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November 07, 2006

Surrendering The Things Of Youth

The post was an oasis of sanity in a world that all too often seems to have gone freaking insane. It was the comments that depressed me more than I could say.

Sitting in my chair at the hair salon a few weeks ago, I picked up a fashion mag to pass the time. I forget which one it was, but then they are all eminently forgettable.

I started reading an article about a woman who had started down the slippery slope to cosmetic surgery. It began with very minor procedures: dermabrasion and filling a few wrinkles, a bit here and there, always very conservative. It ended with having her derriere lipo-sucked, a very painful procedure that had her curled up on the bathroom floor in tears, drugged to the gills and stunned that she had been willing to hurt herself so very badly when there really was nothing all that wrong with the way she looked.

But like childbirth, the pain was quickly forgotten and soon she was smugly contemplating her next procedure by the side of the pool in her bikini. Until a friend's 8 year old boy wandered over and said, "Oh! You've had your fanny sucked like Mommy! You have the dimples!".

She was shamed. Even a small boy had noticed the tiny scars she'd thought were invisible. Why are women so afraid of aging? Why do we treat it as a disease instead of a journey to somewhere we've never been before?

The job of the plastic surgeon, Tagliacozzi writes, was “to restore, repair, and make whole those parts of the face which nature has given but which fortune has taken away, not so much that they might delight the eye but that they may buoy up the spirits and help the mind of the afflicted.”

Restoration and repair do not much characterize the surgery with which Kuczynski is most concerned: she makes a distinction between plastic surgery, a term that may refer to the repair of a cleft lip or a face disfigured by an accident, and cosmetic surgery, which refers to an elective procedure that is medically unnecessary. Kuczynski’s interest lies in this more recent development. If Tagliacozzi’s purpose was to restore a semblance of normality to a face ravaged by disease or by swordplay (one of his patients had lost his nose in a duel), so that its bearer might go through the world somewhat less stigmatized, what is the purpose and meaning of cosmetic surgery today?

I'm not sure it is even youth we are pursuing. It is perfection, and that is an unattainable ideal.

And it troubles me.

I have never been beautiful, but on the other hand I have found that it doesn't take perfection to attract most men, who are far more forgiving than we give them credit for. There is a vast reservoir of pain and insecurity out there that is being exploited and it angers me greatly.

Beauty confers a kind of power over men, but it isn't the kind of power that can ever last. It has always seemed to me that placing your trust in it is the kind of thing that can easily backfire. I worry about a society that places so much value on externalities.

As a young girl, I remember reading some Greek philosopher or another, who said that any young girl with a modicum of effort can present a pleasing face to the world for at least a few years. What she should strive to do therefore is develop a ready wit, pleasing conversation, a sterling character, and a mind that is clever and protean; thus she will be able to delight men well into her seventies.

As with so many things in American culture, I sometimes wonder if we are not sacrificing things of worth for things that are shallow and meretricious, much to the detriment of our daughters.

Posted by Cassandra at November 7, 2006 06:34 AM

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Two thoughts, I'm not sure how they connect:

1. Much of what women do to be beautiful is for other women. You ladies are very tough on each other.

2. A young girl who has a father who enjoys her company and her wit and her conversation and occasionally compliments her on her hair -- well, these fathers are missing. And their absence is what produces Girls Gone Wild, who have no perspective and no confidence in themselves, and so they just take off their blouses. And it is those girls who are the future gold mine for cosmetic surgeons.

(Also, lots of men are worthless.)

Posted by: Tim Smith at November 7, 2006 08:34 AM

Oh, Cass, you have touched a chord. Who would believe that this woman is also this woman? The movie world is a better place for her choice to age normally.

And you wonder if this woman doesn't regret doing this to herself, instead of just letting gravity win? She was such a pretty girl, but now she looks freakish, unintentionally, I'm sure, recalling to mind this story?

Posted by: MathMom® at November 7, 2006 08:39 AM

"It ended with having her derriere lipo-sucked..."

The pejorative term "suck@$$" comes to mind.

Posted by: camojack at November 7, 2006 08:50 AM

We all want to be loved. We all want to be desired. But to be desired is to be wanted, not for who we are or what we have done, but for our appearance - largely based upon an accident of birth - or for commonality between our appearance and that of some ideal in another person's head. Love, on the other hand, is an understanding of and admiration for a person as a person. Not as a hot chick or stud, craggily handsome beau or timeless beauty.

I applaud your post, and heartily agree - especially that Greek philosopher's remark - but I would append that we should seek to be the best people that we can be, rather than just acting as though we are applicants for the job of romantic ideal. There is more to life than desirability.

Ben Franklin apparently said, 'If you would be loved, love and be lovable.' I can't put it any better than that.

Posted by: Hiraethin at November 7, 2006 08:55 AM

I know some women do that.

I guess I don't spend a lot of time with other women, so I've never given a rap what other women thought. I generally will dress to be attractive to men, because I like them and since I'm not attracted to women I'm not terribly interested in pleasing them! I'm kind of odd in that I don't spend a lot of time at beauty parlors and the like. I just went to the Marine Ball, but it never occurs to me to spend money to have my nails professionally done, etc. That, to me, is a waste of my time. Yet (though again, I'm not - really - a beauty by any stretch of the imagination) I almost always get compliments when I get dressed up.

