Society and the Pursuit of Beauty

“Beauty is a demanding idol. It is wondrous to behold. It promises success, freedom, access, and economic opportunities. Beauty promises a myriad of exclusive and bountiful positive things and it promises relief and absolution from bad things. Beauty is so desirable that the ancient civilizations created gods and goddesses whose whole existence were to be beautiful and create beautiful things. Beauty is desired over more gracious attributes like being truthful or loyal.”


“To be beautiful is to encompass all that is worthwhile. Even though many people say that “beauty is only skin deep” and that true beauty “is on the inside”, the reality is that when people want to be beautiful they seldom mean that they want a good heart or a loving soul. Physical beauty supersedes the real beauty of the soul and the spirit that people should seek. Largely, people do not see how beauty can be a two face idol who presents something when in reality it provides no real substance. Beauty is ephemeral and in the end, the pursuit of it will lead to a track record of physical and emotional scars.”


The Things We Do For Looks

Rosalind Kaplan, MD

Is there anyone out there who doubts that our culture is obsessed with youth and beauty?  All it takes is a trip to any magazine stand, and one can see the scads of headlines screaming at us, ‘HOW TO TAKE OFF YEARS FROM YOUR FACE IN 5 MINUTES” or “SEVEN FOODS FOR A FLATTER BELLY”, or “BEST ANTI-AGING PRODUCTS”.   Even More, the magazine for women over 40, shows us the youthful, thin and beautiful of the middle-aged set- not the  real working women/mothers/wives/daughters who fight wrinkles and extra weight and bags under their eyes, the women who actually live in the world.  Apparently, we are supposed to be thin and glamorous, perfectly groomed, flawlessly skinned at all times, no matter what the situation.  Gray hair?  Ratty nails?  Visible panty line?  OH NO!

But as much as I may poke fun at the ideal body obsession, like most women, I also buy into it.  Up to a point, at least.  Let’s face it, we all have our thresholds, our boundaries.  We are each willing to do things for our appearances, up to a point, and that point differs from woman to woman.  So how far do you go?

I can tell you how far I go.  Probably farther than some of my friends and not nearly as far as some others.  I have my hair dyed.  Regularly.  Religiously, in fact.  I cannot stand obvious gray roots, and I am vigilant about this.  I am also a big fan of a good haircut and good styling products.  I spend more time and money than I really want to at the hair salon.  But I like the results, and I want them.  I also have my nails done regularly- both fingers and toes.  I’ve discovered gel manicures, which extend the lifetime of my manicure to 2 weeks, but you won’t catch me going longer than two weeks without a visit to the nail salon.  I keep my nails short (who wants a doctor with talons?) but I like color on them.  And I hate chips.  To me, this is a non-negotiable ritual.

I use good moisturizer on my face.  And sunscreen.  And at night I use a retinol.  It really is the only ingredient in a skin care product that clearly increases collagen and decreases wrinkles over time.  I use a little hydroxyquinone, prescribed by my derm, also, to bleach dark spots from sun damage.   Every few months, I get a professional facial.  I’m not sure if it really does anything, but I enjoy it.

I exercise regularly.  I eat as healthfully as I can.   With some indulgences, because what fun would life be if I couldn’t have ice cream or chocolate now and then?

The newest thing I started doing, and I admit I feel kind of vain about it, is to start using Latisse, a prescription from my ophthalmologist to make my eyelashes grow.  I never though about doing this until recently when I noticed how truly stubby and thin my eyelashes have become.  It was bumming me out a lot.  So I am indulging in this vanity.  I feel kind of weird about it, but I’m starting to see some growth, and it makes me happy, however silly that may be.

Here’s what I don’t do.  And won’t, at least not now.  Maybe not ever.  And not because I think it’s bad, or too vain.  And I wouldn’t judge someone else for it (remember, I’m using a drug to grow my EYELASHES!)  I won’t get botox.  I won’t get Juvederm or other fillers to fill the lines on my face or plump my lips.  I don’t want to do those things because I’ve seen some pretty unnatural-looking results, and because I don’t think I look bad at all for 52, and I’m not really trying to look like I never squint or scrunch my face.  I want my facial expressions.  My face is my face.  It’s far from perfect, but no injections, and no plastic surgery for me.

Same with my body- my body is my body- I’ll try to keep it toned and normal weight, and I’ll try to wear clothes that flatter it, but my imperfections- my little paunch (post C-section), and my too-big upper arms, and the cellulite on my thighs- well, that’s just me, and I’m going to have to accept it.

Maybe part of it is that I’m a wimp and I don’t like needles and knives.  But as much of it is my comfort level with altering myself.  Makeup, hairdye, Spanx?  Sure.

Botox and breast implants?  No thanks.

I wonder what it’s like to be a guy and just get out of the shower , put your clothes on, and walk out the door each day?   I know more and more men are paying attention to appearance and that Botox and plastic surgery are not just for women, but the men I know personally don’t do anything but get a haircut every few weeks.  A few pay attention to their clothes.  The rest wear whatever their significant others buy for them to wear, and the most complicated decision they make about their appearances has to do with facial hair- clean-shaven?  Beard? Goatee?

I also wonder what parts of the youth and beauty culture I will be buying into 10 years from now.  Will I give up the hair dye?  My husband thinks I should do it now, but I’m not ready to be gray.  When will I be ready?  I just don’t know.  Will I still be trying to make my eyelashes grow in 10 years?  Will I give in to Botox?  Or will I stop fighting altogether?


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Rosalind Kaplan, M.D. is a general internist specializing in women’s health issues and medical management of eating disorders. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and did her residency at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. She is currently an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and the Director of Temple Health Women’s Care, a multidisciplinary practice for women.