people chasing after their ideal of physical beauty could be put to use for something truly beneficial, something with real meaning beyond the appearance of their bodies. Garrison Keillor once said, “Beauty isn't worth thinking about; what's important is your mind. You don't want a fifty-dollar haircut on a fifty-cent head.”
I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that if a person had such low self-esteem they felt the need to inject fat into their hind parts, paying for what amounts to a “fifty-dollar haircut,” they might find purpose and value by paying for something like an education instead. $7.2 billion would pay for the complete college education of at least 180,000 students, and it would cover the cost of textbooks of eight million others each year, which would go a long way to prevent that “fifty-cent head” Keillor mentioned.
The lonely young woman in China may come out of these surgeries looking like the object of her former boyfriend’s desire, and she may win back his affections. But I believe she would be better off focusing on what really matters, discovering her true worth as a human being and hoping for acceptance from someone who will appreciate her for her intellect and her heart.
She might also be well served by spending a little less time in front of the mirror. Every woman deserves to be beautiful, but the source of real beauty is not external. Women are not defined by their outward appearance, and they don’t need a scalpel to give them confidence and self-esteem.