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i wanna be barbie!
if you don't look fantastic, go plastic
by heather m. millen
pop culture

As I browse the racks of bikinis in front of me, I take in each teenier-than-the-last selection. Damn, I think to myself, I really shouldn't have had that second piece of pizza for lunch.

It is officially bathing suit season. Blegh. And I live in southern California, home to many perfect bodies. Tanned, toned and fantastic. And, quite possibly, plastic. But fake or no fake, I've got to sit next to them on the beach. My stomach feels sick at the very thought. I think that second piece of pizza is gonna take care of itself any minute now.

Body image is something that everyone thinks about at some point or another. Whether you've simply slipped into last year's skimpy summer attire and wondered where THAT came from or you've examined your face in the rear view mirror too long, everyone has days where the common response to the way they look is "Ewww" and "Could someone hit the lights?"

But with the surgical advances of this day and age, you don't ever have to feel that way again. Just ask the nearly 6.6 million people who had plastic surgery in 2002. According to statistics released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, that's the number of people who got lifted, tucked, pumped, and sucked last year. By a cosmetic procedure, that is. Yes, it's quite the vogue thing to do in response to one of life's most pesky little problems: Appearance.

And as always, entertainment has yet again tapped into the "vogue" thing to do. The other day as I was flipping through the channels, I caught a glimpse of the ABC television show "Extreme Makeover." Basically, the premise of this show is to completely and thoroughly change everything about the way you look. You walk in as Janet Reno and walk out as Jennifer Lopez. Thank God for technology.

Now, I'm all for a makeover. Do something dramatic with your eyeshadow, get a haircut, reshape your eyebrows, get a tan. Try the new Bonne Bell lipgloss. Buy a new outfit... or ten. Splurge on a day at the spa. You're worth it!

But this particular show goes well beyond a junior high slumber party primping session. Forget going from bubbly blonde to brunette vixen and calling it a day. "Extreme Makeover" will give you new cheekbones, a new nose and a sparkly new smile. And while they're at it, they'll take that fat off your ass and inject it into your lips. Voluptuous! Now how about some shiny new boobs?!

And then you go home and your family couldn't identify you in a police line-up if they tried. You look like you just came out of the Witness Protection Program. Welcome to the new you!

So you spend the next month recovering from the operation (not to mention the emotional strain that's a common result of many cosmetic procedures), but that's a small price to pay for real happiness. You know what they say: Beauty is pain. And after the healing process, you're normal ol' you again. Only better. Right?

I question that.

I'm not saying that there's no place for plastic surgery. Obviously, in a reconstructive capacity, it is invaluable to the lives of people who have been traumatically affected by birth defects, irrevocable injuries, etc. And, hey, if you want to get a little something done to feel better about yourself, then more power to you.

But I do have a problem with entertainment tapping into a person's insecurities in order to make money… not to mention the pure extremity to the show.

And while I'm sure millions of applications pour into the ABC studio each day, I just don't get why anyone would want to change nearly everything about the way they look. "Extreme Makeover" is what it says it is, folks. If you don't believe me, check out Sandra and some of her other Extreme Makeover friends. Common procedures performed on the show include rhinoplasty, liposuction, eyelift, extensive dental work, and breast implants. And all of this for just for one *lucky* contest winner!

I'm sure many of us have looked in the mirror and wished for a quick fix to a "problem area" of our bodies. I know I'm guilty of lounging on the couch watching "The Osbournes" marathon on Mtv, putting off the gym and dreaming of losing those extra pounds without the pesky little annoyance of sweat and exercise.

But it's a long, complicated step between dreaming and doing. And I hope that none of these contestants take it lightly. Well beyond the logistics of monetary cost and recovery time, there's much more to the procedure. And I find it frightening to think that maybe one day America will consider a facelift as common as getting a haircut. It could be the new perm!

Uhm, no thank you.

