Putting a Price-Tag on Self-Esteem

I’d like to take a moment to point out just how ridiculous the beauty industry is getting.  ABC Health says it best in the quote that, I wish was tongue-in-cheek:

cankles“While you were busy worrying about “muffin-topping” over the waistband of your jeans or the “cottage cheese” on your thighs, you should have been fretting over the shapeliness of your ankles. A growing number of Americans are working to eliminate unwanted ankle fat. “Cankles,” or less-than-svelte ankles, are the thunder thighs of the new millennium.”

The ABC cankles expose goes on to read even more like an article from the Onion (I wish it were there instead so I could laugh instead of feeling awfully annoyed) than a real news piece, as it explains how women are going to extremes to fight their cankles:

Many women are simply predisposed to excess leg and ankle fat and no amount of step aerobics or ballet can make a real dent. For those who simply must have a slender ankle, there’s always the surgeon’s knife.

Christina Reggie is one of those women, and she turned to surgery six weeks ago after years of emotional distress caused by her cankles.

She didn’t like the way they looked. “I thought I was deformed,” said Reggie. “No matter how much I’d try to get smaller, there’d still be that fat on the outside.”

Really, I mean… really? The fact that this is not satire is downright depressing. As if people have not been given enough appearance-related worries now even our ankles can be found lacking… is there anything even left for the beauty-industry to target next? Of course there is.

Latisse_logoAs if having the whole month of July devoted to “cankles awareness” (as conceived & promoted by Gold’s Gym) is not ridiculous enough… from the creators of Botox comes Latisse: “the first FDA-approved prescription treatment for inadequate or not enough eyelashes, growing them longer, fuller and darker.” For when simply making use of mascara alone just isn’t enough.

True, it may cost 120$ a month, and cause redness, itchyness, and some potential eyelid-darkening (I’m sure the pill to lighten those eyelids back up will be on the market within a month) to grow your lashes the Latisse way… but isn’t that a small price to pay for the pseudo self-esteem boost that comes along with adding another product to your daily beauty routine? (I suppose I’m making up for the sarcasm that I wish had been present in the ABC Health article here, my apologies!)

What makes this even more depressing than the usual push of unnecessary products and treatments for invented issues is  the sheer ridiculousness of these two “issues” and their accompanying products, exercises, and other “cures.” The way these beauty “issues” seem to have sprung up out of nowhere, alongside their accompanying cures, illustrates beautifully that way that this culture of insecurity is bleeding quickly out of the media and into the beauty industry and beyond. These two problem/solution pairs  are perfect for one thing, however: they allow me to better illustrate just how much money is generated from your (culturally & mass-media fueled) insecurities:

Pharmaceutical companies make money off of unnecessary drugs like Latisse and Botox aimed to fix invented problems (thin eyelashes?) and mess with normal bodily processes (aging.) These products will do nothing to make the user healthier and, often, they’re actually dangerous to the consumer.

Doctors make money  from consultations about these body “issues”, plastic surgery to do away with these “issues”, media appearances to speak out about these “issues” and so on – the doctors that prescribe these medicines and perform these surgeries are making money by cashing in on their patient’s insecurity and putting those patient’s health at risk unnecessarily.

Television networks make money off of the viewers they draw in through “news” exposes about these invented issues and related advertisements that they air on their networks. Often times these two are related, since the network with the programming that best creates insecurity around these “issues” is usually the network that the people selling the related products will want to advertise on.

Magazines & newspapers make money in the same way television stations do – they write articles that create insecurity over various body parts (ankles and eyelashes today, who knows what tomorrow…) which then draw in advertisers for products to “help” these “problem areas.”

Gyms, like Gold’s Gym, gain membership when people see them as the answer to problems like “cankles.” While working out is good, there is still an issue here since people who are drawn to the gym to do away with their cankles – which, as the ABC article explains, often cannot be exercised away… maybe because they’re supposed to be there –  are not really worrying about getting healthier, they are worried about looking better. While these motivations may lead to some people getting healthier, they’re also going to lead to many people who over-exercise and under-eat; risking their health for beauty.

Producers of diet pills, “miracle” workout machinery and so on obviously also cash in on our collective insecurity.

