Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nothing beautiful about cosmetic surgery
Sept. 28, 2007

We ought to be grateful for people like Krista Stryland and Micheline Charest, whose sad deaths present an opportunity for all women to reflect on the demons that send us searching for happiness through surgery.
Stryland died last week in Toronto of a heart attack after undergoing liposuction, in which a thin, sharp instrument is rammed repeatedly into your body to break up pockets of fat. Charest died in Montreal in 2004 following six unconscious hours on the operating table being sliced, diced and skinned in the pursuit of “beauty.”
Death is merely the worst-case scenario on a laundry list of ugly possibilities when it comes to cosmetic surgery, mind you. So I’m grateful too to celebrities like Cher, Joan Rivers, Burt Reynolds, and legions more. One glimpse of their mannequin-like faces is all it takes to remind me of the mighty price people pay for thinking they can get one over on the aging process.
We can talk all we like about whether general practitioners should be allowed to call themselves cosmetic surgeons and start operating on people in their private clinics, as happened to Stryland. That seems to be the major theme in the news coverage of her death this week, and it’s certainly an important point in provinces that haven’t sorted that out yet (B.C. already has).
Or we can cut to the chase and ask ourselves what in hell is going on with us.
Why do more than a quarter of a million Canadian women undergo some kind of cosmetic “enhancement” procedure every year in an attempt to feel more attractive? Why do Canadians spend more than half a billion dollars annually having ourselves tightened, tucked, lasered and poisoned in the elusive - and ultimately hopeless - pursuit of youth?
The self-loathing that characterizes so much of the female experience in this day and age has now spread to men, who once seemed virtually immune to such dangerous vanities. But while the number of men seeking solace through cosmetic surgery may be on the rise, 85.5 per cent of the Canadians undergoing the procedures in any given year are female.
Men tend to come looking for a better nose, or less droopy eyelids. Women have different goals: Less fat; bigger breasts; fewer wrinkles. The procedure that Stryland was undergoing, liposuction, is the most requested cosmetic surgery among Canadian women, accounting for a quarter of the total surgical market.
Cosmetic enhancement has become so popular, in fact, that a loan company in Toronto now more or less specializes in lending money to people wanting to be operated on. Medicard lends money to people facing a bill for an unfunded medical procedure, three-quarters of whom have are people wanting cosmetic enhancements.
In 2004, Medicard surveyed 1,000 doctors doing that work. The survey produced some of the first hard numbers specific to the thriving cosmetic-enhancement industry in Canada.
The numbers are pretty frightening. Almost 25,000 Canadians a year are having liposuction. Some 17,000 women a year get their breasts enlarged. More than 100,000 doses of the botulism toxin are injected annually into people happy to pay for the privilege of getting rid of a few wrinkles by having their facial muscles paralysed.
Cosmetic procedures overall rose almost 25 per cent in Canada between 2002 and 2003, Medicard reports. In the U.S., the growth in the industry is staggering: close to 11 million Americans now undergo cosmetic procedures in a typical year, an increase of almost 500 per cent in the past decade.
Our sisters down south are even more enthusiastic than we are about putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of false youth and beauty. Women account for 91.4 per cent of the U.S. market, which now drives an industry worth close to $12.5 billion.
Why are we doing this to ourselves? We like to blame the fashion industry, or Hollywood, or all those magazines endlessly haranguing us to lose 10 pounds by Christmas/summer/next week. The cult of youth, the anorexic runway models - what can a girl do but try to keep up?
But we wouldn’t respond to the negative messaging if we were confident in our own skins. If we weren’t so tragically uncertain about our own worth, all the images in the world of skinny, airbrushed, smooth-skinned 20-year-olds wouldn’t ruffle us a bit.
Were we whole to begin with, we wouldn’t be here wondering why a happy, fit young mom would die for the sake of a little less flab on her belly. We wouldn’t be borrowing money by the thousands to get our faces cut up and our breasts filled with plastic pouches.
Perhaps the patriarchy had something to do with all of it way back when. But we’re long past the time for laying the blame on anyone except women themselves.
If we stopped buying the magazines that exist to make us feel inadequate, there soon wouldn’t be any. If we quit buying teeny-tiny vials of vastly overpriced creams to dab on our unstoppable wrinkles, we could feed the planet with the money saved. If we aged with grace instead of desperation, whole industries would collapse overnight.
Just say no, ladies. There’s no beauty to be found at the end of a knife.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Our collective insistence on eternal youth is something that's bothered me for years. For the longest time it was easy for me to rail against the too-pervasive messages equating youthful beauty with worth, and aging plainness with lack of worth. I turned 50 this year and in many ways I am the strong confident woman I always imagined I could be. And yet I get a kick in the gut each time I catch sight of my aging face in a mirror. It was easy for me to talk about aging gracefully when I wasn't there yet. But now that the time has come, I find myself desperate to believe that I am still young. I have a better understanding of what might be motivating women to pay the price of surgery to maintain the illusion that they aren't getting old. And it's this fear of getting old that I think really lies at the heart of the obsession with youth. Elders in our society are more likely to be discarded as useless and unproductive than venerated as meaningful contributors. We are faced with the prospect of ending up forgotten in an old age home, living out our lives in the care of strangers, powerless and helpless. I am terrified.