Friday, November 28, 2003

The pathology of 'beauty'

I remember seeing a film in elementary school about some African tribe where the women poked holes in their lips and inserted clay plates to stretch the holes larger and larger. This was seen as desirable, and even in the modern day when young women were becoming more cosmopolitan the cultural bias in favor of this practice was so strong that a woman who did not do this might not find a husband. I recall the post-film discussion, mostly centered around the primitive and provincial world-view that the poor unenlightened Africans were subject to. There was no mention of the correspondingly bizarre practices in my own culture.

We've seen plenty of body-modification in western culture. When I was young, girls would stuff tissue paper into their bras to enhance their breast size. Now they just get implants. And it doesn't stop there: in addition to the whole spectrum of plastic surgery options, you can get cheek implants, chin implants, pectoral implants, penis implants, buttocks implants, and calf implants. Calf implants??!?! How fucked up does your body image have to be before you decide to get calf implants?

American society has turned body obsession into a disease. People are assaulted on every front by unattainable visions of 'perfection'. Making you believe you don't look good enough is good for business, and having a society that can't tell the difference between television and reality is an excellent way to ensure that the companies can continue stringing people along from one fad to the next, forever in search of the purchase that will bring the promised fulfillment. Health and happiness have become commodities. But that sort of beauty is truly only skin deep, if it goes even that far. At the end of the day, none of what you've been sold matters: if you're happy, you're beautiful.