Category Archives: looks


My conclusions about the book Looks

In conclusion, I’ve learned several things from reading this book. I’ve learned that I may not be as rational as I thought when it comes to choosing friends. I’ve learned that even from the beginning, we’ve thought a lot about beauty, but in recent years, with the media permeating every area of our lives, we’ve been manipulated into new levels. Media has fueled the craze and exaggerated our fears of aging. All this, they say, is to our benefit, but at the same time the beauty industry are the ones earning the big bucks while we have to pay the price.


What is the price? Often times it may amount to a loss of valuable time that could be used for more useful things. It can amount to a loss of money by spending it on plastic surgery and expensive cosmetics. Or it may be worse. Huge numbers of people suffer every day from eating disorders, or disorders like BDD. Some people have even paid the price for the pursuit of beauty. What price? Their life.

The pursuit of beauty can be an expensive one. It has on several occasions been deadly. However, no matter how hard we try and no matter what we do, we end up feeling empty, and looking a lot less than beautiful to our own eyes.


Makeover Needed?

Part 2 of Chapter 11 of the book Looks


Elizabeth Arden

Nowadays, women leave the house with makeup in their purses. Long ago, only women with makeup were stage performers, or prostitutes. In the 1800s, makeup was frowned upon. The general consensus was that only loose women wore makeup.

It all began in the 1900s. Pharmacist Paul Beiersdort developed the first cream that chemically bound oil and water. His firm is presently known as Nivea. In the United States, cosmetics’ rise to prominence grew out of the rivalry of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. Both believed that beauty was linked with health. As a result, they combined facials with diet and exercise classes. With Max Factor, they build the foundations of modern marketing. These two women used celebrity endorsements and magazine spreads to advertise their products. Not surprisingly, both brands still remain active.

img_mainI thought Max Factor was the name of a mascara.

The beauty industry consolidated. Unilever acquired product lines, like Dove. Estee Lauder got Stila, MAC, and Bobbi Brown.

L'OREAL BeyonceL’Oreal is now the world’s largest cosmetic merchant. They reported their annual sales in 2006 to be 15.8 billion.

This industry invests heavily in marketing. They’re not above a little nonsense. There may be scientific breakthroughs now and then, but their money really doesn’t go into research. L’Oreal always talks about product patents, and new ideas that new research has thought up, but it stands that their money doesn’t go into research for new products but rather marketing and advertising and hiring celebrities and models to showcase their products, like Beyonce on the right.

shiseidofirmingcreamOthers use pseudoscience. Shiseido had their Body Creator sin gel, which claimed that its ingredients could melt away over 2 inches of body fat in a month without the need of diet or exercise. Sounds familiar? It’s not that much different from Nivea’s My Silhouette cream that basically claims that their white tea melts fat cells until they don’t grow back. No need to exercise, either.

Pantene uses a Vitamin B ingredient. This certainly attracts the shoppers. However, vitamins cannot be absorbed through skin or hair.

However, Dr. Patzer says, we’re living in an age where dreams are put forth as reality. We don’t know what’s true and what’s not, and we don’t bother to do research, either. Google isn’t much help, because there’s as much wrong information floating around the web as there is right.

shiseido-the-makeup-silky-eye-shadow-quadDr. Patzer states,

To forget this is to forget that a movie or TV show is merely entertainment. And while one may sometimes learn valid life lessons from art, it is art, it is artifice, it is not reality–it is a construct from beginning to end.

The growth of the beauty industry is fueled by the power of the media, along with the physical appeal phenomenon we’ve talked about in earlier posts. Advertising depicts the beautiful with the glamours lifestyles in efforts to sell their goods and services of every sort, not just cosmetics. This all contributes to the power and persuasiveness of physical appeal.

Sarah Jessica Parker: face of Garnier's ads

Sarah Jessica Parker: face of Garnier's ads

In our celebrity worshipping culture, the youthful appearance is held up as an ideal. We’re told that science and technology will allow to remain young, beautiful, and vital. However, this helps feed our fears of growing old.

