Jul 21, 2007

Beauty is as Beauty Does

A few weeks ago I saw a thin middle aged woman shuffling painfully among the grocery store aisles, her face wrapped in compression bandages, her eyes swollen. She reminded me of a neighbor, MB, who had taken a month's vacation in order to stay out of sight. When I saw MB a week after surgery, her head was wrapped in a compression bandage to hold up her jaw and neck, and her face was raw and red from a chemical peel. MB's eyes were black and blue, and I could see the stitches along her eyelids. She was in agony, unable to sleep, and crying from frustration. Her doctor had failed to tell her the degree of pain she would experience. When she had gone in for her post-surgery check up he told her she was coming along fine and that she was healing on schedule. "If only I had known," she wailed, telling me she only wanted minor adjustments and that the procedure wasn't worth the agony she was going through.

In fact, a chemical peel (despite the smiling face of the woman depicted in the website I linked to) consists of burning off the topmost layers of skin. As we all know, BURNING is quite painful. One of my friends took over three months to recover when her surgeon, using a laser technique, burned more than just the top layers in certain areas. She was only in her late twenties, but she wanted to remove the evidence of her bad acne. For years after the procedure I could see the thin white line where her doctor had stopped the laser procedure. Yes, her skin is smoother as a result, but years later you can still see faint traces of acne scars. The improvement is slight if noticeable at all.

As for my neighbor, she now possesses a young stretched-out face that sits on top of the plump body of a middle aged grandmother. Who does she think she is fooling? When she smiles she bears a faint resemblance to a Chesire cat. These days, instead of looking her squarely in the eyes, I find myself studying her and wondering what the doctor had done to make her look slightly foreign.

Self mutilation in any form for any reason other than as a life saving procedure is a popular phenomenon that I have been unable to understand. Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to plastic surgery. In fact, plastic surgery performs miracles for those who are truly in need of it: burn victims, children born with horrible deformities, accident victims, soldiers injured in war, and the like. It is gratifying to know how far along the medical profession has come in its ability to help these unfortunate people. Click on Operation Smile and Make Me Pretty to read how plastic surgery can positively transform lives, as it has for the person below.

But to choose to mutilate oneself in the quest for beauty when nothing is wrong with your face? I just don't get it. Take the individuals who opt for a nose job, such as Jennifer Gray and Benjamin Bratt - will they loathe their childrens' noses as much as they hated their own?

Will they encourage their children to get their faces fixed just as Mommy or Daddy did? Food for thought.

Ashley Simpson after nose and chin jobs looks like an entirely different person even though her looks were perfectly acceptable before.

And what about those who think they are fighting the aging process? Think again. Here are a few examples of people who have allowed a stranger to cut their faces yet who still look middle aged.

Elizabeth Dole
The once fabulous Faye Dunawaye.

Linda Evans, now unrecognizable and looking horrid at 64 even with back lighting.

In terms of aesthetics it is probably 'easier' to make someone with ordinary facial features look better, as in the example below.
It would take a Michaelangelo of Plastic Surgery to make a breathtakingly gorgeous person even more beautiful after cutting and stretching their face. Beauty is related to symmetry and pleasing proportion. These two concepts are key in determining whether a person's features are considered outstandingly beautiful or handsome as opposed to ordinary. A tenth of an inch here, a small lift there, a minuscule reduction here, and you can transform a cute face into a beautiful one or vice versa. From her before photo, I would say that Catherine Zeta-Jones's surgeon (and makeup artist) had superb skills.

But stretch the skin too far in one direction, cut out a bit too much here, or add too much 'bee sting' there and you've ruined what was once a unique and lovely face.

Jessica Lange, for example, has lost her ethereal beauty. In fact with her lifted brows she looks downright scary in this photo.
And Melanie Griffith looks like a caricature of herself. My take? Leave well enough alone and play with the card Mother Nature has dealt you.

Like Diane Keaton, who is fabulously wrinkled and still looks precisely as she always has - just older. Or Blythe Danner, who looks simply amazing.

(Yes I was heavy handed with the women this go round. Here is my take on the men.)


trixie said...

This is a great post.

I have two comments. Since they are on two different aspects of your post I'm separating them.

I once temped at surgery clinic (for a number of months) and was surprised to discover that fact that plastic surgeons actually do some of the most important work on some of the most tragic victims of burns and accidents and birth defects. So often these are people who don't have insurance (like people who have terrible farm machinery injuries).

They are some of the doctors most needed in rural areas, in undeveloped parts of the world, and in small isolated communities where cleft palettes become common birth defects. It is not what you usually think of when you hear the phrase "plastic surgeon."

I started to think that if somebody feels better getting a boob job and that helps pay the balance for the other kind of work that is done by a plastic surgeon, then fine. I do think that a decent plastic surgeon should do both kinds of work -- not just get rich off of the vanities of a sick society's definition of beauty. They should take part in one of the volunteer groups that go to poor places in the world and offer their services for free.