I admit that bathing suit shopping this year was long, torturous and depressing. (Not to mention expensive. You know that overpriced bathing suit they claim will make you look amazing? Well, it does what it can.) Despite the hell of that ordeal, overall, I'd say I'm rather okay with my body. Because for every day that I scrutinize each curve and corner comes the days that (hopefully) most of us have as well - the "Damn, I'm one sexy bitch" days. And then, once again, all is right in the world.

Sure, I wish that heredity had given me smaller ears, maybe a little more height, and dear Lord, could I get a higher metabolism over here?! But for those days that I look in the mirror and just feel beautiful, I feel thankful for genetics anyway.

And I hope you do too. Because you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.


Heather has a penchant for drama, both personally and professionally. She secretly wishes people spoke in song and wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves a standing ovation now and again. She finds it appalling that people reserve champagne only for special occasions, when champagne is clearly best on a Tuesday, while riding the subway, accompanying a slice of kick-ass pizza.

more about heather m. millen


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topic: pop culture
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joe procopio
5.26.03 @ 11:04a

Wow, there's so much here. I'd like to start with this - What's up with the sudden explosion in male plastic surgery? It's not a very well kept secret that while men are visual, women are emotional, and looks, while they play a part in our attractiveness to women, do nothing compared to an honestly strong personality.

And while were at it - tapping into a person's insecurities in order to make money is the official credo of television and advertising executives everywhere. It's on their ID cards, I believe.

erik myers
5.26.03 @ 11:42a

Those picture scare me. I mean truly, truly frighten me.

Of course, how much of those pictures are, "Here, let's get you in the wind, put some harsh lights on you, spritz you with some baby oil. Now. Frown like you hate everything. Okay. There's your before picture."

"Now, here's a nice dress, a soft lit background, smile now! Open your eyes! Look happy! Think beautiful!"

10 bucks says that after a couple of months these people go right back to looking how they looked in the first place, just with larger breasts and/or a couple more staples in the back of their head.

So much of your appearance is just how you take care of yourself. How comfortable you are on any given day, how much sleep you've had, how much time you've spent dallying on making sure the hair looks good, whatever.

No amount of plastic surgery is going to teach anybody how to take care of themselves, and that's it.

jael mchenry
5.26.03 @ 11:46a

I would absolutely never let physical appearance dictate who I could or could not be with. I find that sort of behavior shallow and ridiculous. I would never discriminate against a guy based on personal appearance.

Unless he was short. Then, forget it.

russ carr
5.26.03 @ 12:28p


We tripped over Extreme Makeover a couple of weeks ago, too -- I think it was the premiere episode. I'll say this: the two women they rebuilt were definitely improved, but 75 percent of it was just good makeup, a more flattering hairdo, and a posse of sycophants to fawn over them to jack up their self esteem for six weeks.

Compliments and positive reinforcement are free, require no anesthesia or bandages, and show immediate results. Given the sob stories they described before launching into the makeovers, these women had tough lives, maybe without a lot of appreciation. Getting away from all that for six weeks -- while hubby or the kids suddenly have to take up the chores, the cooking, etc. -- extreme as it is.

To the show's credit, they did make a remarkable difference in one woman's appearance. She had over-fleshy lips...like double lips. The plastic surgeon removed the excess tissue, and she looked, and spoke, much better afterward. The breast augmentation, tummy tuck and new hairdo...didn't really add anything.

robert melos
5.26.03 @ 5:08p

It's not a very well kept secret that while men are visual, women are emotional, and looks, while they play a part in our attractiveness to women, do nothing compared to an honestly strong personality. -- joe procopio

Thus the reason for many men to get a makeover. Women will marry or date a wealthy troll, but do you see the poor trolls catching the babes? I think not.

I'm not saying women are anymore shallow than men. Does a hag find herself surrounded by tight buns, flat abs, and muscular chest? Nope. Unless she's loaded (financially).

