How good looking should we expect to be?

Not everybody needs to be Cara Delevingne.

Not everybody needs to be Cara Delevingne.

One recent dessert time I was watching reality TV grossathon, Embarrassing Bodies. If you're unfamiliar with this piece of televisual tripe it's where willing participants are diagnosed by qualified doctors about their awkward medical conditions, which nine times out of 10 seem to be skin, bowel or genitalia related. Why would I watch this while I was eating? I guess I just enjoy a side of bile with my ice-cream sandwiches.

Anyway, the poor lass on this particular episode had come on to reveal her “embarrassing” condition, which was that she had one breast larger than the other. This malady had so troubled her that she'd never had a boyfriend because she was that uncomfortable with the idea of showing off her allegedly grossly mismatching breasts. The show really built up the whole issue until I was in quite a lather about the grand reveal. “It will be like a kitten and a tiger! A pikelet and a pancake! An alarm clock and Big Ben!” my feverish brain trumpeted. When the moment of truth arrived the woman removed her top to reveal... a breast and a slightly smaller breast.

As far as anticlimaxes go it was like watching a late-period M. Night Shyamalan film. On the plus side I was relieved because surely now the doctor would tell her not to worry and that it was completely normal to be asymmetrical to some extent, whether it's your eyelids, feet or, in her case, breasts. Now, the more cynical among you may have twigged as to what happened next – she was not talked some sense and sent home, instead the doctor whisked her straight into surgery so this apparently grave deformity could be fixed. And that was the point I hit my TV off button in disgust.

This obsession with trying to turn our bodies into cookie-cutter ideals isn't only the domain of women. A recent news story emerged about an Australian aspiring male model in NYC who committed financial fraud all in the name getting braces. Must have been some pretty bad teeth to carry out grand larceny over it, right? Turns out not really. The culprit told the New York Daily News, “I've got a nice smile, but I wanted a million-dollar smile”.

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Since when did there become this overwhelming imperative to pursue prettiness at any cost or risk to your health? I'm not talking about surgery to fix real deformities and I'm talking about more than sticking on a slick of lippie and wanting to make the best of what you've got. We're encouraged to slash, suck, laser and prick every part of our face and body until we meet the Victoria's Secret or GQ ideal. There's almost this expectation that if you're not actively chasing this standard you're simply lazy. Why have something be a seven out of 10 when it could be a 10 out of 10?

I would consider that I have a personal interest in this topic as I've possessed a crooked nose since primary school. It was the result of a historically inaccurate childhood game my brother and I called Convicts, in which he would crash tackle me to the ground as I tried to escape being deported to Australia (we were really weird kids...) I've also had dentists suggest I get my teeth whitened, but I believe some of us luck out and get pearly whites while others are stuck with thinly enamelled cheese teeth, and I'm not willing to risk increased teeth sensitivity to move from one category to the other.

But really don't all of us have a personal interest in this? We all have something crooked, misshapen, lumpy, wrinkled, blotchy or uneven about ourselves. The truth is most of us are more Picasso pieces than  Rorschach tests (and if it makes you feel better the first are renowned works of art while the second is an assessment tool for uncovering disordered thoughts). We're encouraged to pursue beauty with a vigour that is never applied to attaining the ideals of intelligence or bravery or kindness.

I think the smartest, and most evil, thing the corporate geniuses that marketed plastic surgery ever did was wrapping up these desires for idealised beauty as not being about conformity, but about confidence. I'm sure you've heard the sell that these invasive and risky procedures are simply about giving people back confidence in their bodies. Suddenly it's no longer about selling people something they don't need, but putting them on the road to self-actualisation. I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it – just because you want to erase some wrinkles or go up a cup size that hardly makes you Buddha or Gandhi.

