Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Teens: Need a Lift?

Teen singing star Charice Pempengco has caused a lot of hubbub as of late, and it isn't about her amazing pipes or coming debut on the hit television program Glee. Pempengco, age eighteen, has a lot of folks talking due to her recent botox injections a few months ago, turning up the heat in the ethical debate regarding teens and plastic surgery. These procedures are on the rise -- Botox injections in the teen bracket has increased nearly 48% in the past year. While it's a valid question for us to ask if teens should get plastic surgery, the real question, I believe, is why so many teens feel pressured to undergo the procedure. Rather than criticizing Pempengo, we should be criticizing our culture and ultimately, ourselves -- what are we as a culture and as individuals doing to promote self-acceptance?

The Botox rage is clearly due in part to increased media exposure and celebrity endorsements of this procedure, making the trend ever so appealing. It's also reinforced by their peers who are increasingly opting for the injection. But at the heart of it lies our sexist society, in which the value of women is often weighed heavily upon a flawless physical appearance. However, to say this is merely sexism misses a huge part of the story. This issue is also intimately connected to ageism -- more specifically, the prejudiced attitudes toward older individuals and the aging process.

Intersectionality, ya'll! Here it comes!

In my observations, when mainstream media talks about the "should" and "should not" of Botox and plastic surgery, it becomes more about the sexist angle (women feel pressured to be beautiful) rather than the ageist angle (women feel pressured to remain youthful). The two are not mutually exclusive -- they are inseparable. When we see images of size zero women in skimpy attire and spread legs, we are up in arms, looking to unravel the underlying message. Contrastingly, when we see depictions of elderly women as hunched over, immobile, and pathetic, we seldom give it a second thought and recycle the Sunday paper when we're finished reading those comics. Ageism, too, is rampant in the media. The most prominent marker of old age is an altered appearance -- thus we associate markers of age with many of the most undesirable qualities such as being clueless, helpless, and alone (stereotypes attached to old age). These pro-youth and anti-age images are what allows the cosmetic surgery industry to rake in the cash. There are two fears at the core of this cosmetic craze: the fear of not being beautiful enough, and the fear of not remaining beautiful forever.

The pressures that teens like Charice feel emerge from these same principles -- we need to achieve perfection, as our sexist society tells us, and once we have attained the pinnacle of youthfulness, we are to simply freeze, as our ageist society tells us. Both require constant and drastic effort, and neither is feasible.

If we are to tackle the Botox Dilemma, we must learn to not only accept how we appear now, but to embrace the cycle of life and celebrate how our bodies change. We must fight both sexism AND ageism. When we talk about self-acceptance, we're not just talking about a static moment in time -- we need to talk about the compilation of moments that have made us who we are, and all of the moments that compose who we will become. We need to celebrate being ALIVE! Instead of telling young girls that they are beautiful exactly as they are, pressuring them to remain young and delicate (and, well, exactly as they are), we should be telling them that they are always beautiful, simply by being -- that, as we change, we never lose what is truly beautiful and meaningful. We as a culture need to recognize that the changes we undergo are miraculous ones, and with these outward changes can come enlightening and wondrous experiences.

In other words, it doesn't seem that Charice got the memo -- wrinkles are all the rage these days.

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