Our society is visual and to a degree geared toward the shallow. How you look on the outside might change how you feel about yourself on the inside, for a short time, but there is much more to the person than just looks. If you hate yourself for other reasons than looks, a physical makeover is only the beginning.

tracey kelley
5.26.03 @ 9:43p

The strangest case of plastic surgery I've ever heard of was something I saw on the Bergman and Bergman show. A woman didn't like the look of her, um, labia, so she had her, um, lips redone.

Freaked. Me. Out.

She did say it was physically uncomfortable, and very awkward, plus her insecurity about her appearance limited her sexuality.

But. Still.

I would discriminate more on personal hygiene than physcial appearance. You can't do anything about big ears, but you can clean them out once in a while.

russ carr
5.26.03 @ 9:43p

But for some people, that's enough. I suffered through "Catch Me If You Can" the other night, and at the very least, I'll remember Frank Abagnale's advice to his son: "You know why the Yankees always win? Because the other team's too busy staring at the pinstripes."

Nearly 6.6 million people wanted their own pinstripes last year.

PS: Yankees suck!

russ carr
5.26.03 @ 9:47p

I love it when posts appear betwixt your reply and the one you were referencing... heh

RE: The Bergman & Bergman girl... big ears, big...lips. Do they make a Q-Tip for that?

Actually, I've read articles about reconstructive surgery to restore the hymen...revirginification, if you will. That's about as ethical as rolling back your odometer, if you ask me. Honestly (or dishonestly) what's the point of that?

tracey kelley
5.26.03 @ 10:23p

Oh. Right. Like I want to feel THAT again. Lovely.

Um, the big ears and the big...lips were not meant to be considered as part of the same area of the body.

That being said, you're married. You should have heard a lot about the big Q-Tip by now.

russ carr
5.26.03 @ 10:50p

I was hearing about the big Q-Tip long before I was married.

adam kraemer
5.27.03 @ 10:43a

The strangest case of plastic surgery I've ever heard of was something I saw on the Bergman and Bergman show. A woman didn't like the look of her, um, labia, so she had her, um, lips redone.

Freaked. Me. Out.

Actually, a friend of mine from grad school did a whole big piece in (I think) Cosmo on genital plastic surgery. Supposedly, it's a pretty big underground thing. Some women just feel ugly down there, I suppose.

That said, I think that, as a whole, plastic surgery is like fire - if it's necessary, it's a great boon, but if it's out of control, it's Michael Jackson time. People get psychological medical treatment all the time; why should physical medical treatment be any different?

heather millen
5.27.03 @ 1:11p

I think one common problem is that people often get this "physical medical treatment" to solve a deeper psychological problem. Taking some fat off your thighs is not going to take away your self-esteem issues.

No, I don't think it's that way for everyone. But it's common. That's why many doctors make you see a psychological counselor before surgery.

That being said, I have to question if the cons outweight the pro. I was watching "Real life: I got a boob job" on MTv this weekend and the footage alone was disturbing. Painful and really stressing to many of the patients. I mean, most people would be devastated to find out that they need any other kind of surgery. Why sign up for that?

juli mccarthy
5.27.03 @ 5:04p

That's what I don't understand. I'd love to have bigger and firmer boobs, a smaller butt and, while I'm at it, longer legs and better hair, but I do not get having pain ON PURPOSE. I saw a plastic surgery documentary and got to see liposuction in action, and all I can say is "urk."

There are a lot of people though who don't have any kind of personal self-esteem, and their looks make them miserable. Will plastic surgery make you a better person? Maybe, just maybe. You may carry yourself better, treat yourself better, be more comfortable in your own skin. That shows, and it's attractive. So in a way, I get plastic surgery - but I still don't get doing it on TV.

matt morin
5.27.03 @ 6:19p

Pain avoidance is overrated. It only hurts for a while.

Actually, I've had two different nose jobs to repair broken noses - mostly for breathing purposes, but also so I could look the way I used to look prior to catching an elbow in the face playing basketball and a steering wheel in the face after a car accident.