Clothing companies & stylists make money in giving advice as to how to dress to camouflage “flaws” like cankles, wider hips, a big butt, and so on…similarly, makeup companies make money off of products that conceal “problem areas” as well.

And on and on and on…

In the end almost all of us are putting money into the pockets of these companies & people, at the expense of our own self esteem. I, for one, am sick of it. So lets do something!

In an effort to fight back against “Cankle Awareness Month” and every other idiotic insecurity-creating scheme to earn money at your and my expense I’d like to declare August Self-Esteem Awareness Month. Go here to see the calendar that details an action for each day. When August rolls around I’ll have blog round-ups of participants, inspiring posts (and guest posts) to keep you going, and more (I’m trying to even get some giveaways together, we’ll see!)

Keep an eye out for all of that and get in touch with me, please, if you have any ideas! (As always, sunfollowers@gmail.com)

10 thoughts on “Putting a Price-Tag on Self-Esteem

  1. I’m sorry, but I must disagree with your statement that doctors put their patient’s health at risk unnecessarily. I agree that Latisse and medications like it are absolutely ridiculous with all of the side effects, but doctors and pharmacists make it a point to inform any potential users of any and all side effects, making the risk completely in the hands of the user, not the doctor. As medical and scientific knowledge and technology advances, there will always be a doctor/scientist to make a new pill or procedure; that’s just the way the world works and always has worked. A scientist simply cannot turn down a new experiments on the grounds that it may be the gateway to another experiment that is actually useful. Also, with each new invention there is always a businessman urging the scientist to put it on the market. But every doctor, and I mean every doctor derserving of his medical degree (there are a few who get theirs taken away), always has his patient at his best interests. Furthermore, I think that plastic surgeons get down-graded way too much. They aren’t evil doctors looking to make everyone in the world look like perfect identical copies. Most people forget, before they specialized as plastic surgeons, they were hospital surgeons for many years, and before that they went to the same medical college that all other doctors go to. They took the Hippocratic oath and care about each and every one of their patients. The technology to change one’s appearance is out there, so there will always be people looking to go through with it. What people don’t know, however, is that actual performing surgery is not even half of a plastic surgeon’s job. Any (good) plastic surgeon consults with his patient a lot before going through with it (especially if he wants to avoid a lawsuit). He first asks what the patient wants to change about his/herself. He then asks WHY? If he feels that the problem is deeper than just changing a physical attribute (he is qualified to do this; he did go to med school), he WILL refuse to operate; he may even refer the patient to a psychologist to help with the issue. (Networking is the medical world is a beautiful thing.) If the surgeon decides that it is okay to go on with the procedure, a new consultation is scheduled. He informs the patient of all the steps involved with the surgery, all possible results of the surgery (it does not always turn out to be the way the patient initailly expects), and all risks of going through with the surgery (there are risks with ALL surgeries, cosmetic or not). This is all to insure that the patient is 100% comforable with having the procedure done. If the surgeon feels that the patient is not fully comfortable, he is entitled to refuse to do the surgery. (This is mostly to avoid lawsuits. Plastic surgeon are much more likely to be sued than any other doctors because their patients can sue over any little thing.)
    People get cosmetic surgery for many reasons. Sometimes not being completely happy with the way your body looks is not the result of low self-esteem. Sometimes it’s the same as when you walk into someone’s living room and absolutely hate the way of the color of the curtains clash with the color of the rug. People get liposuction to do away with that unsightly muffin top over their jeans or get a breast reduction cuz it gives another dimension to their tank top or get a nose job simply cuz a smaller one will make them feel more confident–they’d be content with their natural one, but a smaller one will put more oomph in their step. Some people just like change. They look in the mirror and say, “You just look…the same. Let’s spice you up.” Some people change their hair colors every month or simply buy a new shade of lipstick. Yes, plastic surgery is an expensive and extreme way to deal with people who like change, but who are we to judge? I must say that using plastic surgery to deal with psychological issues like low self esteem is just plain wrong. I’m a firm believer that you must love your body, or at least yourself, before you make such a bold decision. But plastic surgeons should not be blamed for those people. Media, yes. But plastic surgeons are just specialized doctors trying to do their job the best that they can.

  2. I have to respectfully disagree- any doctor willing to prescribe something like Latisse does not deserve a medical degree in my opinion – why would you encourage a patient to take something potentially harmful when it has absolutely zero positive medical benefits? That just does not seem like a responsible medical decision to me.

