AMERICA SLICED AND DICED
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Pictures from my niece's wedding arrived last week.
Of course the bride looked beautiful, but the most interesting picture is of my late brother's wife, my youngest niece, my mother and me. Three slender, elegant, beautiful women, three strained, model-like expressions, three really good nose jobs. And then there's me, looking for all the world like an overfriendly, overweight, shaggy red-headed Newfoundland.
It's no wonder that I never felt as if I belonged in that family.
When I was growing up, my mother used to say that she married my father because he had a perfect nose; she wanted her children to have perfect noses, too. I think she thought that was funny. She herself was a rhinoplasty pioneer - she had her nose done in the Fifties.
My brother had his nose done before he was 20. His wife? The same. When she was pregnant with their first child, the beaming (and surgically unaltered) bride, they used to joke that no matter whose nose she got, they wouldn't recognize her.
In the early decades of the last century, plastic surgery was mainly for wealthy women and movie stars. In the Fifties it became a rite of passage for many "ethnic-looking" girls to bob their noses, but they rarely bobbed anything else.
Now men and women routinely stuff or de-stuff their backsides and their boobs, stick plastic in their cheeks, chins and calves, cut off their noses to spite their faces, have their stomachs vacuumed, partially removed or stapled, and even have a lower rib or two sawed off to achieve an 18-inch waist. Some of them even vie to do it on national television.
For someone like me, terrified of any kind of surgery, the concept of electing to lie down on an operating table and pay someone to cut me open is difficult to understand.
It almost makes me almost yearn to be living in a Third World country again, where people have to concentrate on finding clean water, shelter and enough to eat, rather than living in a place where so much importance is placed on people's looks.
"Tell me what you don't like about yourself," say the plastic surgeons on the popular new FX series, "Nip/Tuck." The patient blurts out something about her nose or chin or flab, and nip nip, tuck tuck, blood gush, gore gore and bingo! It's fixed. Until the next surgery, that is.
Or take Arnold Schwarzenegger - please. It's more than his politics (does he have any?), more than the wife who looks like a walking skeletal scream out of a Munch etching, more than the witless movies. What really scares me about his running for office is that he might win. Having to look at his surgically altered face for the next few years would demoralize me. It's hard enough to go into the supermarket this week and see his false teeth and trampoline-tight cheekbones on the covers of Time and Newsweek. He looks as if he is forced to smile, even when he's asleep.
I recently saw "The Banger Sisters" on HBO, and while there may have been an interesting movie in there somewhere, it got lost in Goldie Hawn's overblown lips, pulled-back cheeks and Botoxed forehead. In fact, neither Susan Sarandon nor Hawn can do more than gaze wide-eyed at the camera; emoting is difficult when you can't move your face.
It's also impossible to watch Jack Nicholson anymore - his features are all scrunched up; his eyes, nose and mouth meet in the middle of a vast desert of open face-space. And if I'm unprepared for Michael Jackson's face flashing onto the television screen, my usual reaction is to scream. You want the worst? Check out the August 11 issue of People Magazine and it's picture of Liza Minelli at her wedding last year.
Her nose has been flattened and her eyes pulled so wide apart that she looks more like a goat than a person. She's standing next to that strange man she married (and recently left), who looks as if his face was done with claymation. On the other side of her is Michael Jackson in lipstick - yuk again! - and then there's Elizabeth Taylor, once the most beautiful woman in the world, and now well over 70 without a wrinkle on her. It's so sad that it makes me want to cry.
Yet I can almost understand why these people have destroyed their faces. Gifted entertainers need audiences, and once they pass a certain age, they lose some of their original youthful attractiveness. But instead of growing into glamorous maturity, they try to keep attention focused on themselves with surgery to keep them "young." When they're styled, made up and dressed for fashion shoots, performances or red carpet appearances, they can barely maintain the illusion. But imagine what these plastic people must look like on the street or when they wake up in the morning.
If only entertainers were having plastic surgery, who would care? It's their job to be preternaturally beautiful, and they are paid a great deal for their pain. But why would normal people want to copy them? It seems like a colossal waste of time, not to mention money. Beauty, after all, is more than skin deep, and no surgeon can give you a better personality.
Yes, I've heard that a good nose job can give some people - especially teenagers - more self-confidence. But simply being taught that your appearance is not fine the way it is can damage your self-confidence.
Surely there are better ways to build confidence, such as finding yourself in achievement. After all, it's not how you look but the fact that you are here that's important. It took me a lifetime to understand it, but when I look at the pictures of my niece's wedding now, I may not look elegant or lovely, but I sure look happy and lively. I'm there to celebrate on the joyous day, and what can be more important than that?
So I'm announcing right here and now that I will not be having plastic surgery - ever. Twenty years from now, after everyone else in the United States has surgically altered themselves, I may be the only person left in the country who looks like a real 80-year-old human female. Doctors might want to study me. I will be doing the nation a public service.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.