But I'm such an idealist. Those Hollywood type plastic surgeons would probably not know how to do that kind of work. They aren't good enough. Trauma is the toughest area of all -- only the best can do it.

trixie said...

This post reminded me of the scene this past week in her "Coming to America" special when Posh Spice meets her Beverly Hills neighbors. That was comedy gold. You can’t make that stuff up. The face lifts around that room are so completely ghoulish that the nuttiness of the women seems perfectly normal. It would be weird if they weren’t insane.

The eyes are deer-in-the-headlight kitty cat's eyes. Everyone has the same nose: it's too small and weirdly narrow to be a normal nose. And what is the deal with the blow-up doll lips? This trend is reallydisturbing.

I’m in my forties and women in Hollywood who are my age are now having plastic surgery. It's harder to keep the weight off now but otherwise I just don't feel that horribly saggy and wrinkled. It is so sad.

There is Kathy Griffin (she’s fabulous but I really wish she wouldn’t do this) is one. Demi Moore is another. Look at this photo:
conversationsfamouspeople.blogspot.com/2005/04/demi-moore.html And on the really grotesque end of things there is Courtney Love*.

I don’t know why they bother. Their photos are always so doctored that they can be made to look however they want. Speaking of which, our posts are related this week -– my blog is about the way magazines photoshop the images of Hollywood stars (*including CL) -- I’ve even put a link to this blog.

Great minds and all . . .

Ms. Place said...

Oh, yes, Trixie, I so wanted to use the Beverley Hills coffee klatch as an example of plastic surgery gone haywire, but I had the dickens of a time finding photos. In fact I never did.

I thought that Posh was extremely major in her attitude towards these waxen faces, calling the women fab and wonderful. I cringed even as she was gracious. That particular scene made me think of plastic surgery in general and my few personal experiences of observing the effects up close, and so I wrote this post.

My mom warned me that at some point in her life men will stop noticing a woman as an object of sexual desire. She recalled the year when truck drivers stopped whistling at her as being particularly memorable. I wonder if this desperate desire to cling to one's youth is correlated to being loved or wanted(?)

I would love to read a study on the subject. Thanks for your observations.

Ms. Place said...

I would like to amend my previous comment, for it may seem misleading. My mom is not desperately clinging to her youth. She is the fountain of youth incarnate, with people always wondering how old she actually is. Her beauty and youth come naturally and I am the lucky recipient of her genes. Still, Mom has never had a procedure to make her look more youthful. I daresay she looks younger in her natural state than the very propped up and stretched out Joan Rivers.

Doralong said...

Like many women I have thought about the idea.. and rejected it. I shall grant I was blessed with good genes in many respects, but much time worshiping RA when I was younger made me think about it at 45, truthfully. I indeed gave it some serious consideration.

Honestly a good dermatologist and sunscreen are the best route. Somehow ending up as a mere caricature of myself is more disturbing than the progression of time. Ironically I had one of the much younger Mothers at the boy's school inquire last year "who did my work".. I presumed she meant the floors I just had done. The family said I ought to take it as a compliment, I didn't.

I don't dispute I fight it tool and nail- sunscreen, good moisturizers and so forth.. but going through procedures that would essentially make me a stranger to my children? No, I expect I'm fine with looking like a 46 year old person that's had a very interesting life actually.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

Great post Ms. Place. I am not sure I have ever been to your website before. I always enjoy your comments on the other blogs.

I like being older, I know crazy me, I am not a fan of wrinkles but this is part of life. Hanging on to youth, egads I don't have enough time in the day to worry about that. It would be a full time, dull job.

Dana said...

Why would a 50 year old woman want to look like a 30 year old? It's a senseless clinging to a stage of one's life that has passed. Maybe it should be time to move to the next thing and accept old age not as a disease but as a different stage. Why does a woman want so badly to be sexually attractive (that is in fact the goal) when biologically she is no longer in the reproductive age? That is unfair and cheating, and I think they want to preserve their beauty because it's their only value on the market. They must be afraid of competition from younger females trying to "steal" their husbands.
And another thing : as celebrities do plastical surgery to have bigger breasts or to get rid of cellulite or fat, or to have less wrinkles, bigger lips, they raise the standards of expectation for what one should look. Big breasts come by nature in planturous women, whereas our stars today have big breasts and at the same time are very thin.
Because these celebrities appear a lot in the media they make it harder for the "un-worked" women to be accepted and accept themselves. This is unfair competition.
But what I really worry about is that this points out that women mostly consider that their looks are the most important asset they have, and they forget that they are firstly human beings able to do more than just take care of their appearance; much lesser pressure is put on men, clearly.