11/12/2010 08:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Makeover Madness: Can Women Define Beauty on Their Own Terms?

I can envision it now: "Do you take this woman -- and her new nose -- till death do you part?"

Those are words we may very well be hearing when "Bridalplasty," E's soon-to-premiere reality show, concludes its first season. When the promos came out promising "the only program where the winner gets cut," I figured it had to be some bad joke: a reality show wherein brides-to-be compete to win a surgical procedure? Sadly, it is all too real.

As a psychologist who writes about women's issues, I had a hard enough time watching bodies transformed on "Extreme Makeovers" and faces taken apart and put back together on "I Want a Famous Face." But I figured there was something sacred about weddings that made them off limits to beauty competitions. Wasn't getting the guy enough of a prize? Isn't a wedding day that one time a woman feels beautiful for all the right reasons?

I guess I should no longer be surprised, about neither the infinite cynicism that has come to reality television nor how out of control our obsession with beauty has become. Remember "Toddlers & Tiaras," that reality series where three- and four-year-olds strutted their stuff at beauty pageants? As these girls were transformed into mini Barbie Dolls by their overbearing mothers, we were simultaneously mesmerized and nauseated. And if that show didn't make you sick to your stomach, another one called "Mistress Makeovers" might. Already creating a buzz, the media says it will feature "Tiger Woods' alleged two mistresses" who will undergo plastic surgery in their quest to "start over" and "find true love."

Is it my training in matters of the mind that makes me wince at this so-called path toward reinvention of the body, or does anyone really believe that these transformations really work?

Clearly, these shows exist because people keep watching. And by doing so, we support a culture that tells everyday women, at a younger and younger age, that extreme measures are required to conform to an externally mandated definition of what is beautiful. And, we are reminded, if these seemingly unattainable standards are met, you will become a new person, find love and live happily ever after.

Perhaps it's time for us to respond to this ever-narrowing definition of beauty by turning off these loathsome shows, tuning out their distorted message and spreading a different one among our friends, sisters and daughters. Maybe in some small way we each can help the next generation of young women from slipping further down the slippery slope our culture has created for them.

The statistics alone should frighten us into action. More teens are requesting a wider range of cosmetic procedures: up 100 percent over the last ten years. The most popular include laser hair removal, liposuction and breast augmentation. The quest to fit in or look like airbrushed models on magazine covers has girls as young as eight years old asking for cosmetic intervention. They may be talking about their need for facials, weight-loss diets and bikini waxes now, but it won't be long before they ask to schedule botox injections along with their routine acne treatments. Add the plethora of "makeovers" TV shows to the mix and we have to ask ourselves, what we are saying about beauty to young girls whose bodies are just beginning to develop into women?

The point is, instead of supporting these trends, buying into these shows and wasting our time and precious influence, why don't we exchange ideas about what we really believe true beauty means? Beauty that comes from caring for our health, staying in shape, eating well and finding fulfillment may not look the same on everyone, but it is an attainable goal that will more likely last a lifetime.

Share your ideas and start a conversation about how women can define beauty on their own terms.