Beauty – At What Price?

There was a recent article by Jan Henderson on the lengthy media coverage of the death during cosmetic surgery of aspiring Chinese pop star Wang Bei.

The details are tragic: She was only 24. Ironic: She was already beautiful. And dramatic: Her mother was having the same procedure at the exact same time. So her mother woke up to discover her daughter was dead. Or perhaps not. According to conflicting reports, her mother was told nothing until the next day.

Wang Bei was having facial bone-grinding surgery “to make her jaw line fashionably narrow and her face smaller.” (Chinese women are said to prefer an oval face shaped like a “goose egg.”) The blood from Wang’s jaw drained into her windpipe, and she suffocated.

Press coverage of the Wang Bei story – in addition to describing the young woman’s failed attempt to become a successful entertainer after her 2005 appearance on the Chinese equivalent of American Idol — was almost entirely about the importance of finding a qualified surgeon for your next cosmetic procedure. This is big business in China. In 2009, the Chinese spent $2.2 billion dollars on three million procedures, a figure that grows annually by 20%. China ranks third highest in the world in number of procedures (after the US and Brazil), and it is number one in Asia.

Most of the subsequent commentary revolved around the importance of choosing a well-qualified surgeon and institution for performing your cosmetic surgery. Few questioned the value system our society is promulgating that forces young, already attractive women into having an operation that, even in the best of facilities, is not free of serious and even fatal risk. Nor did anyone raise the issue of the medical ethics of a surgeon willing to operate on a healthy, already attractive young woman for a marginal improvement in her appearance – clearly, the ethics of market forces are widely accepted.

I know of one young mother who died recently of anesthetic complications while having a breast augmentation, leaving behind three young children as orphans. Another young woman suffered fatal blood clots to her lungs following a liposuction operation.

Why am I bothering to blog about this event, tragic as it is, when it’s been already so widely reported? I write because our idolatry at the altar of Beauty has far greater implications. Of greater concern for society is the fear created in people that if they fail to conform to an almost unreachable standard of “beauty” they will be unable to find or maintain a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, or that they will fail to find work, or be unable to keep their jobs as their bodies age and the appearance of youth fades.

This fear that drives not only many women, but also an increasing number of men, into spending thousands of dollars on plastic surgery, make-up, new wardrobes and beauty spas is driven by the media’s celebration of youth and looks, by the advertising power of giant corporations whose profits come from the insecurities they create, and by our culture’s attempt to deny the mortality that is the essence of life. We are now incapable of even saying the word ‘dying,’ hiding instead behind euphemisms such as ‘passing away’ or ‘departing.’

The price we all pay for our cultural folly is huge. Starting with the ostracism that young children are cruelly subjected to from the earliest grades in school for failing to meet the artificial litmus test  imposed upon them, to the multiplicity of bad choices we continue to make in our lives, and culminating in our inability to prepare for and accept death and dying as the natural continuum of our lives – the results are tragic. We marginalize and ostracize our old, our less attractive, our handicapped, while we heap undeserved rewards on those who, through no merit of their own, have reaped benefits from the genetic lottery. Last, but certainly not least, we choose leaders not as much by their character, experience, wisdom and skills, but rather by their appearance and rhetoric. God help us all!

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11 Responses to Beauty – At What Price?

  1. It is difficult for the young to realize that beauty comes from within, there is no surgery to remove the ugly scars we inflict upon ourselves we alone can remove them!

    Thank you for your visit Jorge and your kind comment


  2. impattymac says:

    Jorge, last week I went for my annual mammogram…my doctor had faxed the order to the hospital…at the top of the page was written, in large print, “NO IMPLANTS”…I had never seen this before…my thought was that the procedure has become so common in our small rural area that it has to be noted for the technician…or maybe it’s just common practice everywhere, now…you are so on target with what you’ve written, especially those last sentence two sentences…so good to see you again…

  3. good post, jorge!

    its sad that so many buy into what some few individuals have determined is beauty. my opinions usually differ from whats promoted. what really constitutes physical beauty anyway? imperfection is far more attractive, interesting, and unique. fitness goes a long way toward physical attractiveness, as does charm and heart. my grandma always said if you really like someone, they will seem more beautiful to you. its always proved true.

    personally, i dont want any surgery unless i absolutely have to, for health reasons. eesh! what about if the surgeon botches the job?