I never have, once in all these years, had my hair or makeup professionally done. I know women who spend hundreds of dollars on the Ball. I do my own hair and makeup, which is really fairly minimal. And I didn't even wear nail polish this year. I usually don't. I like toe nail polish but I don't really like finger nail polish, except pale or clear, on most women. Don't know why. It just bugs me - you can't use your hands. So I don't bother. I like it on toes though - feet sort of need something, I think.

But I'm not hard over on that.

And I agree with you on #2. I never really felt bad about myself until I ran into things like the comments on that post I linked to today. I have been rather shocked to realize that some men are like that - that they can be so harsh and callow.

My Dad is such a good man and so is my husband, and I raised my sons to treat women well. I always thought most men were like that. I guess I have been very naive most of my life. I have been treated very well, and it has been a bit of a shock to get a glimpse inside the minds of some guys. It has really shaken me.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2006 09:02 AM

I take care of my skin. I do not wear makeup due to allergies and the hideous nasty expense of maintaining my eyelashes, which promptly fall out after I use even 'the best' mascara on the market.

I used to get really really jealous of the Engineer being able to do PT. For most military spouses who are either SAHM or those who work, a physical fitness program isn't part of the workday and wasn't planned for by the corporate world way back when. You had to be motivated to do it on your own and then *shudder* take the kids for the walk/jog in the stroller, or the bike trailer. I liked it. And my children are healthy but they are NOT overweight. THAT I am so grateful for.

What I have noticed about children (and where the obsession with perfection starts) is how we view taking care of ourselves and to what extent we ignore or push things and why. Regular checkups with the doctor and dentist, making sure any care needed is done, and so on and so forth.

But they also get a sense of 'worth' when they are bombarded with messages from the media about what to wear, eat, drink, play and watch and howto 'feel' about it all, not how to think.
It was easy early in my marriage to do without television, and in 14 years of teaching at home to not have it on at all.

The few times we had the Family Worship Center connected to satellite, I noticed not only a different feeling in our home, but there was a disproportionate sense of right and wrong and
what was important and what wasn't.

Posted by: Cricket at November 7, 2006 09:02 AM

It's funny, MathMom.

I haven't been noticing too many signs of aging until just recently. With all these stars looking unnaturally young, it's easy to get an unreal sense of what you "ought" to look like at 47. And then I go to coffees and see other wives my own age. My husband came home from something the other week and said, "Man - I am the luckiest guy in the world - you still look like when I first married you" (of course the man wears bifocals, which is why I love him).

But I don't. I looked in the mirror this weekend and I am starting to look my age. But I am OK with that. I will try to take good care of myself - I don't want to look any older than I have to but I certainly am not going to go around trying to look 25 when I am 47 - that is just dumb. I want to keep my weight down and keep my figure because I want my husband to be proud of me. And I want to take care of my skin because I have to live with it for a long time.

But it's going to be a long life I start obsessing over every wrinkle I get (and with all these photos of young girls out there, it's hard not to). But I"m not a girl anymore - I'm a woman.

*sigh* :D We are what we are, but why would I want to go back in time? I resent being bombarded with images that tell me that there is something wrong with what I am. Because there isn't.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2006 09:23 AM

"My husband came home from something the other week and said, "Man - I am the luckiest guy in the world - you still look like when I first married you"....Cassandra

That's because The Unit sees you with the eyes of love, dear. :) (and he is one lucky hombre.)

"I resent being bombarded with images that tell me that there is something wrong with what I am." -Cassandra

Image. That's all it is. It's not real. The hardest thing that I have to overcome in my own mind is to let go of all the stupid pop-culture ideas that were drilled into my head while I was growing up, and learn to see the world anew, as it really is. At 51, I'm pretty imune to the present pop-culture ideas floating about me now. Most of the pop-culture ideas (shallow things that they are) are meant to create a longing within you for something that you probably can't obtain.

As a man, I care somewhat about my appearance, but ultimately, at this point in my life, it really doesn't matter. But beauty also comes from within, and no one with brains, spirit and real self-esteem is ever ugly. And plenty of 'pretty' women with no dignity or spirit are downright repulsive.

Beauty and Love......endure.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 7, 2006 10:43 AM

Actually I disagree with the good Greek philosopher.

I think most women with a modicum of effort can present a pleasing face to the world for most of her years.

And despite comments seemingly to the contrary what most men really want from their wives/girlfriends is not a size 2, but for their SOs to make that modicum of effort.

It turns us on that you want to turn us on.

Posted by: Masked Menace at November 7, 2006 11:02 AM

Pop culture is funny, Don.

