Travails of beauty
Posted by Nic Heath on August 6, 2009
The beauty industry, and how much money women invest in it, has popped up on my radar a couple of times recently.
‘Because I’m Worth It’, in the July 25 Good Weekend, runs through the expenditure of four women on maintaining their appearance. The article’s author, Maggie Alderson, posits that in one school of thinking,
‘…adequate personal care is – like doing your tax return, being punctual and saying thank you – an adult responsibility.’
‘…leg-hair is a complex grooming issue, requiring military-precision planning to be smooth on key dates…which is why I invested serious time and money having mine permanently lasered off.’
And final advice:
‘Choose a significant person – an ex, a work nemesis, the other woman, or the one who got away – and be exactly as gorgeous as you would like to be if you happened to run into them by chance. Every day.’
I have two major concerns with this ‘belief system’. One – the expense. Multinationals’ profits depend on women feeling insecure about their appearance. Canna Campbell spends $17754 a year on beauty, Wendi Snyder $19016, Mary Shackman $11187 and Vina Chipperfield $19090.
The second is pain and/or discomfort. Canna Campbell is my age – 28 – and has been having Botox injections for 18 months. Vina Chipperfield, 39, says:
‘I loathe having Brazilian waxes, which I get every two months. I really have to psych myself up.’
And then, ratcheting up the pain/discomfort scale, last week ABC2 screened The Ugly Truth abut Beauty, a documentary charting journalist Kate Spicer’s dalliance with cosmetic medicine. Spicer approaches her mission with equal measures of enthusiasm and cynicism – while like many women ‘not 100% happy with her appearance’, she is not the stock-standard candidate for cosmetic medicine. In an article published in The Australian she writes:
‘Previously, I had found cosmetic surgery curious, fascinating, not for me. Instinct told me it formed the deepest, darkest recesses of the misogynistic capitalist system that is the beauty industry.’
This film follows Kate as she immerses herself in the wide range of bizarre, radical and invasive procedures now on offer to normal women willing to undergo a gruelling quest for exquisite, youthful looks. Just how far is Kate willing to go? And will it be worth it?
With a personal interest in improving her looks and a beauty industry cynic’s interest in exploring just how easy it is to be sucked into the world of cosmetic improvement, Kate wants to find out what’s really involved in our quest to look beautiful. “I’ve got two motivations here,” says Kate. “One is can I get to look better? Can I get to look hotter? But there is a more earnest desire – to try to be the guinea pig that illustrates just how ridiculously seductive that world is”.
After a few rounds of Botox, the final procedure on Kate’s face is performed with Fraxel laser technology. It makes for singularly disturbing vision. Metal plates are put over Kate’s eyeballs, while her voiceover tells us she was so medicated that this didn’t bother her, and the rest I couldn’t tell you because I couldn’t watch it. The immediate effects were bloody; she looked as though she’d been punched in the face or worse, a number of times.
Describing a photograph taken straight after the treatment, Spicer says:
‘It’s of a glassy-eyed woman, drugged up on Xanax and morphine, with eyeballs that appear to be weeping bloody tears, her skin red, oozing and bruised, and her eyelids glossy and raw like tuna tartare.’
It wasn’t Kate Spicer’s face though that was the most affecting consequence of the procedure. In the clinic, she’s laid low. She clearly feels terrible. She speaks of feeling depressed – the woman attending to her suggests it could be from the drug cocktail she’s ingested. And yet as the doco finishes, Kate suggests she likely hasn’t had her last Botox injection.
Writer Emily Maguire, delivering her speech ‘The Accidental Feminist’ for the Pamela Denoon lecture earlier in the year, says it pretty simply. It is that women are constantly being given the message that they are not good enough just as they are. A woman needs to cleanse, pluck, tone, wax, scrub, moisturise, bleach, alter, amend, enhance etc.
Kate Spicer certainly hasn’t glamourised cosmetic surgery, but she shows how hard it is for (some) women to resist the constant pressure to look a certain way – and to go to great lengths while trying. With so much money invested in the beauty industry – made clear by the lists of products and treatments upon which Good Weekend’s four featured women spend their money – I can’t see the pressure to look younger/better/different lessen anytime soon.