Monday, August 15, 2005

Plastic Surgery: You Can't Put a Price on Aging with Dignity

There’s something to be said about real. I’ve been a huge advocate of Real all my life and sometimes might go too far with the “realness” factor. But whatever. This is about plastic surgery and a malaise in American culture. And I don’t know, it may go further than just America. What I do know is that I’m in love with people who are real.

This morning, while eating my Cap’n Crunch, I was watching the Discover channel. They don’t mix really, especially when the program is on plastic surgery and after every commercial break they flash a viewer discretion warning that the program shows actual surgeries. Of course I watched it anyway.

What’s more disgusting than flesh being sliced open and slabs of skin, literal pounds of flesh (their joke, not mine*), being tossed into a garbage can or slapped onto a counter? What’s more horrifying than bubbles of cellulite popping out of incisions, or slippery, clear balloons of saline solution bursting from a small hole beneath a breast, landing in the sterile, gloved hand of Dr. Frankenstein . . . . I mean, the doctor, only to be replaced by a larger implant (because that’s what the operation really is, a breast-implant replacement or enlargement)?

I’ll tell you what’s more offensive than these images: the plastic surgery addict telling the camera that they know it seems shallow, but these surgeries make them happy. They just want to look good. They don’t do it that much, you know. They’ve only had a few surgeries, uh, lip enlargement, tummy tuck, liposuction of the buttocks, thighs . . . and . . . neck and that’s all . . . oh, and they had their nose done . . . and jaw-line . . . but that’s all . . . and breasts, breasts were enlarged, that’s right. Forgot about that. But that’s all. No more . . . Botox. Does that count, Botox? Because they had that done on their eyes, just the crows feet. And the smile lines, above the nose. Botox is great, because you know, even when you get mad you can yell and get angry without looking mean. [*Smile*, but you can’t tell because of the Botox.]

That’s really how the program went. It followed several individuals and every one of them had an interview similar to the above paragraph where they talked about the few things they’d had done. And they’d actually forget what they’d had done, like when someone’s retracing their steps from yesterday and they leave something out and then remember. But that’s normal because that’s just the day’s events, you know, minor things like going to the gas station for the paper or calling your sister. These people are forgetting how many major surgeries they’ve had done to remake themselves.

I know the allusion wasn’t lost on you. I know when I accidentally called the doctor, Dr. Frankenstein, you put it all together and saw the appropriateness of the reference. A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about Michael Jackson's life story being a modern day Frankenstein story (funny, because the actual title of Mary Shelley’s novel is Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus). And it seemed to work, because Michael Jackson while being a product of his parents, has been influenced by the whim of the masses and that has turned him into something ugly, not only on the outside, but judging from his actions, on the inside too.

People always mistake Frankenstein for the monster he created in the book. They think Frankenstein is the monster, the man created from the body parts of dead people**. But he’s not. Frankenstein, you’ll know—if you know anything and have read the book or been an alert person all your life—is the doctor. Victor obsessively pursues the secret of life and creates a human being pieced together from dead things. Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve read it and you might have never read it, but it’s usually quite different than the films based on it. The real question Shelley proposes is: who’s the monster?

These doctors who’ve gone to medical school and taken oaths to heal people and do everything in their power to save lives and all, have been seduced by lucre (I like the sound of that, “seduced by lucre” it’s so evil sounding. And it is. Evil). In Shelley’s book the real monster was Dr. Frankenstein with his greedy thirst for power shaping his cruel actions. When he succeeded in creating life, the weak man turned cold and frightened, sending the veritable child out into an unforgiving world to fend for itself. Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrosity was his thin, unloving heart.

Likewise modern day doctors slap fake parts onto people, give them a quick fix because the price is right, while ignoring the real problem (click here for more quick-fix plagues). In the original Hippocratic Oath, and even in the revised Oath, the sentiment is to protect and cure people. Plastic surgery as I understand it, developed as a way to hide burn scars or fix irreparable damage in accident victims. Even breast implants developed as a way to restore breast cancer survivors to a normal existence (again, this is what I understand of it. I haven’t bothered to look these things up). But these modern day Victor-Frankensteins base their practices mainly on the economy of it, ignoring the ethical question. Give them enough cash and they’ll scramble your body to look like a porn star or the Hollywood idea of beauty (which as we all know, is surface only).

What bothers me is that vanity surgeries are fast becoming the norm. I see it on the horizon now and I suppose there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m not an activist anyway and think it’s ridiculous to, say, camp out in Crawford, Texas to make a statement. I’m not like that. My cause is within my sphere of influence—loving, giving and perhaps a little healing here and there through massage, teas and aromatherapy (btw, that’s mainly a joke).

Maybe I’ll start the Real Club for individuals like me who want to make an oath to not succumb to the allure of looking perfect even as we age and witness the inevitable decay of our flesh. There is no chance for a state of physical perfection in this life anyway. Life on earth is fluid and changing, constantly giving way to the forces of time and gravity. However, our hearts can become perfect, I think. And that’s what I want to have: a perfect heart.

*And by “their” I mean the Discover channel’s narrator, not the surgeons.

**This deserves further clarification. People will say “Oh, he looked like Frankenstein.” And what they mean is he was an ugly man like the dad in the Munsters. He had bolts coming out of his neck and stuff. For accuracy’s sake they should say “Oh, he looked like Frankenstein’s monster.” However, someone could say, “Oh, he was like Frankenstein.” And by that mean he was selfish and heartless, on the surface seemingly good and nice and inquisitive. But beneath it all, he wouldn’t give you the shirt off his back.


