The Quest for Beauty: a Troubling Trend

There has been a flurry of stories lately about the possible benefits of multiple surgical procedures to attain "Classical Beauty". Beauty described in paintings by the likes of Michelangelo, Botticelli or Da Vinci. It has been suggested that there is a "Magical Formula" composed of facial ratios and measurements and rules of classic proportion that must be matched to attain symmetry, which translates to beauty. Attainment of such symmetry by surgical alteration will provide classically beautiful features. Surgical modification of eyes, eyebrows, forehead, nose, lips, cheeks and chin to blend with each other in a special way will allow the individual to attain the type of beauty a master artist achieves on the canvas. Locate the formula, find a good plastic surgeon to take you on as a life's work, and you too can achieve classical beauty!

I recently blogged here about Cindy Jackson, a 55-year-old woman who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest number of cosmetic surgery procedures performed on her body.

Her story bears repeating because she underwent a total of 52 procedures; 14 operations requiring general anesthesia. This extraordinary surgical trek and her stated mission, exemplifies the misdirected path that many people are taking in the quest for beauty. She stated that she is redefining what aging means and has transformed herself to look better. She claims to have the "technical formula" to achieve classic beauty described by art history's masters. She described it as a willful surgical plan to stay young and beautiful.

Actress Heidi Montag is another example. This pretty, young actress agreed to undergo 10 different operations or procedures at the same setting because she was concerned about being noticed in Hollywood where competition is fierce. She chose surgery to try to attain an edge, not quite Da Vinci-esque, but a similar, special formula to achieve unheralded beauty!

A London mother, who has spent $800,000 on plastic surgery on herself to try to look like the doll Barbie, gives her 7 year old daughter a voucher for breast implants for her birthday to be redeemed when she turns 18!

A San Francisco mother reportedly waxes the legs of her 8 year old daughter and injects Botox into her face to treat wrinkles in order to make her more competitive in beauty pageants! She claims that other moms on the "baby beauty pageant" circuit do it as well as part of a beauty regimen.

I am here to tell you tell you that this philosophy is completely wrong, and potentially dangerous. While it is true that plastic surgeons occasionally use general proportions or measurements as a guide or template in certain facial operations, we do not rely on them in a steadfast manner. The premise that some sort of "Master Plan" exists to achieve classic beauty is absurd! I believe that "classical beauty" can never be defined because there are so many different interpretations and perceptions of beauty. These perceptions change and evolve over generations and are heavily influenced by each particular society. Classical beauty is different for Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc., and thank goodness it is! How boring would it be if we all had the same classic features! The quest for perfect symmetry regarding facial features is silly because so many "asymmetrical" combinations work also. For example; beautiful, large, expressive eyes on a woman's face with a smaller nose, lips and chin can be striking and radiant.

New computer software programs called "beautification engines" are making headlines because they use a mathematical formula to digitally alter one's face and transform it into a theoretically more attractive version of the original. They define beauty as someone possessing symmetrical features. One program transformed the features of the French movie star, Brigitte Bardot, into a very average, ordinary looking person. It erased her luscious, unique full upper lip and famous overbite; asymmetrical features that contributed greatly to her iconic beauty. So much for symmetry and perfection!

I am worried that this fractured philosophy of searching and implementing a master plan to acquire classical beauty might catch on. Recommending a quick trip, or two or three to the operating room to make that face symmetrical and classically beautiful is ludicrous and sends the wrong message. How can we ever feel good about ourselves if we try to alter physical traits because a computer tells us what is beautiful? This is unrealistic and those attempting it are chasing an illusion. Our society already inappropriately rewards and idolizes the "beautiful people". Beauty pageants for children are just wrong! There is too much emphasis on physical beauty, and not enough on the whole package; beautiful features inside and out. We must teach our children to identify truly beautiful characteristics like compassion, integrity, and a good sense of humor.

Makeovers, extreme or gradual, may sound sexy and exciting and may tempt some people. However, there is no easy quick fix, and certainly no guarantees! Even the simplest cosmetic procedure carries risks, and should not be taken lightly. Try a "natural makeover" first; diet and exercise vigorously, or change your hairstyle or hair color. Most importantly realize that true classic beauty starts from within. Identify and relish those wonderfully flattering physical and mental traits that you possess and then flaunt them! Learn to love yourself and you will end up paying a lot less money to doctors like me!

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