    Just because, as you said, “with each new invention there is always a businessman urging the scientist to put it on the market” does not make it okay for doctors to be helping in the success of this pointless & potentially harmful product. The business people, in this situation, are the problem – they are capitalizing off of a newly invented insecurity, putting people on unnecessary medication, and creating health problems in people in order to make money. Can you really condone someone making a living off the quite intentional suffering of others? I know I can’t.

    As for plastic surgery, let me start by saying I do not believe that plastic surgeons are evil. I do, however, believe that many of them are capitalizing off of our increasingly damaging culture of body shaming. While its the culture that makes plastic surgery a desired route that is truly deplorable, the doctors who are knowingly cashing in on the insecurities created by our society by no means get a free pass from me. (That aside, I have the greatest respect for plastic surgeons who perform reconstructive surgeries after accidents etc.)

    As for your analogies…surgery is not comparable to hair dye or a new shade of lipstick in the least – its not something you just do on a whim because you “feel like a change.” Once again, plastic surgery is a situation where doctors (who are supposed to be doing as little harm as possible) allow patients to go through medical procedures that have no benefit on their physical well-being, and actually have the potential to do major harm. These people deal with all of the risks that come with surgery & its complications… some even die in their quests to alter their bodies under the knife, and I’m supposed to be okay with this?

    Our opinions about our bodies don’t just exist in a vacuum – they are informed by everything around us; everything we see on a screen or in print, everything we hear people speak about, every billboard above the highway… everything we see and interact with in this world informs the way we understand ourselves and our place in the world to some extent (obviously some things are more influential than others.) It is ridiculous to claim that wanting to undergo unnecessary surgery to change one’s appearance is perfectly natural, because wanting that change can be as much of a gut reaction as “walking[ing] into someone’s living room and absolutely hate the way of the color of the curtains clash with the color of the rug.” When those gut reactions come from the attitudes we have developed, largely through our social conditioning, that makes them a product of our messed up culture, rather than a true personal gut reaction.

    That said, I have nothing against people who want plastic surgery. I just hope for their sakes that something in their lives causes them to really consider the price at which they are changing their bodies to better conform to our society’s desires before they end up hurting themselves in the process. On that note, I actually have a good friend who had surgery done on her face and I can see how happy it made her – but at the same time, I wish she could have seen the beauty in the face she had before the surgery as well and I wish we lived in a society that encouraged that kind of real, natural confidence and beauty over the hollow sort of confidence that plastic surgeries promote.

  3. Respectfully, most of what you’ve said is valid, but you still missed one the of points I was trying to make: people wanting to change their bodies because THEY want to, not because they feel it is what society wants. Forgive me, my analogies might have been a bit off and masked my point a little. (As you can probably tell, I’m more of a scientist than a writer, and I was trying to get fancy :-P)
    Alow me to use example to make my point clearer. Let’s say a woman feels her breast are too large and goes to a cosmetic surgeon to get a brest reduction. She’s average-sized, a C-cup, no chance of breast cancer, no back problems, nothing medically wrong. Men don’t awk at her; she doesn’t get special treatment from men because of the size of her breasts. She just wants them smaller. She hates the way the look in t-shirts and would much rather have an A-cup.
    Her sister, also a C-cup, thinks her breasts are too small; they don’t fill out her shirts enough. Her boyfriend told her they are perfect, don’t change a thing, he doesn’t really prefer D-cups. But she doesn’t care. Ever since puberty, she wanted to look in the mirror and see nice. round, large boobs (for lack of a better word), and not seeing that does NOT necessarily make her unhappy or insecure, but she’d rather have the big ones, just so she can have what she has always dreamed of.
    What would say to each woman?

  4. I’m not saying that plastic surgery is never a valid option. Certainly there are plenty of situations where it is a god-send like in situations where a person is being caused pain (for instance, needing a breast reduction because of back pain).

    The situations you mentioned, however, make me pause. I’m not saying I would judge/condemn these women in any way if they did get plastic surgery – I don’t look down upon ANYONE who makes that choice for themselves… I just worry the the society we live in has pushed them to make those choices.

    As for what I would say if these women were my friends?

