I’ve recently become passionate about the concepts of self-image and beauty. I was drawn into this topic by writing a few articles about cosmetic surgery among the population of Utah, and as I’ve interviewed women who have had elective surgeries to improve the look of their bodies, I have become dismayed at how much we as women (it happens with men, as well, but I’m going to focus on women here) internalize our society’s preoccupation with image and youth and beauty.
What started my interest was during a visit during the summer to Salt Lake and Utah Valley, I noticed a LOT of billboards advertising cosmetic procedures. I decided to investigate the phenomenon and see if anything was going on. Since I’m a journalist and I’ve always enjoyed research, I got home and got to searching for information that would back up my suspicions about there being a trend or not. What I was able to substantiate, numbers-wise, was that there are a lot of plastic surgeons in Utah, more than what would be expected per capita. I interviewed some surgeons, and their opinions were that there were just a lot of doctors who wanted to live in Utah; there’s a medical school in Salt Lake City as well, so a lot of doctors stay in the area after graduation. My opinion was that there was more going on. But first, I put together the information at hand in this article for KSL.com: “Utah No. 8 in the U.S. in numbers of plastic surgeons per capita.”
I decided to follow it up with another facet of the phenomenon: what therapists had to say about it. So I wrote this: “Factors contributing to high rates of cosmetic surgery in Utah plentiful, complex.”
I must say, given the information I have researched over the months, I have to agree with the counselors and psychological opinion. And I’m contributing to work on the topic. I have been interviewing women who have elected to have cosmetic procedures, and they have told me time and again that they just felt really self-conscious about their bodies. Their husbands, they have told me, didn’t want them to have surgery, but they did it for themselves. They simply felt bad about how they looked, and surgery seemed to be the only way to fix it.
My involvement in this topic is still in the early stages. I’d like to interview many more women, and even men, about this issue. My faith is similar to that of many in Utah, who are predominantly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in the six months I’ve been reading about this issue and interviewing, I’ve just been dismayed by the fact that these beautiful women who by and large believe they are created in the image of divinity feel it necessary to sculpt themselves by a surgeon’s knife. How have we come to this point? We are actively teaching our daughters that they are daughters of God and they have individual worth and a divine nature. How do we come to this disconnect, then, where we believe we can only feel truly good about our bodies if they are perfect, or nearly so, by society’s standards?
This is a complex issue indeed. I sympathize a great deal with the women I’ve talked to; I’ve given birth, my belly is soft and mushy and not even close to flat, and it’s lined by silver stretch marks. I’m the older side of 40, and my youth is not as close as it used to be. I’m only getting older and softer. But I’d like to rally myself and these other women to fight back against the devilishly prevalent media images and societal beliefs that are so insistent and constant that it is truly a battle within to keep them from becoming a part of our mindsets and self-images. Let’s fight. Let’s win this battle. Let’s remember who we are. Yes, let’s keep fit and healthy. Let’s eat well and exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep as much as is possible. But let’s not internalize these societal images to the point we feel it necessary to go under anesthesia and have someone cut into our bodies.
I heartily support the work of Beauty Redefined, a wonderful website and organization that “is dedicated to taking back ‘beauty’ for girls and women everywhere” and rejecting harmful media messages. I’ll be writing more about the media in other posts, because I am a journalist and because my parents taught me as I was growing up about media and its influences. My father focused his work at the end of his career in television and teaching on the idea of “media literacy,” making sure that all of us who are such heavy consumers (willing or not) of media would learn to critically analyze the messages that are being given to us regularly. I’m going to do my part to help educate and remind us all about how we can fight back and think in a healthy way about what we’re seeing and hearing.