This isn’t for our benefit but for the benefit of the industry itself, continues the author. The seek to control how we view and measure ourselves, and what we choose as important to us. Not to mention that the industry dictates what we must do to be the perfect person.

Yes, we do want to  look more beautiful. We want to be around more beautiful beautiful, and read about beautiful people. However, no matter how much products we buy that vows to make us look sexier, no matter what procedures we get to make ourselves more desirable, it seems that few of us really feel better about our own physical attractiveness.

Yet we live in a time where in wealthier communities, parents give breast implants to their daughters as high school graduation presents. 88 year olds choose breast reduction. Instead of tea parties, women have Botox parties.

03859380614We may say that this is just the way it is. But anthropologists studied a tribe in Africa. They wanted to see whether the physical appeal stereotypes of that tribe had been influenced by the media. They found that, opposite of our like of hunky men, girls liked slender men. Another researcher showed Men’s Health to the tribe members, with some spreads of male body builders. One old guy looked at the bulging pectorals of a male body builder. “Was it a man, or a very, very strong woman?”

Do we really need a makeover?

Or is it our culture that needs the makeover?

Look at the Shiny!

Part I of Chapter 11 of the book Looks

Chapter 11 is about the profitableness of the beauty industry — not to us but to them. It’s an extremely profitable venue, especially if you have the ability to devise new products and services AND the skills to market them. How many people can think of cool new made up names to describe imaginary vitamins and minerals? Or non-existent secret ingredients? Or vitamins that do nothing to your hair because your hair can’t absorb vitamins?

Dr. David Matlock’s speciality is the Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute (LVRI). This procedure is extremely popular, and yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. He decided to profit not only from himself using his techniques, but from anyone else using his techniques. The procedures are patented.


A typical plastic surgery clinic

Next, Dr. Matlock started an “Associate operation.” This wasn’t unlike a franchise, and put 3 million dollars into his pockets.

He made the people who used his methods pay a license fee. Dr. Matlock stated that he was merely defending his intellectual property. Of course, he says his job is “to empower women with knowledge, choice, and alternatives.”

Now let’s go into a little history: until the middle of the 1900s, cosmetic surgery was actually reconstructive surgery for the horribly deformed. Take the deformities caused by World War II, in Japan. Many were burned by the atomic bombs and fire bombing. Some were brought to the United States to be brought to some semblance of normality. There were also the thousands of American soldiers disfigured in the wars. After this died down, these skills and techniques were used in the pursuit of beauty.

051215_laser_100x90Doctors during the US occupation of Japan injected young women’s breasts with transformer coolant to enlarge them. By the 1960s, topless showgirls in Las Vegas had liquid silicone pumped into their breasts. The American Society of Plastic Surgery described small breasts as a deformity and a disease.

In every US state, any physician with a license can perform any medical procedure whether they’re board certified or not. Even if they haven’t had special training in that procedure. A psychiatrist has a medical degree, therefore he/she can do liposuction and facelifts. Dermatologists and obstetricians are starting to expand their options, earning money from doing facelifts and Botox injections.

This is, however, not limited to physicians. Some dentists want to do rhinoplasty. I have an oral surgeon friend who does Botox on the side for extra money. He also does procedures to take away moles.


An example of an ad for a clinic

These doctors find their patients using slick ad campaigns. Filmed commercials really do help. A brochure targeting surgeons said, “More and more, consumers are choosing the better marketer — and not the better surgeon.” According to Economist, in 2003, the beauty business spent between 32-40 billion in advertising, but took in 160 billion in sales. This is a huge business, and it helps that people are attracted to products and procedures that are marketed to look really really good. Ooh, look at the shinee!

Nowadays, a typical plastic surgery center is more like a restaurant. They focus on moving endless lines of patients through their operating suites ASAP, and then marketing things like skin care and counseling to get more bucks.

This also helps the companies that make the equipment the doctors use. A good example is the laser systems for removing tattooes and wrinkles.

Heavy Makeup

Part 3 of Chapter 10 of the book Looks

106376261_ukhTN-S-3Consider those addicted to plastic surgery. These are the people who risk their lives and spend millions to chase after what Dr. Patzer calls artificial perfection. They are the people who appear “abnormal” but look forward to their next procedures.