    In the first situation this phrase makes me wonder: “She just wants them smaller. She hates the way the look in t-shirts and would much rather have an A-cup.” If this woman were my friend I would ask her WHY she hated the way they looked and felt the need for them to be smaller. I would encourage her to seek counseling to really examine her situation before she took the drastic steps of getting plastic surgery. Its the same thing for the other woman – WHY does she want them to be bigger? Our choices and desires do not exist in a vacuum, they are largely informed by the things we see around us.

    Ultimately I just think putting your time & money towards loving the body you HAVE is much more rewarding & better for you than changing that body because if you don’t deal with the emotional issues underlying your desires they won’t go away, no matter how much you change about yourself. I’m not saying plastic surgery is NEVER a valid option but I am saying there are a LOT of things you ought to try first.

  5. Thank you. I appreciate your time, and your point of view. I myself am considering plastic surgery, which is why I brought up the topic with such passion. If you don’t mind, I would like to tell you about my situation, in detail.

    I am considering liposuction. I am a dress size 12, which is not an unhealthy obesity. I am not ashamed of the number 12. I’m not embarassed to tell people my dress size. I’m not insecure about my body at all! I could look at myself naked in the mirror all day just naming everything I love about my body. The trouble is the clothes. I fell in love with trends before they were trends. I absolutely LOVE low-rise jeans and tiny tank tops. They’re the cutest! What I don’t love is the muffin top and everything else that hangs out when I wear tight clothes. My body looks..well..gross! No matter what size I buy, with this extra cushion, it’s going to hang out no matter what. And I don’t want people to see that; I want other people to see my body the way I do: beautiful. I DEFINITELY don’t want to conform to wearing clothes meant for “bigger” people that conceal “fat rolls.” Those types of clothes are not me. I can’t logically explain why I love tighter clothes so much; I guess much like most people can’t explain why their favorite color is their favorite color. Well, maybe I can explain a little: these are the type of clothes I used to wear. I wasn’t always a size 12, but the years have gotten away from me, and now I’m borderline plus size. I’ve tried some diets to fit back into the clothes I love (those are ridiculous) and I’ve tried excersizing, but I don’t have enough time in my very hectic schedule to devote to the gym. And even though I am completely secure with my “more to love” body when it’s bare, I really do not want to give up my fashion sense. So I am considering liposuction because, compared to other types of cosmetic procedures, it doesn’t seem too risky, and (not to brag, but it may be relevant to mention) I have enough money to pay for a good surgeon.

    What do you think of all of this?

  6. It sounds like you have a healthy view of your body – and we share a love of fashion & an aversion to the gym so I TOTALLY get where you’re coming from – the only thing I wonder is, can you get the same look & fulfillment from clothes with your current body?

    Maybe try buying the same styles you love in a slightly bigger size so that the clothes hug you tightly without being uncomfortable? I have to run now (on my way to the beach, but I didn’t want to leave without giving you a response) but if you’d like me to I will totally respond more when I get back on Saturday.

    In the mean time, I think this post I wrote awhile ago may help to explain what I’m trying to say – http://imaginetoday.net/2009/01/31/why-not-wear-what-you-want/

    Whatever you end up doing, however, you sound like a very well-reasoned and confident person, which should serve you well in making the right choice for you – I hope you end up happy :)

  7. That link to your older post is very interesting! Thank you for your opinions; I would love yo hear your complete response.

    Hope you had fun at the beach! I only had a chance to go once this summer and it was a blast! :)

  8. Pingback: Guest Post! “This body is mine to love, not yours to criticize.” « Fuck Yeah Skinny Chicks

  9. Pingback: This body is mine to love, not yours to criticize. « Imagine Today

  10. Wow.. This is indeed a great point of you.. I totally respect your opinion but I I also have to disagree with your statement that doctors put their patient’s health at risk unnecessarily. I think no doctors would do do or prescribe something that would unnecessarily risk their patient’s health. If a patient ahs consulted their doctor because they wanted to have longer, thicker eyelashes, I would think that a prescription given is unnecessary. It is the patient’s wish, and the doctors are the best person that can help since they are the one who know better when in comes to treatment and solution above everyone else..

    And also, people wants to change something on themselves to boost their self esteem and to feel sponginess to the society. So if you can afford it, then I guess it won’t make you less of a person if you’ll place a price to boost your self-esteem.

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