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Selling Perfection

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I was at the hair dresser yesterday and flipping through a magazine about beauty rather than looking at the work material I'd brought with me. I was appalled. The entire magazine seemed to be one big advertisement for cosmetic surgery, geared towards women in their 20's and 30's. The main article, "The Perfect Face," named the necessary proportions required for perfection and showed photographs of attractive faces (to me anyway) explaining why they were deficient and how they could be improved by plumping up the cheek here, shaving a pointy chin there and then lifting the eyes. The ad was essentially a call for women to make a product of themselves, not just enhance their natural looks.

I do not object to all cosmetic surgery and I'm not a morality prude. Certainly in cases of facial reconstruction there is no issue; if people have been born with a deformity or have had an accident that has deformed their face, I am glad there is surgery that can bring their faces back to normalcy.

I confess to some ambivalence on my part about cosmetic surgery for women over 50 who want to keep their youthful looks. My feminist bones want me to object, and yet the realities of our sexist and ageist culture put pressure on women to keep a youthful look. To stay in the running, I understand and respect peoples' choice to opt for cosmetic surgery.

In my personal story, I was prematurely salt and pepper in my 20's. My gray was a signature look and I found it charming up until my late 30's when I began to look washed out. Coloring my hair has helped me maintain a look of aliveness, vitality and yes, it defies my aging self, giving me a younger look -- and I don't plan to give it up. Given that I was at the beauty parlor getting my gray roots dyed when I was looking at this magazine article, I needed to question my knee jerk repugnance to the invitation to attaining a perfect look of any kind.

As a psychologist I have worked with many women struggling with body image and their relationship to food. They have been sold on the idea that the perfect body is a thin body, and thin mostly means very skinny. I use the term "sold on the idea," because that is what mass marketing has done. It has created an image of the ideal body, and sold women on the idea that if they only were to diet, or buy the product being sold, they would achieve that ideal. This of course is not true. Revlon really doesn't care about you, but they do care about you believing that if you buy their next product, you will attain the look they are selling. "Not good enough" is created to keep the merchandising market in good shape, not your looks.

I have horrid images of futuristic hoards of women who all look the same. They have similarly proportioned faces and bodies that are sculpted to match an idealized form, and they appear like an army of prototyped, mass manufactured beauties. A nightmare.

The point is to take issue with the concept of perfection and that there is one perfect face that should be sought after in order to attain beauty. If there is a should about beauty, I think we should value a wider range of what we consider to be beautiful. We should value the differences we are born with and highlight them, not hide them or get rid of them. Beauty comes in different forms, shapes and sizes, both in our faces, in our body shapes, and in expressions of who we are.

Learning to celebrate the uniqueness of our looks is a practice. It involves staying conscious of the media's marketing trance, reminding ourselves to appreciate our bodies for how they serve us each day and training ourselves to focus on positive attributes.

For more, click on http://www.SelfMatters.org

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