There’s the case of the 34 year old porn actress “Jen X.” She had Botox multiple times, a chin implant, and breast augmentation. She reported to Hustler magazine that she was afraid that she was getting addicted to plastic surgery. She still pays monthly for silicone injections to her lips, a highly illegal procedure which is fraught with danger. She knows, but is driven by the need to compete. Jen X said, “The more surgery everyone else gets, the more I have to get to keep up.”

Only in your mind, sadly.

There’s also Rhiannon, a woman in quest for bigger boobs. Her breasts now weigh 10 pounds each. That’s 20 pounds total! Talk about back pain. Their size is 48MMM. This began in 1991. She has had 30 surgeries on her right breast alone. 

There’s something about my personality that big is never big enough. If I’m going to do it, I’m going all the way.

She added that she wants still-larger implants.

Another good example is the Beverly Hills realtor Elaine Young. In 1979, she saw a silicone injection in the face of a friend and wanted it. She went to her friend’s doctor, who told her that he’d make her beautiful. That was all she had to hear.

At first, Young was pleased with the results. However, the silicone migrated and interfered with her facial nerves. When the doctor tried to remove the silicone, the surgery left the left side of her face paralyzed for two years. Young blames her silicone injection for the downfall of three of her six marriages. The doctor who injected her committed suicide.

brokenwindowYoung said,

It’s typical insecurity that leads women to [cosmetic surgery]. I don’t care what they say; most of the women who do it are either aging, and they want to look younger, or they’re very insecure.

Read the entire, original Hustler article here.

Many people addicted to plastic surgery suffer from BDD (as written in an earlier post). They often look for ways to deal with an imaginary or trivial defect in their appearance. They can spend lots of time and energy picking at their skin or looking into a mirror. Or wearing a hat or heavy makeup. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reports that as many as 3 million Americans may have this disorder. Among them are those with the money and resources to pay for countless surgeries.

A spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons said that there are some well-balanced people who have many surgeries. But at the same time, another group is not happy with whatever you do.


Katharine Hepburn went to see him after her bout with skin cancer

Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc sees these addicts frequently. His practice has attracted notables like CEOs and even Katharine Hepburn. Most of his patients are the ultrarich who live in opulent homes near his offices. His book describes the reality of dealing with a society that more and more wants to be perfect in appearance. Some patients lie about their medical histories. Some lie about the  medicines they’re taking.

One male patient was taking steroids but wouldn’t tell me. He wanted a facelift and nothing would stop him. I’ve never seen a patient’s face bleed so much in my life.

Scalpel_smallIn cases like this, says Lorenc, the plastic surgeon is to refuse to do surgery. He gives another example, this time of a guy who thought he had an awful acne scar. Dr. Lorenc saw nothing. The worst thing he could have done would have been to operate, because then the poor guy would have had a real scar.

Maybe we are growing into a culture that is endlessly fixated on appearance. Seeing media images refuels and reinforces the notion that physical attractiveness must be had at all costs.

A Lust for Beauty

Part 2 of Chapter 10 of the book Looks

There is little stigma attached to improving one’s looks with a doctor’s help. Small, specialized clinics have sprung up, and most of the people who go to these clinics are pleased with what they get.

A waiting room at the Florida Center

A waiting room at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat

However, many who have spent the big bucks to make themselves prettier do regret this. Melanie, 41 years old, was desperate for bigger breasts. She scrimped and saved, finally putting her car as security for a loan. As Boca Raton News reported, she doesn’t love what she got. One breast is over a full cup size larger than the other. Melanie also suffers from sharp, chronic pains in her left breasts. Allegedly a nurse stabbed her with scissors during stitch removal. This caused unbearable pain. Along with 22 others, she sued the clinic she went to: the Florida Center for Cosmetic Surgery. 