Oh great One said...

I can't help but think that if you aren't happy with yourself before a surgery you won't be happy with yourself after a surgery. Sure the "new" you will be great for awhile. At least until you find something else to fix. Where does it end?

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed your post here you had some great thoughts.

Thomas said...

Congrats on the recent marriage.

Yara said...

I think it's great that you don't feel like changing urself. Cause I think it looks too fake after surgery. =D you look beautiful at ur pic's.

Thomas said...

I have liked every Richard Curtis I have seen. Even that Julia Roberts one.

Thomas said...

"Richard Curtis movie I have seen"

Greg said...

Not to be too gross (I think you covered that) but the hottest market in plastic surgery is vagine enhancement. I don't even want to know about that.

I'm not sure about your analogy, simply because the "monster" that we should pity is the patient, who willingly does this to themselves. Yes, the doctors are horrible, but if there was no demand for it, the supply would dry up. It could be vice versa, I suppose, but both sides are equally culpable.

Poor "lucre." A perfectly normal Latin word now means dirty money. It feels bad.

Matthew said...

May I join your club?

liz said...

The Dr. Frankenstein analogy is an interesting one --- do these doctors take responsibility for the monsters they create? (Of course, these addicts to plastic surgery are surely the minority. I have a friend who, after her 3rd kid, got a boob job. She said, "they were small to begin with, then they sagged. something had to be done." Interesting to see if, when she's 55, she opts for a face lift. Slippery slope - once you've gone under the knife, it's probably easier the 2nd time around. rambling.)

[Also, I switched to typepad purely for the indexing options. I'm still ambivalent about the switch.]

Aries327 said...

Thomas -- Thanks for the congrats. I also like Richard Curtis' films, but felt that "Love Actually" was too big for its britches, if you'll pardon the silly expression. Also, as you might have guessed, the whole porn narrative line was stupid and offensive to me. It could have been funny had it not been so gratuitous (in my opinion). I can't help but think they could have scraped more humor from the idea had it not been so uncomfortable and in your face visually.

Matthew -- Of course you can join the club. Last night I was watching a documentary on retirement and realized how refreshing it is to see a face that hasn't been completely done over. There are certainly some ugly mugs out there, but I prefer them to the fake white teeth, fake perfect skin tone, fake perfect body shape. Aging is tough, but there's an amount of beautiful grace you can only find in the people who allow it to happen. We see all this rhetoric about the environment and how spiritual the natural world is if we only dare to go out into it and preserve it. What about the beautiful natural cycle of our own lives? I'm not saying people shouldn't clean themselves up, take showers and exercise to stay healthy and fit. I'm just saying all the energy and money spent on fake beauty is a waste. There is no beauty in the facade plastic surgery provides for a human. Only sorrow and frustration. I think.

Yara -- Thanks. I often feel beautiful. And often I feel like crap, but that's the way it goes. No matter how crappy I feel, I'll never spend exorbitant amounts of money on plastic surgery. I think I'd just feel worse afterwards. And fake. Have I mentioned how fake plastic surgery is to me?

Greg -- I just recently read about the surgery you mentioned. It offends me. It speaks loudly of the damage done by an overabundance of pornography -- not to mention a disgusting acceptance of something so vile -- in our society. How can a woman think it matters? It's obviously a vicious cycle -- that women think men care about it and especially the men who supposedly love them. I could write volumes on this subject, but won't.

And you're right, the monster is the patient. I'm saying the doctors are no better than Dr. Frankenstein, who created the monster, but who is also a monster. And I'm saying they've contributed by selling out their values and ethics for money. Dr. Frankenstein was seduced by power. Modern day docters are seduced by money. They are both a monstrosity in society more than the plastic surgery freaks.

And frankly, I'm sick of the supply and demand argument and how it's supposed to ameliorate the guilt of the party who provides the service. You're argument, applied liberally, says that prostitutes are not to be blamed, neither are the people who create pornographic web sites and web rings and all the sticky tentacles of internet porn because they're only responding to a demand. I'm just saying, applied too liberally, the supply and demand argument goes berserk and no one is ever culpable (btw, great use of the word. I love to see good word usage in my peers).

I don't speak Latin and it's forever my regret.

Liz -- No, I don't think they do. I didn't detect any remorse in the doctors. Maybe some of them give up the practice eventually, but I suspect that would be incredibly difficult.

Great one -- Thanks for coming to my blog. I enjoy yours.

Greg said...

Ms. Aries - you're right to a point, and I certainly wasn't saying that we should let these doctors off the hook or try to ameliorate (another excellent Latin word) their guilt in the matter. This is a sticky wicket indeed, and your prostitution example is well taken. I blame prostitutes all the time - I drive around pointing fingers at them! You're right, though - it's too big to get into, I just wanted to make the point that these doctors are certainly not holding a gun to anyone's head. They still suck.

Aries327 said...

Greg -- Point taken. You're right, they're certainly not forcing plastic surgery on anyone. But they could definitely discourage it. In the documentary some of them would tell the viewers, after a consultation with their patient before another surgery, that they thought the patient was being stupid and the patient didn't need any more surgery, that they were going to far with it. It would have been nice to see an example of a doctor refusing more surgery, instead of being pawns in the patient's hands.

Anyway, I appreciate your comments.

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