Sunday 20 August 2017

The price of perfection: Every flaw has its fix

Our survey shows women of all ages are only too happy to airbrush their own bodies with cosmetics, beauty treatments and surgery... and their pockets are taking a hammering.

Scarlett Johansson amassed $17m
Scarlett Johansson amassed $17m

In my teens, digital cameras were all the rage. They had just come onto the market and having a camera in one's phone was just a faint brainwave in some, now very rich man's head.

One of my friends, a lady obviously ahead of her time, was notorious for bringing her shiny, brand new digital camera (she went through seven in four years) on nights out. As a result, the bedroom in her parent's home, which she once occupied, remains like a shrine to our adolescence. The most wonderful and hilarious thing about all of the photos with which she laced these walls over the years, is how often sweaty, awkward and baby-faced we all looked.

Awkward

Yes there were moments of insecurity, but we also had the privilege of having those awkward years, something that appears to be becoming less and less acceptable for young women now.

These days with filters and airbrushing there are no excuses. The bad, naturally-lit pictures are few and far between and you have to look perfect - not just for your actual friends, but for your Facebook friends and your Twitter followers and the virtual walls that are not so forgiving.

Why would you be pale when you can get a spray tan? Why would you have fine hair when you can buy extensions? Why are you so fat when you can just have liposuction? Whatever your insecurity there is a quick fix solution.

But it's not just the younger women, who are falling prey to our image- obsessed society; we are all susceptible to the pressures of the selfie-age.

In Naomi Wolf's book, the Beauty Myth, she described the punishing cult of beauty and how images of beauty are used against women. Wherever you stand it is hard to argue that we do not punish ourselves in order to look better - ever had your lady parts waxed? It's painful.

Over 30pc of Irish women get waxed, 25pc have manicures, and 23pc get facials on a regular basis. We claim to be treating ourselves, meanwhile our pockets are taking a hammering.

On average Irish women are spending €22.16 a month on makeup and a further €23.91 on hairdressing and various beauty treatments.

The EU cosmetics market was worth €72.3bn in 2012 - representing one-third of the global cosmetics market and a little more than the US and Japanese markets combined.

And it's of little wonder why Ireland is such a huge contributor to this consumer base with over one third of our female population from 18 to 54 claiming they dislike the way they look. Eighty-seven per-cent of our female population feel they would be more confident if they could achieve their ideal body shape, and a further 50pc of this group say they have avoided intimacy because they were insecure about their body shape.

These days, perhaps because I have more money that I did in my teens, I can spend up to €350 a month on beauty treatments, and that won't even include anything fancy like a facial. That figure covers the basics - hair, tan, nails, waxing, brows and eyelash extensions package.

This, granted, is multiples of the figure spent by the Irish women surveyed in the Herald's Body Image Survey. But I know I am not alone - in fact, I am not even an extreme case.

On the one hand, the fact that a whopping 60pc of Irish women aged 18-54 now say that they would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it - is surprising, but on the other hand it might simply be more cost effective than my own bottled self-esteem routine.

Cosmetic procedures know as 'mommy-makeovers,' which involve a breast lift and tummy tuck post-pregnancy, are also increasingly popular, and young girls are going for procedures to look like their favourite celebrities.

There is something a bit tragic about how we play mind games with ourselves; often unprepared to deal with our own lack of will power or self-confidence, but all too happy to embrace this trend of paying for it.

Yet, these are free choices and we are all prone to a bit of vanity. So what is the harm in putting on your red lippy to help you feel more confident? And who is to say that getting a boob job won't change your life?

Psychotherapist Joanna Fortune believes that we are looking for our self-esteem in all the wrong places.

Change

"We are living in a quick fix society where the thinking is 'well if you don't like it change it, and if you don't like that change it again, and if you still don't like it change it back'.

"Changing the outside does not change the inside. You think 'Well! I'll change this and then this' and it's a constant search for perfection and contentment and happiness, but that doesn't come from how we look, that comes from who we are and how we are."

"There are entire, multi-billion dollar industries devoted to ensuring that we women are hard on ourselves when looking in the mirror. So that we buy into products and cures and things that will fix this and top up that and disguise something else," Joanna adds. "We are on the receiving end of mass marketing from a very young age, which conditions us to doubt our appearance."

At the top of Irish women's dream cosmetic surgery wish list is the tummy tuck at 24pc, lipo comes in at 16pc, and breast enlargement at 9pc. A breast reduction was at 5pc while 28pc would never have any cosmetic surgery. The Irish cosmetic surgery industry is booming.

"The girls, who have grown up with maybe the Kardashians and all of those programmes, they are not going to think twice about getting anything done," says Niamh Murdoch, managing director of The Avoca Clinic.

"I am not saying that that is a good thing, but it is not on their radar," she explains. "Whereas a woman in her forties will think about it and say 'oh I don't know about spending so much money on myself!' There is a different dilemma because they didn't grow up with it. They want to do it, but there is a guilt around it. It's a different culture today though and it's the way things move."

The Avoca Clinic are currently doing 80 to 100 breast augmentation procedures each month and have noticed no decline in their business over the last number of years, despite the nation's economic situation. "It is huge," Niamh says. "It's like when people got their braces years ago, it's becoming a bit like that. This is something they can rectify if they want."

Niamh says the fear surrounding cosmetic surgery has lifted in the last decade.

"Everybody hears the horror stories but they are 0.2pc. If you are looking at it statistically, the amount of people, who run into difficulty are extremely small," she explains. "People are well informed now.

"There is a whole process to it, it is not a matter of just coming in and having your breast augmentation, patients come in and meet the surgeon and then there is a nurse, so there is a journey between that initial phone call and actually having your procedures," Niamh adds. "People are surprised by that and will ask 'Can I have my breast augmentation on Monday week?' but absolutely not, you have to go through our process first."

A male friend once confided that he always make sure to introduce some form of swimming- related date in the early days of a relationship, just to make sure he sees what the woman actually looks like sans maquillage. The majority of Irish women who want cosmetic surgery or get regular beauty treatments, say they do it for themselves and it is certainly a confidence boosting exercise, but who are we really trying to please? Each other?

Thinspiration

Magazines gleefully announce photographs of great Hollywood beauties in order to give us the kind of twisted ego boost, that only seeing Scarlett Johansson or Cameron Diaz on a bad day can apparently bring us. We follow the Instagram and Twitter accounts of models and athletes for 'thinspiration' and despite much more knowledge around the area of technology and how it is used in the fashion industry and in the media, we insist on comparing ourselves to photo-shopped images of people who do not exist.

This Christmas, a decade or so after all of my friend's then swanky, but now somewhat antiquated digital prints were taken, we will all be together again for another of the gang's weddings. We will be different, older, more manicured; some of us may even have had 'work' done. The photos will be filtered, perfected and dissected, because these days, it seems, only perfection will do.

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