The problem with this argument is that confidence is a state of mind, so something that you to a certain extent can control. You can be equally confident with A-cups as you can with D-cups so long as you've come to the viewpoint that both are equally valid and beautiful ways of looking, or even better yet that you don't particularly care whether your bra size is the societal ideal. This expectation that we should all be good looking is not only oppressive, but a complete waste of money and mental energy. It's something being sold to us, and we all can say no (or in my case turn off the TV). I don't want a future where we're happy to risk our health so we can all look like a string of identical paper dolls. Symmetry might be beautiful, but it can also be boring.

41 comments

  • I will always remember an interview by the footballer Ronaldinho - that guy with crazy crooked teeth. He was asked by an interviewer, "Why don't you get your teeth fixed?" His confident answer: "Because I'm a footballer not a model."

    Commenter
    FreddoFrog
    Location
    Adelaide
    Date and time
    May 07, 2013, 7:49AM
    • I thought a more accurate answer would have been that he is a rich and famous football player and he can get all the beautiful women he wants without getting his teeth fixed?

      Commenter
      Budz
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 8:56AM
    • The chick in the photo aint that flash

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 9:43AM
    • What a rude question to ask in the first place!

      Commenter
      Carls
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 9:58AM
    • And being a footballer, his new thousand-dollar teeth would probably get knocked out anyway.

      Commenter
      BecD
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 11:13AM
    • The asked the English footballer "what would you be if you weren't a footballer?" He replied "a virgin".

      Commenter
      Kris
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 11:33AM
  • As ridiculous as I think some aspects of the beauty industry are, I'm not sure asymmetrical breasts are the best example. I can imagine, aside from the ridiculous, immature remarks that they might attract, bra shopping is probably even harder again.

    It comes down to the cost ($$+emotional)/benefit of such procedures. For instance, my sister has been toying with the idea of getting a nose job - she has a very unusual nose - quite wide and upturned. Combined with other very striking features, she has been bullied and made to feel self-conscious about it her whole life. While I believe surgery is unnecessary, I will support her decision if she chooses that path. I think it unlikely that she would feel the need for any other procedures.

    Some cosmetic surgery/beauty products and the money women spend on them are ridiculous, but I do think there is a difference though between the pursuit of perfection and vanity, and wishing to 'correct' a feature that is unusual. There is nothing wrong with wishing to change something that gets unflattering stares, lewd comments and generally negative attention. I applaud women and men who, by choice or necessity, hold their head high and do not let it bother them. However, I will not disparage women who, perhaps by nature shy and self-conscious, struggle with a particular body part and choose to take advantage of modern medicine to change it.

    Commenter
    Lily
    Date and time
    May 07, 2013, 8:34AM
    • Well said Lily
      Was going to comment but I couldn't express my feelings any better than you have done

      Commenter
      Hi Alex
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 12:29PM
  • I too have seen this episode awhile back.
    what struck me as odd was, why would a woman who cannot undress in front of the man she loves yet for the sake of a medical show, bare her breasts in front of not just the female doctor but the entire world. Kept on film forever!
    That is all i could think about.
    they were very different sizes, so i imagine choosing a bra would have been difficult as well.
    You make a very valid point. Because she wasn't asked about how it makes her feel, why does she feel it is a problem, no sort of 'esteem' building so to speak. But how about we refer you to a specialist to fix the problem for you.
    She came back after the operation and once again displayed her breasts to all of the world.
    I do hope her partner that loves her actually gets to bask in all the glory, because i've now seen way too much.

    This topic does touch on alot of image issues.
    If we aren't blessed with it, let me go get an operation to make it so. No acceptance of self per se.
    Let's just hope the intention for change isn't skewed amongst all this perception we live in.

    Commenter
    Katie
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 07, 2013, 8:46AM
    • I've wondered this too and come to the conclusion that, if they bare their 'embarrassing bodies' that they get private treatment paid for by the show. I doubt she would have got her surgery on the NHS.

      Commenter
      Flo
      Date and time
      May 07, 2013, 9:13AM

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