Another of those that have pending cases with the center is Mona Alley. She lost both legs to infection when her intestine was punctured during a tummy tuck. After the procedure, she felt really sick. After 2 weeks of the doctor saying that Alley would be fine, he found pockets of air in her abdomen, water in her lungs, and blood clots in her legs. According to Alley’s lawyer, the doctor had cut her intestines accidentally. Her intestines then leaked feces into her abdomen.

operating_room2That’s not all. Between 1997-2004, at least 36 individuals died in Florida as a result of complications from cosmetic surgery.

Maybe it was bad luck, or not. These unfortunate people and others should have done their operations in a real hospital, not a clinic of doctor’s office. Between 1994-1998, 20 out of 100,000 died after lipo at a clinic. That’s a higher death rate than for people in motor vehicle accidents.

Olivia Goldsmith

Olivia Goldsmith

Still, there’s the disturbing case of Olivia Goldsmith. A best-selling novelist, she checked into the expensive and well known Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat. She wanted a chin tuck to remove some loose skin under her chin.

Goldsmith had gone on several surgeries before to improve her appearance, so this was nothing new. Even the characters in her novels had plastic surgery and popped Botox often. “If there was anyone who should have understood the risks–and perhaps the futility–of burnishing one’s outside when one feels ugly inside, it was Olivia Goldsmith.”

For some reason, Goldsmith chose general anesthesia instead of the less risky local anesthesia. However, problems started even before the surgeon picked up his knife. Goldsmith had convulsive spasms, then slipped into a coma. She never regained consciousness and died 8 days later.

She was 55 years old.

The medical examiner concluded that Goldsmith’s death was due to anesthesia issues. The staff had failed to monitor her respiration and carbon dioxide levels.

The day after her death, another patient at the same hospital died of complications from anesthesia. The hospital was fined.

Even bad things can happen at big hospitals.


Stella Obasanjo

Americans who can’t afford places like Manhattan may go to Spain, which has the largest number of plastic surgeons per capita in Europe. They have performed over 350,000 procedures, trailing only Brazil and the States. Their clinics attract Arab potentates and world dignitaries. An example is Stella Obasanjo, the wife of Nigeria’s president. She died during her tummy tuck. 

Gregorio Nosovsky’s business cards identify him as an MD. However, he never finished medical school or got his degree. Nosovsky has appeared on TV talk shows as a medical expert. He and his brother Isaac, who does have a medical license, performed lots of procedures and made a lot of money.

Nosovsky was arrested after a woman told authorities that she had suffered complications after breast surgery done by Gregorio. Isaac tried to fix the problems, but he only made things worse. After this was reported, 35 more came out with similar stories.

What about the people who spend and spend on surgery and look like monsters? They’re still somehow under the delusion that more surgery will fix things.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson: It just gets worse and worse

The most famous example is Michael Jackson. Rumor has it that he has had surgery more than a dozen times. (Probably true, too.) The results were grotesque. (WHY? WHY??) Dermatologists think that he might have had Botox in his forehead and cosmetic surgery on his nose, eyes, and chin. He might have been injected with some unlawful compound to lighten his skin, and has tattooed eyebrows and eyeliner.

My grandma has tattooed eyebrows and eyeliner because she wanted to save time on her lengthy beauty regimen every morning. She wears heavy makeup, and she wanted the make up look without having to spend any more time on it. The poor guy kept asking her if she was sure she wanted to, and he was scared, but she was set on being beautiful and saving time, so she had it done.

Cindy Jackson: the living Barbie

Cindy Jackson: the living Barbie

There’s also Cindy Jackson, no relation to Michael. She wrote an autobiography called Living Doll. Jackson felt that her appearance was lacking. After inheriting some money, she had the procedures. After nine, Jackson looked like the Barbie doll she’d always wanted to look like. By now she’s had 28 operations, and her transformation, she says, is nearly complete.

*feels nauseous* 

28 operations is too much. What do you think?


Stay Beautiful

Part 1 of Chapter 10 of the book Looks

Chapter 10 is about the high price of good looks. The obsession with beauty has transformed the cosmetic surgery industry. No wonder some plastic surgeons describe this time as the golden age of cosmetic surgery. Before, this type of surgery was restricted to the horribly disfigured or the extremely wealthy. Now it’s targeted to the masses. To tens of thousands of ordinary people living ordinary lives. People like you, in short.