I looked really, really bad after surgery, but honesty it didn't hurt that much. I never took any of the Vicodin they gave me.

matt morin
5.29.03 @ 1:22a

Ok, I'm currently watching Extreme Makeover for the first time. I've got to say, they actually do a fairly responsible job of explaining the risks involved and the pain and problems of recovery.

I expected them to show all the good results, but not really tell the whole story of what these operations involve.

heather millen
5.29.03 @ 11:27a

I wouldn't say that they give no sort of explanation to the procedure. But they've obviously glamorized it. Just the pure fact it's on TV indicates that.

The real problem I have with the show is that it even exists. "Awwww... look at the poor little ugly stepsister, we should make her into a fairy princess by changing everything about her!"

Has America truly become so vain that this is considered valuable "entertainment"?

russ carr
5.29.03 @ 12:29p

Just how "valuable" is entertainment, anyway?

What I detest about 'Makeover' is a) it implies that, as a result of the plastic surgery, new 'do, etc., this person's life will change for the better; b) plastic surgery -- or whatever elective procedure -- is so basic these days, you can all but waltz in and out of the OR in an afternoon.

The latter reminds me of a scene in 'Brazil' -- when Mrs. Terrain is telling Mrs. Lowry about her great find for Christmas presents: gift certificates for surgery. Unreal. But tell me there isn't someone in LA who offers them even now...


matt morin
5.29.03 @ 12:51p

But Russ,

A) For the people they profile, it does change their lives for the better. They have more confidence in themselves. True, it's a drastic way to go about getting more self confidence, but hey, whatever works for them.

And B) The show I saw last night made it pretty clear it wasn't a waltz in and out kind of thing. They showed a lot of recovery room time, the fact that they were pretty sore for quite a while, and they kept reiterating the fact that all this took 6 weeks, but usually takes longer. They also made a point of mentioning how long everyone's surgery took - between 7 and 10 hours each.

russ carr
5.29.03 @ 1:02p

I want to see them take the cameras in, unannounced, two weeks later, to our little Cinderella's suburban castle and see if she's still got her glass slippers on. "The dog peed on the rug, the kids are sick, my husband's working a double shift, and the car needs a new transmission...but at least I've got these beautiful, firm tits!"


robert melos
5.30.03 @ 1:05a


With her beautiful firm tits, she's managed to dump the working class husband, sent the kids off to boarding school, and landed a rich older man so she won't have to worry.

heather millen
5.30.03 @ 1:11a

I'm watching some Mtv dating show right now. Enter "Sally."

"I'm getting lip injections, because my friend has great lips and she gets so much attention from boys. I want to fall in love, so now I can go out and be more attractive to them."

That is just so sad to me. And don't get me wrong, there's aplenty I would rather have differently about myself.

matt morin
5.30.03 @ 1:18a

I was watching that too, but couldn't take it anymore. Wow was she insecure.

And the funny thing is, her lip injections made her even less attractive. She looked like Jack Nicholson's Joker from the Batman movie.

mike julianelle
6.1.03 @ 4:37p

I saw some MTV special about some guy who thought he had the perfect EVERYTHING: perfect face, perfect body, perect personality...but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't work himself into the perfect CALVES. So he got implants in his CALVES. And then proceeded to show them off and TELL people he got implants. It was so pathetic and disturbing.

erik myers
6.1.03 @ 5:29p

I saw that. That show really freaked me out. Same special had two girls getting plastic surgery together -- a liposuction on on a girl that probably weighed 120 soaking wet and a boob job on a girl with C cups.

heather millen
6.1.03 @ 7:44p

I would definately agree that this growing trend of men getting plastic surgery is mind boggling. Joe has a great point that a man's most important quality is his personality.

Besides, if I met a guy who was perfectly gorgeous, but I later discovered that it was through cosmetic surgery, he'd become degrees less attractive in a split second. You just have to question that kind of guy.

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