On a daily basis, I have clients ponder the idea that having cosmetic injections or even a skin treatment will be interpreted as being self-centered. “Am I being vain?” they ask. The guilt sets in, particularly in the over 40 crowd.
I often reply with a monologue about why it’s important for us (women more-so) to do things to increase our confidence because that helps us in all roles in life. We can be better moms, wives, friends, colleagues, leaders when we are taking care of ourselves. You know, the concept of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping those that dependant on you. If I have to miss my workouts, I get cranky. There are certain things I put first because I know that when I do, I’m more optimistic about generally everything.
As I explored this topic, I was fascinated to learn about the science of beauty, and the different types of beauty: internal vs. external, beauty distortion and thought patterns about beauty.
First of all, what is beauty? According to Wikipedia:
“Beauty is a characteristic of an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, culture, social psychology, philosophy and sociology. An “ideal beauty” is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection.”
A further description includes the “act” of beauty:
“The experience of “beauty” often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this can be a subjective experience, it is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.””
For example, imagine a beautiful experience. A walk in the forest, a mind-blowing meditation class, a child being born. All are synchronized with nature. Everything between our mind and our soul feels connected to something bigger. We know it when it happens. We are often surrounded by beauty but get too caught up in foolish thoughts to truly appreciate it. When I walk my dog, I make a conscious effort to observe the landscape and take in the miracles of nature. Hear everything, see everything, smell everything, touch everything. I try to push out the distractive thoughts that might minimize the beauty in front of me. It’s a huge challenge.
Even more of a challenge is to see beauty in ourselves and others. We have become conditioned to see beauty as Hollywood depicts it complete with airbrushing, digital filters, lighting, and Photoshop. It’s not even real anymore. What have we done? We don’t even know what we are seeing anymore. And who decided that we should all look the same? That’s my biggest pet peeve in the cosmetic injection industry is the goal of everyone having the same lips and cheeks. It’s ridiculous. What happened to individuality?
It does actually drive me a little bonkers when someone who has a tiny lip and they show me a picture of a huge set of luscious lips on Instagram. They, say… “this is what I want”. And I say, “I’m not a freaking magician, we can only enhance what you were born with!” I wish we could start seeing authentic beauty and individuality on social media. We’re creating unrealistic expectations and body dysmorphic disorders with this technology! Check out the video below to see how crazy Photoshop really is:
Let’s back up to a time where mirrors and filters had no bearing on what was considered beautiful. Thousands of studies have been done across cultures and eras to determine what is considered beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, “Survival of the Prettiest”. Author Nancy Etcoff is a practicing psychologist and is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. In the book, she hypothesizes and proves with global scientific studies that valuing beauty is an essential and ineradicable part of human nature and that it is revered and ferociously pursued at enormous cost in nearly every civilization. In other words, we are programmed to recognize and appreciate beauty.
We can’t help it!!
Etcoff (2000) explores the argument for beauty as a biological adaptation and says,
“The argument is a simple one: that beauty is a universal part of human experience, and that it provokes pleasure, rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes. Our extreme sensitivity to beauty is hard-wired, that is, governed by circuits in the brain shaped by natural selection. We love to look at smooth skin, thick shiny hair, curved waists, and symmetrical bodies because in the course of evolution the people who noticed these signals and desire their possessors had more reproductive success. We are their descendants.”
“Additionally, one cannot escape a comment on the irony of sexual attraction: in a world where men and women try to stave off pregnancy for the majority of their sexual encounters, sexual preference is still guided by ancient rules that make us most attracted to bodies that look the most reproductively fit”. Etcoff also points out that we live in a world where men’s brains are hardwired to find younger women (at their reproductive peak) particularly beautiful. We’ve all been with our husbands in the mall to find them gazing at a gorgeous 20 something! And people wonder why women are driven to the fountain of youth!! In their defense…they can’t help it. They were designed to procreate and carry on the species.
I now understand the biological pull to want to be attractive. In order to reproduce, we are designed to be and look for someone healthy looking. I’m wrapping my brain around the change in our being though. Once we have had our babies (or have chosen not to have them), now what. Why are we still so drawn to beauty? If our survival no longer depends on beauty, why do we do it? Etcoff (2000) comments on the fact that preferential treatment of beautiful people is extremely easy to demonstrate, as is discrimination against the unattractive.
“From infancy to adulthood, beautiful people are treated preferentially and viewed more positively. This is true for men as well as women. Beautiful people find sexual partners more easily, and beautiful individuals are more likely to find leniency in the court and elicit cooperation from strangers. Beauty conveys modest but real social and economic advantages and, equally important, ugliness leads to major social disadvantages and discrimination.”
An interesting difference between men and women is that while men may choose a mate based on attractiveness (can she produce babies), women will take into consideration other qualities like status and profession. Can he provide for a family? When my 21-year-old daughter was a child, she would tell me that she was going to marry rich. I always intervened and told her that she needs to be independent first. She needs to be educated and have her own career. Life is different now. Women do not have to be financially dependant on men. Unless of course, your goal is to be at home with your kids. Then you do need to find a mate that can invest in your family.
