Beauty pageant causes a stir
If you want evidence that definitions of female beauty are becoming as narrow as a Mattel product catalogue, look no further than the entrants from this year's Miss Daegu beauty pageant in South Korea.
The similarity between the young women, with their almond eyes, thin noses, high cheekbones and pointy chins is staggering.
Staggering is also the word that comes to mind looking at the before and after surgery photos of Miss Universe Korea 2013 Kim Yumi.
While Photoshopping may explain some of the similarities in appearance of the 2013 lineup, it's not too much of a leap to assume that cosmetic surgery is also a factor (and the need to Photoshop people to all look similar is worrying in itself). This is especially given that, according to a survey reported in The Economist, South Korea tops the list for cosmetic surgery relative to population.
But while the high weirdness factor of the South Korean pageant has grabbed global attention, are things really any different closer to home?
Take, for example, the Miss Universe Australia pageant. With sponsors like Mediterranean Tan, Wax & Beauty ('Transform the drab and boring as you release the exotic inner goddess') Danné Montague King ('[T]reatments and products designed to educate skin to perform like youthful healthy skin') and The Smile Shop ('The number one Tooth Whitening dental office in Australia') the Miss Universe Australia pageant is hardly a celebration of body diversity.
We are talking about beauty pageants after all. But even outside the world or fake smiles and earnest calls for world peace, conforming to a confected template of female beauty via cosmetic surgery has become utterly normalised. New surgical 'must haves' such as Pipa's Butt Lift, Kate's Royal Nose, Posh's Nipples and Angelina's lips, are as close as your nearest shopping centre.
And the desire to look like a mass-produced doll is hitting women at their most vulnerable - in their teen years when the judgment of peers is at its strongest. The fastest growing segment of people going under the knife is young people.
This isn't confined to the extreme and ridiculous cases like British mother Sarah Burge who gave her daughter a breast enlargement voucher for her seventh birthday.
The question is why? Do these young women really believe that looking like Barbie will deliver them ultimate happiness? Or is something else going on?
For her book 'Where has my little girl gone', Tanith Carey sat in the waiting room of a cosmetic surgery and quizzed the people waiting for their consultations. A sales assistant who had mummy and daddy's blessing, and their cheque book, was getting her chest boosted two cup sizes to improve her 'confidence'.
Eighteen year old Courtney was having laser treatment to remove the stretch marks that were 'ruining her life'.
Her mother Justine said she had no other option.
'What choice have you got when something like this is ruining your daughter's life? It's wrecked her social life', explained Justine. 'When her friends ring her and ask her to join them for sleepovers, she says no because she can't bear anyone to see her in her underwear. I saw her sitting there with tears streaming down her face. It was heart-breaking. She kept saying "Why has this happened to me, Mum? How could this happen to me?"'
It's tempting to say that Courtney and Justine should visit a burns unit and get some freaking perspective. But dismissing them as vain isn't fair and treats this as if it's simply an individual issue.
In doing so, it completely misses the point that young girls are growing up within a global culture that bombards them with the message that their beauty matters most. Against this backdrop, parents think they are being responsible by funding surgical procedures to help their daughters feel better about themselves.
The problem is that trying to treat poor self-esteem with cosmetic surgery is like trying to treat gangrene with a band-aid. The only way to truly heal is to cut out the rot.
We need to reject the toxic industries of pageants and cosmetic surgery that tell women from Daegu to Devenport that in order to be worthy they must be something other than what they are.
- Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com
- Daily Life