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“Context is everything. When you put appearance up against other life satisfactions, its light dims” says Priscilla Grant in her article, “Face time”. In South India, where I grew up, appearance modifications although in its milder forms were mostly connected to important aspects of life. Women adorned themselves with flowers, bindi ( a dot on the forehead usually red in color ) and all kinds of ornaments made primarily of the sacred metal – gold – and men wore their traditional white clothing. These adornments and clothing took significance as if to acknowledge and honor the sacredness of important life aspects such as marriage, child birth and forms of other celebrations of life. The young only imitated their adults for enhancing their own appearance and beauty. Though the ritual adornments were considered auspicious in everday life, most of them have become restricted to festival and ceremonial days while other forms of appearance modifications like modern hair style and make-up have taken significance in their place. Consequently, beauty is less of a celebration of life and more of conforming to the fast changing fashions and trends. Although beauty has many standards in different cultures, in modernized societies however we tend to hold some narrow and even harmful beauty standards, removed from the context of life in a larger perspective, a result of which we also incline to respect our bodies far less.
We often find it difficult to find our own voice and values and integrate it in our lives, which will bring peace and harmony in spite of the desires we have. And it is difficult more so in a fast-paced living. Instead of taking the time to find our self the person we are, we give away our personal power to those that are external such as media,
friends, relatives and other groups of people. And as we tend to allow our external world shape our image of our own body, we try to modify our body image, according to what we think is appreciated and accepted by others. But changing appearance through extreme methods such as cosmetic surgeries bring more harm than good to one’s health. I have had an unpleasant experience with cosmetic dentistry of having braces a few years back. As I had felt conscious, of my teeth as being oddly big, that others would see it that way, I felt confident that braces would fix it. But having braces only left some of my teeth out of alignment and partly weakening them; I wish a little that my dentist had warned me off from any cosmetic modifications. Courage to face life’s challenges is one to be valued but I wish I had dared less to have braces. It had shocked me that I may soon lose some of my teeth for the way the braces were working on them, after which I decided to have my braces pulled out. This was a price indeed for me to learn to respect my body as it is and enjoy its health. Life is filled with meaning even if we do not want to focus on getting our appearances changed and especially if the result is painful, we may begin to notice what really is important in our lives. I had not realized my inner self that was enjoying the gift of having a healthy set of teeth that was perfect and served its purpose.
In a web discussion forum – http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/hi/English/talking_point/ newsid 1102000/1102038.stm – titled “When is cosmetic surgery right for teenagers?”, a person named Catherine of England says, “if anyone had offered me free plastic surgery at the age of 16, I would've had my whole face and body done, never mind my flat chest. Luckily, like most other people I was poor, so I had to start liking myself instead.” Although our decision-making is forced on us when we are left with less or no options, such decisions may remain to be one of the easiest and best decisions that we ever make
for ourselves. It is ironical that with affluence and freedom we do not necessarily make right choices, such as for our health and ultimately for our life. Modern society has the freedom that has never been before. And we could hardly have missed coming across the popular ad caption, “the possibilities are endless”, which actually indicates a wide range of material choices made available to us. But if the choices that we want to make cannot create health and harmony for us, then we are also not free from the influences that actually restricts the natural flow of our life. And if we remain free, we may not be possibly obsessed, dissatisfied or helpless with our body image, at least as long as we remain healthy – for health is happiness and it for our happiness that we need freedom.
With a realization of the risks involved in cosmetic surgeries, primarily from my own experience with cosmetic dentistry, I often feel deceptive of the media whenever feedback about the procedures of cosmetic surgeries are given – including those of breast implants, liposuction, cosmetic dentistry, eyelid and face lifts – their side-effects mentioned in a tone of understatement. Consumerism thrives successfully in our society and so are cosmetic surgeries, a product of consumerism. So it should surprise us little that it is not insisted that the side-effects of cosmetic surgeries are in truth major effects on our health and at times can even take away our lives. In her article, “Tummy tucks aside, it's still not a perfect world”, Joanna Sullivan states a disheartening story of an eighteen year old graduate who lost her life because of the complications of liposuction surgery, which she underwent to get rid of some of her body fat from her stomach and under her chin. More than seven million and four hundred thousand Americans had some form of cosmetic surgery in the year two thousand, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “but then I read stories about the horrible mishaps that those ads never disclose”, adds Sullivan.
We endure extreme body modifications to conform to what we think is faultless beauty standards. But we only create burden when we think we are bringing order to chaos, when in fact there is no chaos but we just did not look deep enough for a perfect order that we could have perceived. When we fail to look at beauty more wholly, we take huge responsibilities for the effects rising out of it. I did not realize that my teeth were in perfect order and did not ever bother me until I thought there ought to be more order to it. Now it is necessary that I take extra care for it for I had abused it before. I used to feel troubled for not just the pain the braces were creating but also for the fear of damaging my body part which was originally healthy, which was by it self faultless. We are made up of body and emotions and spirit, I realized. Before we decide to modify our body, we need to realize our emotional conditions and life situations, what the specific modification procedure would further do to our emotions and spirits – for we know we are much more than being just physical – in addition to understanding the truth of the mostly not so well informed health complications that it may bring sooner or later. Although cosmetic surgeries are excellent technological sophistications, at least with all its advancements in its recent times, we need not limit our expectations and perceptions to our physical senses.
I once received a ‘Hallmark’ birthday greeting with the following message: “discover the simple joys of life – refresh your soul with everyday miracles”. This message is an important aspect of spirituality, without which we remain vulnerable in almost every aspect of our life, not to mention beauty and extreme appearance modifications. We even tend to risk not realizing the importance of our health, with modern cosmetic modifications like cosmetic dentistry or the widely known saline breast
implants which may affect one’s health – information available in the ‘Survivors of Salines’ web link, http://www.homestead.com/sosalines/sos.html – probably more than we can handle. However it is possible that we find greater pleasure and gratitude in our simple and milder forms of appearance modification, such as make-up and clothing. When we become mindful of what we are in essence, we even begin to enjoy the fundamental yet important qualities of life such as kindness, good health, connection with family and community, and even our smiles and the breaths we take in. This is not similar to our “bumper sticker philosophies”, like “be all you can be” or “ ( do this and that ) and you will be happy”, as Bo Lozoff puts it in his book, It’s a Meaningful Life – it just takes practice. But we do gain nurturance and self-esteem, and suffer less from trying to control body appearances more than we could. If our society’s individualism and freedom seem to complicate our life, we may rid of some of the complications when we begin to comprehend the essential being we are. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience": by author, Ram Dass.
For all that of our fast-paced lifestyle is and consequently an obsession for body modifications, we fortunately recognize that we are also in a move “to a new whole”. We are apparently becoming open to several practices such as vegetarianism, meditations, yoga, tai-chi, and other disciplines associated with good health and spirituality, to attempt to fulfill our desires and uplift our spirits in the place of physical beauty and appearance modification. I once heard a yoga instructor say on television that a “by-product” of the discipline of yoga is ( a form of ) physical beauty! The contemporary and popular New Age movement is an example that more and more people take unique paths to satisfy some of the natural desires. In this aspect of progress
we may find our personal power and peace that we have been looking for – probably, mistakenly through appearance changes in an extreme level – but with far less suffering to our human spirits as well as bodies.
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