WHEN warning labels started appearing on cigarette packs, I had no choice but to face the emboldened facts telling me that "Smoking Causes Heart Disease" and that "Smoking Harms Your Unborn Baby". But nothing quite struck fear in me as the ones that said "Smoking Causes Ageing of The Skin" and "Smoking Gives You Wrinkles". Anytime the man in the convenience store handed me a pack carrying either of these messages, I'd yell "No! Give me the one about the baby. I ain't got no babies."
Being young, the thought of wrinkles was certainly not one of my main concerns. It was something I set aside as something to consider in the future; let old Stella worry about it young Stella was too busy earning her wrinkles.
The years of hedonism and reckless living eventually catches up though, and as I gaze at my reflection in the mirror, I can't help but notice things that are there that once never was. Freckles. Uneven colour. And oh my god, is that a five o'clock shadow?
I understand the temptation, to want to preserve the hallmark of your youth as much as possible. For me, the desire is rooted in a mixture of reasons.
A small part of it is pure vanity of course who doesn't want to be a fresh-faced beauty?
A significant part of it is to do with convenience. I can't say I didn't appreciate being able to go to bed with my make-up on without suffering immediate consequences the day after. And it really was nice to have the choice of whether to wear make-up or not, rather than having to wear it now simply to blend in with the rest of the human race.
Another, less obvious part has to do with fear. If I already look rough now, what on earth am I going to look like ten years down the line?
Unsurprisingly, anti-ageing products have a huge following. Women, and more often than you think, men too, have collectively spent trillions in a bid to find the elixir of youth. From cell-regenerating night creams to Botox shots, some will stop at nothing to look perfect.
Unfortunately, what they fail to realise in their insatiable search for perfection, is that perfection doesn't exist. So they keep pumping poisons in to their already bloated faces, creating what can now be recognised as the signature "cosmetic surgery" look: over-inflated lips, plumped up cheekbones and foreheads that don't wrinkle at any kind of movement.
American photographer Philip Toledano unveiled his exhibition, "A New Kind of Beauty" earlier this year, the subjects of which are examples of extreme cases of plastic surgery. Dubbed the "Botox Botticellis", the models are laid bare in what is essentially a brutally honest look at the new frontier of cosmetic augmentation.
Toledano himself stated the nature of the exhibition as a way of studying what appears to be "an amalgam of surgery, art and popular culture", asking the all-important question, "When we re-make ourselves, are we revealing our true character, or are we stripping away our very identity?"
I have yet to meet even one person who is entirely comfortable in their own skin. We are too spotty, or have hair that's too frizzy, or stand on legs that are too short, or struggle with an extra chin that won't go away.
There's always some particular feature that needs re-making, which we like to imagine would make everything better once fixed, allowing us to finally feel complete and of value. Does it not make sense then, that if we strive to look like what we desire, we are ultimately striving to become our most authentic selves, reflecting externally what we feel on the inside? Are we not all sculptors, chipping away at a lifeless mould to give freedom to the true spirit that lies within?
Where we get misguided however, is when we confuse the media and society's projections on what they think we should look like with how we actually want to look. Let's be honest after years of being bombarded with images of leggy models, how we think we should look is just a natural, human response to what the media feeds us in order to fulfil its entirely corporatist agenda.
When we all begin to adhere to a singular, idealised expectation of beauty, what inevitably follows next is the exact phenomenon seen in the Botox Botticellis and any episode of "The Real Housewives" homogeny in greater numbers.
What greater sign is there that we are stripping away our identity than when we all end up looking the same?
The Brunei Times
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
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