I am so happy to report the facts on body beauty. From Survival of the Prettiest:
“Research on the body has also provided non-intuitive and surprising results. For example, symmetry, proportion, and in particular the ratio of waist to hip size, can be more powerful determiners of the beauty of a woman’s (and a man’s) body than absolute weight (barring extremes of obesity or emaciation).” In other words, curves are in!! So stop obsessing about the numbers on your scale. For more details on the healthiest waist to hip ratios, ask for your free copy of our Body Rehab Guide.
In recent years, scientists have been doing cross-cultural studies to determine if there is a universal determinant for beauty. Turns out, there is. Anthropologists Douglas Jones and Kim Hill did a study where people from Brazil, the US, Russia, as well as the Hiwi Indians of Venezuela and the Ache Indians of Paraguay were presented a multiracial, multicultural set of faces… This is one of many studies that show significant agreement among different cultures. We prefer female faces with small lower faces (delicate jaws and relatively small chins) and eyes that were large in relation to the length of the face. Psychologist Michael Cunningham found that beautiful Asian, Hispanic, Afro-Caribbean, and Caucasian women had large, widely spaced eyes, high cheekbones, small chins, and full lips. It is these features that exaggerate the ways that adult female faces differ from adult male faces and they also exaggerate the youthfulness of the face.
This explains everything that we do at External Affairs Medical Spas!! Even as I write this I am beginning to understand our different demographics better. Our 20 something girls desiring to have fuller lips (full red lips are a sign of femininity and the youthfulness of estrogen). Our 30 something gals restoring the smoothness of their skin with Vampire Facials. Our 40 & 50 years old (young) ladies wanting to lift the cheeks back up with a little Restylane®. And our over 60 wise women feeling comfortable in their skin and bodies but wanting to lift the eyes back up to a more youthful position with Microblading for their brows and a little Botox®. I’m a big believer in BioIdentical Hormone Replacement Therapy for health & longevity but it was interesting to learn about studies that have been done with the role of estrogen in keeping the skin young and dewy. We know that a decline in estrogen is the main reason why the skin becomes thinner, drier, and more wrinkled. In fact, within two years of menopause, women will lose 30% of their collagen. Gynecologist Rudolphe Maheux gave estrogen supplements to sixty nuns at the Good Shepherd Sisters convent in Quebec City, women with little sun exposure and no history of smoking. He found that the women increased the thickness of their skin by 12% within one year. That is why I have Dr. Briggs prescribe an Estriol cream that I mix with our Retinol and rub on my face and chest!! My ovaries are still making estrogen so I can’t take it orally just yet (I’m 51 so my clock I’m getting ready to cross the bridge into menopause!!). Other studies have found that hormone replacement therapy decreases wrinkle depth and pore size and increase skin moisture and number of collagen fibers in postmenopausal women. Hallelujah!
While our clients do not need to enhance their beautiful features with cosmetics procedures to ensure that they can procreate, they may desire to enhance to ensure their social status, their competitiveness in their workplace, their confidence to date, or perhaps the desire to keep their mate attracted to them. Regardless of the motivation, I will further this topic. The intention of enhancing one’s features is so important. We need to really examine our reason for exploring beauty enhancements. Using an eyelash extender or a new lipstick is a decision that is fairly forgivable. However, committing to a procedure like Botox or Restylane is less so. And on the far right is a surgical procedure like a facelift or a blepharoplasty that will permanently change your looks. I’ve been in the beauty industry for over 23 years now and I’ve seen all different personalities in clients who come in for procedures. It is known that clients who are incredibly unhappy with their lives are NOT good candidates for cosmetic procedures. Just as a new purse or a new car will not make you happier (if it does, it’s temporary), a new face will not magically make your life better. My favorite clients to work on are those who have self-acceptance. They know who they are and they are not trying to change that. They have very realistic expectations of what our treatments can do. For those who seek these procedures with the intent of reversing self-loathing or saving a marriage, it just won’t work. I highly recommend exploring the underlying cause of the unhappiness. Unhappiness cannot hide through beauty. As a cosmetic injector, I have started turning clients away if I suspect their expectations are unrealistic.
I think it’s important to address the “judginess” that surrounds the beauty industry. Women are the worst. We judge women who are not considered beautiful by society’s standards AND women who are! We need to give everyone a break and try to look for the beauty of the makeup, the skin, the hair. As an injector, I do try to educate people on proper proportions since we know that PHI (the Golden Ratio) is beautiful. So I try to not do lips that throw a face out of proportion. But if a woman wants to put on blue lipstick on top of my lip enhancement…I’m good with it knowing I have made her lips look more youthful, and that she feels more confident. We do have clients that want features enhanced beyond proportion and we do our best to educate.
This brings me to my definition of beauty. Joy is beautiful. Gratitude is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Honesty is beautiful. Integrity is beautiful. Generosity is beautiful. Compassion is beautiful. Smiling is beautiful (even if the smile makes wrinkles!!). If we all spent a little more time trying to extend these qualities more to our family, our friends, our colleagues, and strangers we would automatically be more beautiful. Go ahead and buy that new outfit, get a facial, or a Botox injection. Just know that the survival of our species no longer depends on attractiveness (cause we can artificially create it). It now depends on how we treat each other, especially globally!
Aging With Passion & Purpose
Becky Wilkins RN
Clinical Director, External Affairs Medical Spas
Board member Women’s Health Coalition