The most popular procedure is Botox. This involves an injection of a tiny amount of botulism toxin. It paralyzes the muscles, thus smoothing wrinkles. Side effects include unwanted paralysis near the area and nausea, headache, or fatigue.

In 2004, 2.8 million Americans had injections of Botox, according to statistics. This is the fastest growing cosmetic procedure as well as the most popular.


Irena Medavoy

However, some people regret their Botox shots. Irena Medavoy used it to treat her migraines. She normally paid up to 1000 dollars per treatment for her flawless face. She didn’t know anyone who wasn’t using Botox. Even though using Botox to treat migraines was off-label treatment, she jumped at the chance. This time, things went wrong. Medavoy ended up with an incapacitating headache and wound up in the emergency room.

This leads rise to the suspicion that the physician may have acquired a Botox substitute from a dubious source. Botox is expensive. Toxin Research International, reported in USA Today, promoted its own version. Although they said that it was not for human use, reports have shown that patients in some states have received injections. No injuries have been reported among those. However, a doctor was not so lucky. He was affected with muscle paralysis that was potentially fatal. He survived.

Based on the latest data from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the numbers of procedures skyrocket. 11.5 million non-surgical and surgical procedures were performed in 2006. People spent over 12 billion for a beauty fix. The top 5 surgical procedures were liposuction (403,684), breast augmentation (383,886), eyelid surgery (209,999), abdimnoplasty (172,457), and breast reduction (145,822). Men received 1 million in the same year.

This data, however, was not collected from surgeons not board-certified. The data was not collected from physicians not certified in cosmetic surgery, or any off-label procedures that may have been done.

A woman being injected with restylane

A woman being injected with restylane

Dr. Steven Victor of New York is a good example. He offers the latest technology to patients, even if it’s not FDA approved. Restylane was used as a wrinkle filler or lip enhancer. It was not approved for cosmetic use until 2003. He provided it long before that. Victor is not the only doctor. 

Some doctors believe that once the treatment has been practiced for a while without danger, then it’s perfectly all right to do that treatment. They earn a lot of money from this practice.

Some people go to Canada or Europe for treatment. However, there have been problems with semi-permanent fillers in both countries. Some of the people have developed persistent nodules under the skin from some of the particular techniques.

Others believe that even FDA approval doesn’t mean a procedure or product is safe to use. Many FDA approved drugs, like vioxx, were yanked from pharmacies after nasty side effects were reported. 

Angelina Jolie: An actress who uses Botox

Angelina Jolie: An actress who uses Botox

Then there’s Radiance, which thickens bladder walls. It’s made from microcalcium particles suspended in a gel. Some doctors used it to fill wrinkles. However, their patients developed bonelike deposits in or near the injection location. 

No one ever said that Radiance was for filling wrinkles! This stuff goes into your bladder, not your face. It looks like a gel, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll work like Restylane. 

The price of beauty can be a dangerous one. I’d be wary if the pursuit becomes so desperate as to try something that hasn’t been adequately tested yet in the hopes that it would make the person more beautiful. As you can see, the consequences are pretty horrible, and you will be the one to pay if things go wrong.

A Beautiful Disaster

Chapter 9 of the book Looks

File0444Have you ever seen the billboards by the side of the road glorifying a sculpted male body? Or the covers of Men’s Health magazine… or the washboard abs perfume by Abercrombie and Fitch… or the steroid pumping body builders…

Men have their own set of problems. These are termed the Adonis Complex. Due to the slew of idealized male physiques everywhere they look, many men are insecure about their appearance.

Harrison J. Pople, Jr. and Roberto Olivardia of Harvard Medical and Katherine A. Phillips of Brown studied anything from action figure toys to Playgirl spreads to body builders and concluded that the U.S. media presentation of the male ideal is a very very muscular body.

