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The Inconvenient Truth About Plastic Surgery

plastic surgery staying relevant beauty body image women in Hollywood celebrities Iggy Azalea self esteem perfect looks

Photo Credit: Getty Images

In the August issue of Seventeen magazine, pop star Iggy Azalea tells her teenage fans about her recent decision to get a nose job. “Your perception of yourself can change a lot over time, so I think it’s important to wait and make sure it’s the right choice,” she says. “Plastic surgery is an emotional journey. It’s no easy feat to live with your flaws and accept yourself—and it’s no easy feat to change yourself. Either way you look at it, it’s a tough journey.”

Azalea added, “There are things that I didn’t like about myself that I changed through surgery. There are other things I dislike but I’ve learned to accept. It’s important to remember you can’t change everything. You can never be perfect.”

You can never be perfect.

When I read those words, I was troubled because they inherently suggest that there is some collective standard of perfection out there. And in a way, she’s right, it’s out there; I just don’t think it’s worth comparing ourselves to it.

Flipping through today’s popular magazines, I often find myself wondering when we decided that women in Hollywood were not supposed to be human. The prolific images of smooth-skinned, perfectly toned women in the media always remind me of Tina Fey’s insightful joke at this year’s Golden Globes: “Steve Carell’s Foxcatcher look took two hours to put on, including his hair styling and makeup. Just for comparison, it took me three hours today to prepare for my role as human woman.”

Although there has yet to be a starlet who has proven herself immune to aging, there still seems to be an unwillingness among entertainers (or perhaps their managers) to allow nature to run its course, wrinkles and all. The demands of the Hollywood industry have created a discourse widely evidenced on talk shows and in celebrity magazines. We always see or hear the headline: Another celebrity has altered herself in order to stay relevant!

To be fair, most of us do enjoy changing our appearance now and again. Haircuts or highlights for the sake of a change, new makeup to bring out the color of our eyes (and possibly distract from crow’s feet), or an updated wardrobe to convey a new mood—we don’t hesitate to invest in our looks. What differentiates most women from airbrushed celebrities is that without the need for the entire world’s approval, our decisions are less intense—and less permanent.

But the inconvenient truth about plastic surgery is that for the most part, it is just that—permanent. The question remains: When is plastic surgery worthwhile, and when does it perpetuate unhealthy habits of self-dissatisfaction?

Francesca Camp, author of Do I Need It? (And What if I Do?): Answers to All Your Questions About Plastic Surgery, gives some insights. Having helped burn and abuse victims in Chile, Camp knows well the benefits of plastic surgery. At the same time, she says she refuses clients “whose self-image seems to be dominated by body image concerns, who are obsessively preoccupied with surgery, and/or who are considering surgery even if their circumstances make it financially irresponsible.” She also refuses patients who turn to cosmetic surgery in order to please a spouse.

Camp does not find it problematic for someone to consider getting a procedure in order to maintain a job (which probably justifies the work done on everyone in the entertainment industry), and she emphasizes that the first and foremost key to a positive outlook on life is feeling positive about your appearance.

That’s the thing, though. I find it hard to believe that the true answer to people’s problems is as simple as improving your face or other features. I also do not believe that lasting or concrete self-confidence can be found when we make ourselves into projects that need to be fixed.

Ironically, the cosmetic surgery meant to fix “problems” once and for all often leaves the patient wanting more. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recently reported a 3 percent overall increase in cosmetic procedures between 2013 and 2014, for a total of 15.6 million procedures last year. Botox procedures in particular rose a whopping 6 percent in that year alone. As Inside Amy Schumer suggested in a recent spoof, some women get surgery after surgery over decades and ultimately look very different than when they started.

If a person has the financial means to switch up his or her entire face, then the temptation to do so might be overwhelming, even though the media harps on well-known celebrities who have too obviously had “work done” and dedicates entire articles to their “Botox Gone Bad." I can’t quite blame these people for their addictive approach—they’re only trying to find happiness and self-acceptance (and, presumably, a job). However, by choosing to change themselves in an irreversible, unnatural way, they have mistakenly decided that the solution to not liking an aspect of who they are is to alter that aspect completely.

To be honest, such costly quick fixes are rarely an option for the average American woman. But while we might not all be gracing television and movie screens, we have all struggled at one point or another with feelings of inadequacy and an inability to see ourselves as wonderfully made. I desperately wish for the Botox and plastic surgery trends to fade. I cringe over the idea of eventually raising a daughter in a society where “perfect” noses are something to be bought, and the distance between one’s eye and brow can measure the likelihood of success in their career.

When it comes to empowering stories in magazines, I’d find it much more refreshing to read about the rich and famous describing their insecurities and how they came to terms with them rather than flipping past photos of them celebrating their 56th birthdays looking younger than they had at 55. At the end of the day, everyone is bound to age, and everybody is bound to have unique features that don’t look like Barbie. Pretending otherwise won’t change the facts. More important than reaching our final days with smooth faces and plump lips will be learning to find peace with our human assets, both internal and external. That may be wisdom that comes with age, but I’ll take it.