In recent years, I’ve lost count of the number of campaigns aimed at making people feel sexy. Like Dove with its “real beauty” adverts, lingerie company Aerie’s social media crusade featuring a “curvy” model, and Selfridge’s Beauty Project featuring un-retouched photographs of “unknown stars”.
But it hasn’t worked. According to statistics from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) released this week, we’re feeling uglier than ever. Data shows that demand for cosmetic surgical procedures grew 13 percent between 2014 and 2015, with breast enlargement the most popular.
When I glanced over these numbers, my face did rather shrivel in shock. It’s a biological function I’m thankful for – as someone who has never paid to be stabbed with needles filled with Botox.
I’m troubled by our nationwide hunger for cosmetic surgery, and the alarming rate at which it is growing. Because it seems to me we’ve lost the ability to be all right with being all right looking.
Women, especially, are constantly told to feel beautiful. Just the other day I saw a post on Facebook that said: “When someone tells you that you’re beautiful, believe them. They aren’t lying.”
I was eating some Nik Naks at the time, so I couldn’t possibly believe I was beautiful right there and then. But it still got me thinking: wouldn’t most of us be happier if we accepted that we’re not stunners, and we shouldn’t necessarily have to be? Perhaps we should collectively come to the realisation that having small breasts, a big nose, or flab does not make you physically deformed. It simply makes you a part of a complex and varied species.
Our anxieties about being aesthetically substandard have been perpetuated by shows such as the ostensibly altruistic How To Look Good Naked or the outright cosmetics-crazy Extreme Makeover, which ultimately promotes the idea that your body must always be a “work in progress”.
Even Embarrassing Bodies is a bit too quick-fix for me. Whenever a participant turns up, unhappy with their physical appearance, there is rarely a dialogue about how they might live with it. It’s always a quick fix solution involving a surgeon. Whether that’s Alan with his wonky balls, or Sharon with her chub rub, uncommon is the day you hear presenters of such programmes say: “Go forth, Alan, and accept your wonky balls.”
But these are the sorts of conversations we need to be having as a nation. We live in a world where most of the images of the human body we experience come from filtered forums: porn, Instagram, the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame. Really, we should all go to life drawing classes and witness the complexity of the human body – in its ugly, gritty nature.
Lady Gaga was spot on when she told us to love ourselves the way we were born (well done, Lady Gaga). But part of that love has to come from realising that being ‘born this way’ might involve having big ears or a tiny, flat bottom or anything else that would offend the Kardashian family.
We live in a society that constantly tells us we have to be beautiful, or at the very least feel it. But the truth is that that’s a hollow goal doing more damage than good. What will really keep us away from the plastic surgeon’s knife is, instead, granting ourselves permission to be a bit ugly.
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