Our very own GI Joe

Our very own GI Joe

It started with our familiar G. I. Joe. These researchers noted that the action figure in 1964 was unremarkable. Sure, he was trim and athletic, but rather ordinary in that respect. By 1991, he became pumped up like a body builder. Sadly, this also happened with the Star Wars action figures of Han and Luke. In 1978, they appeared unexceptional but trim. In 1995, they appeared to have been drinking a morning cup of steroids with their breakfast cereal. As a Star Wars fan, I was horrified to hear about this development. What’s next, bulked up Wicket?

15-20 years back, if you wanted a current issue of a fitness or body building magazine, you would have to live in the big city. Even so, you were limited to two or three publications. Now, just run down to the nearest convenience store and you’re bound to find at least five. As any freelance writer for magazines will tell you, fitness and health are big topics nowadays. People want to read about how to get healthy, but they also want to read about how to gain muscle. As a result, this is the holy grail of freelance writers. 

abercrombie-billboardWhat about the billboards? This Abercrombie and Fitch billboard is an excellent example of what you might find.

Dr Patzer says,

Buy a copy of almost any general-interest magazine and you are treated to bare male chests, rippling muscles, and tanned, chiseled, hairless forms.

Don’t forget the romance novel covers! Some time ago I published something mocking this trend. You may find it here. You’ll see that shaved pits really are the way to go.




Rich Herrerra, a male model for Cosmo

Rich Herrera, a male model for Cosmo



Cosmopolitan magazine is one of those magazines that seem to be mainly about sex from their front covers. They offer tips on how to do it right, how to get good results, and how to get a good man. They also illustrate their articles with pictures. All the male models are happy,  hairless, and naked.

They are also buff. Pope and his colleagues found that the number of naked males in Glamour and Cosmo had tripled from less than 10% in the 60s.

dumbbellsAlong with these findings, Pope and his researchers interviewed men suffering from what they call “muscle dysmorphia,” which is sort of like “reverse anorexia.” While an anorexic girl looks at herself in the mirror and sees fat even though she is shrinking, a male with this disorder looks at himself  and says, “Not buff enough,” even though he may have muscles where no man should have muscles. A fellow whom they called “Kevin” believed his own arms were sticks even though his body bulged with muscles in strange places. He became a near recluse because of this disorder.

These three researchers concluded that American men are being manipulated. They are exposed to more supermuscular images, all in service to diet aids, fitness programs, hair-growth remedies, and anything in between. These industries prey on men’s insecurities, and can be compared to how women are being preyed upon by the media.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an intense preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. It seems to arrive during adolescence or young adulthood. It may also coexist with other conditions, like social anxiety or OCD. The only effective course is psychiatric or psychological counseling, along with anxiety medications.

Those with this disorder are only a small fraction of the population, but millions more devote an inordinate slice of their time to worrying about appearance, notes Dr. Patzer.

LS015824Barbara L. Frederickson of the University of Michigan did two experiments to document the psychological costs of raising girls in a culture lik eours.

One study revealed that what a woman wears can heighten her preoccupation with how her body looks. This is at the expense of her mental performance skills. It’s not just low-cut dresses or bikinis that may cause this preoccupation. Any clothes or circumstances that make her feel self-conscious have this power. It reduces the mental energy that she could use to solve calculus.

evening-20dressAccording to this researcher and social psychologist Tomi-Ann Roberts, the tendency to value physical appeal and sex appeal as body identity rather than their health, strength, energy, etc leads to more than an eating disorder or diminished mental performance. It could be linked to high prevalence of depression and sexual dysfunction among American women.

As we have seen, the mass media has had a huge effect on fostering attitudes about physical appeal. They’re enormously influential in governing what we say and feel about ourselves and our appearance.

From Kurt and Gladys Lang’s essay “The Mass Media and Voting”:

The mass media forces attention to certain issues. They build up public images of political figures. They are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individuals in the masses should think about, know about, have feelings about.

So my theory that we also listen to what the media tells us to do wasn’t so far off after all.

Dr. Patzer concludes that ill health offsets beauty benefits. However, people would be willing to sacrifice their health or money to improve their physical appearance.

As an anorexic acquaintance wrote on her blog, “I don’t care if this kills me. At least I’ll be beautiful.”