And shopping with my kids is a real hoot. I am always reminded of one of my favorite songs by Confederate Railroad:

Well, I raised in a sophisticated kind of style
Yeah, my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild
Mom and dad had a plan for me, it was debutantes and symphonies
But I like my music, I like my women wild

Yeah, I like my women just a little on the trashy side
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed
Too much lipstick and too much rouge
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused
And I like my women just a little on the trashy side

Should've seen the looks on the faces of my dad and mom
When I showed up at the door with a date for the senior prom
They said, well, pardon us son, she ain't no kid
That's a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig
I said I know it dad, ain't she cool, that's the kind I dig

I like 'em sweet, I like 'em with a heart of gold
Yeah and I like 'em brassy, I like 'em brazen and bold
Well, they say opposites attract, but I don't agree
I want a woman just as tacky as me
Yeah, I like my women just a little on the trashy side


They are always picking things out for me and saying "Try this, Mom!" and I'm like... "ummmm... no."

I went to Georgetown with my youngest boy once. We had a blast but I was in some tony place and he had me holed up in the dressing room and the sales girl would NOT let me out. I'd had too many glasses of wine with lunch. Finally she brought me this 40s style tweed suit with a BIG old fur collar and stiletto heels and a pencil skirt that you could see what I ate for lunch practically because it was so tight.

I would NEVER have tried it on in a million years - it was WAY too young for me. But I did and it looked fabulous. But there is just no way. Where the HELL would I have worn it? Of course they are both saying "Buy it". I didn't buy it, though the fur collar came off. I couldn't sit down in that skirt and I would have felt like people's eyeballs were on my derriere the whole time. Heck, MY eyes were on my derriere.

But part of me loves clothes like that, too :) It was to die for. Especially the collar. And those awful, awful pimp shoes. Damn.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2006 11:20 AM

Nothing is sexier to men than classy women who try to dress 'trashy' and fail miserably!

Nothing is less sexy than a woman who manages to pull off the same feat and succeeds.

Most women couldn't look like a "ho" if they wanted to! We appreciate the effort though!

Posted by: vet66 at November 7, 2006 12:26 PM

Oh, Tim Smith--I wish more men thought like you do!


"My Dad is such a good man and so is my husband, and I raised my sons to treat women well. I always thought most men were like that."

Sadly, it's not so. Not "most," anyway. Maybe at one time it was, but it doesn't seem to be the case now. I have to think that part of it has to do with the huge number of single-parent households, though--or generally unsupervised kids--and that scares the hell out of me, being a single parent of a young daughter, myself. Too many girls will put up with any crap just as long as they're getting male attention, and will do anything to get it. And boys? They don't seem to have good role models around. Seeing as how I'm not dating or anything, I worry that my daughter doesn't see how I interact with men--although at least we have my parents living nearby. (Theirs isn't the "ideal" relationship either, though.)

I also worry because even though I despise it when other women use their looks to "get ahead," I find myself doing the same shit to keep up (the makeup, clothes, etc.). Maybe it's just a habit, because I don't care what other women think and because I'm not looking for a man right now, or maybe I just feel more awake (? presentable?) when I'm completely put together. Ever read Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth? GAWD, that could have been written by ME. (Naomi Wolf? Yikes! Scary-sounding, but true!)
Anyway, I have way too much to say about the whole thing for even my own blog post. And yeah, the comments at Ace's post were depressing. I had to ignore most of them just to save my sanity.
At least Ace gets it, though.

Posted by: Beth at November 7, 2006 06:37 PM

Just a preactical comment in here, nothing philosophical (I'm an engineer, what can I say :-) ) but...

My cousin, who, as they say in the 'hood, has (a lot of) 'junk in the trunk', did the liposuction bit. She carried no excess weight anywhere else. It trimmed her backside quite a bit, and was, from her description, quite painful.

Problem is, three years later, it's back to what nature intended her to look like. She exerised regularly, including all the specific exercises. She's not doing it again.

It's not a permanent procedure.

Posted by: bud at November 7, 2006 07:41 PM

Beth, I know that you weren't asking for advice, but I want to tell you that if you can meet your daughter's friends, and help her select those that will have her best interests at heart, and help her make good choices, you will be doing as well as any two parent household.

Keeping the lines of communication open is a big plus.

There are a couple of single parents who read this blog and while my heart goes out to them and I do worry about them (okay, it's a Virgo thing), I also know that you are doing a tremendous job in giving these children the security of a loving home, even if it isn't
what you want right now.

Hang in there and Cass is good for excellent advice.

Posted by: Cricket at November 7, 2006 10:41 PM

Cass wants a damned drink.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 7, 2006 10:45 PM

In a fairly hard to find ... a story called 'Mark of Merlin' By Anne McCaffrey (a name some might know) . Its worth reading ..for love (ok it IS a love story) dogs and the fact that it has a vivid look at how corrective surgury was looked at at the end of WWII

Posted by: LarryConley at November 8, 2006 03:34 AM

Here...spring water. Good for what ails ya, unless it is the election results, in which case
I will be an alcoholic by sundown. I am wondering what Kahlua tastes like with chocolate milk.

Posted by: Cricket at November 8, 2006 08:51 AM

Kahlua and Cream tastes quite a bit like chocolate milk so it should be fine.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at November 8, 2006 11:04 AM

Otay. Kahlua and choc. milk (hershey's brand)
for those who need it. I will be sipping my raspberry lemonade.

Posted by: Cricket at November 8, 2006 01:16 PM

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