  4. jingeorgia says:

    Awesome post Jorge. Your last paragraph was a powerful summary of our vanity. Even the dead need to look good!
    So glad to reconnect!

  5. redvlvt1 says:

    A wonderful post on a tragic issue. I totally agree. In my personal experience, I grew up feeling that I was fat and unattractive when in all actuality I was neither. Looking back, I can see now what I could not see then, and I realize that my negative self image was a result of unrealistic standards set by society and the media. The situation has grown progressively worse over the years. Today as an individual who interacts daily with young people on a college campus, I am surrounded by young people who cannot see just how beautiful they truly as a result of someone else’s “ideal standards.” Anyway, I guess it’s time for me to end this tangent, but thanks for posting this.
    I am so happy to be connected again. I will always miss my “Space,” but if some of us reconnect here, then I might eventually adjust to the change. 🙂

  6. chicasl10 says:

    i read ur entry yesterday ….i read ur entry to day.
    what can i say other ..than ur abslty right Jorge.
    Girls want high cheeks???
    they ant cup C…my god..and when that surgeon says NO..i wont do the operation the girls go to another one.So the docs do it.
    last night we saw on tv a girl…i think she was around 25…Beautiful..but she did not like her belly
    well Jorge she already looked like a cat walk lady…the operation was on tv.,

    my god .i had no idea that ppl would go that far..just to belong to the world that we want to fit in.
    life is short why worries abt getting older..
    I agree with plastic surgery when ppl need it..And i think u know what i mean
    tc and im happy to have u back after such logn time..
    and hows ur poetic son doing??

  7. truleeyours says:

    Well worth reading this post and comments. Thanks for coming to look for me.

  8. ember850 says:

    Hi, Jorge,

    It’s good to ‘see’ you again; I haven’t done much over hear yet, but wanted to make sure I had the option to pick ‘Layers’ back up.

    Which I probably am about to do anyway as my other blogs on blogspot are more themed and don’t seem to have room for those idle musings and small synchroniciities I like to put down.

    I wish this post of yours could reach a wider audience. It’s funny, when I was more influenced by society’s standards, I was miserable about my appearance. Looking back, I was beautifuly by just about any standards.

    Now, having put those standards aside for many reasons, I find myself still caring about looks, but more on whow I feel in my body, the sensations I receive from it.

    It makes for a much more content life.

    I’ll also look for you on blogspot.


  9. Holy says:

    Hello you. Welcome to WordPress. And we WPers didn’t even have to tease you with temptations like, “come to the dark side, we have cookies.” Now you just need a Facebook account and you’ll have truly arrived. 😉

    It’s tragic that so many in our culture define beauty, and perception of self, in external rather than Gandhian terms. John O’Donohue wrote a book on Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. If you have some downtime and are looking for lyrical inspiration, he’s your man and his rumination on the topic is a divine segue. And then read his book on Belonging and blessings and Celtic wisdom – read all of his books. He was a brillig man.

    My own philosophy on beauty is more akin to Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s The Invitation in which she states: I want to know if you can see Beauty / even when it is not pretty / every day. / And if you can source your own life / from its presence.

    That, my friend, is the truth of beauty for me.

  10. Jana ♥ says:

    Oh wow Jorge, I am just reading this and it is just the same thing as my last post I wrote about Looking at beauty. It is crazy and sad what media and society made us believe what beauty is. And I feel sorry for each girl who feels like she needs a plastic surgery when she is already beautiful.

    I am going to put link in my post about your article. If you don’t want me to, please let me know and I’ll erase it. Thank you.

  11. Pingback: Looking at beauty « Live and Let Live

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