Humans have always enjoyed beauty. It’s embedded in our culture, art, philosophy and psychology. Society uses it as its standard for comparison, placing an emphasis on the outward appearance.

Researchers have long studied the influence of beauty on the world, coming to the conclusion that beautiful people are offered more options. Namely, their personal success can also be attributed to the way they look while others are the victims of lookism.

Even though the notion of beauty has become more independent and subjective over time, there are still certain expectations which have clung. They’re mirrored in the stereotypes of every epoch and understood as preconditions for success. However, further, more detailed studies showed that feeling beautiful allows people to be confident and believe in themselves. In contrast, the proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” stands to explain that different people see beautiful things in their own unique way.

With that in mind, one cannot help but ask - is beauty definable and limited? It certainly has values beyond the ones observed with sight. But every individual is still faced with the heavy task: how to embrace this freedom of beauty and avoid becoming a slave to judgmentalism and criticism.

The “legacy” of Dorian Gray

When Oscar Wilde published his most famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 he wasn’t faced with success. The text printed in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine was deemed immoral by his peers, thus he had to include the preface in the revised edition next year.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible....”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The story of a young and beautiful man in Victorian England who doesn’t grow old was used as a cautionary tale. Although Wilde tried to explain how art was constricted by Victorian morality, he also promoted his strong belief – the first principle of aestheticism that the only purpose of art is to be beautiful. However, the price Dorian pays for enjoying and surrounding himself with beauty is his soul.

The main principle of beauty today is what Wilde argued in his novel – staying forever young. To regain their youthfulness, people go to great lengths. Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, for instance bathed in the milk of 700 donkeys every day to remain young and beautiful. Today, we don’t have to go that far. Currently, there is a myriad of cosmetic solutions and treatments for skin rejuvenation. Science has done its part with studying the aging process and how your lifestyle can affect it.

At the same time, contemporary medical practice allows patients to change their appearance more than just erasing a few lines. It has also called for the recognition of the Dorian Gray syndrome, a condition first described in 2001 as “a cultural and societal phenomenon characterized by an excessive preoccupation with the individual's own appearance (dysmorphophobia) accompanied by difficulties coping with the aging process and with the requirements of maturation.”

Stigma of looking for beauty

Everyone wants to be beautiful, it’s just that we don’t observe beauty in the same way. We all have an image of ourselves which would make us more acceptable to society, more attractive. Youthfulness is considered equal to beauty, and thus many decide to undergo serious plastic surgeries in order to defy nature. These procedures are serious and patients need time to recover, they carry risks just like any surgery and can be irreversible. However, the end result is so thrilling that people become addicted to the change and don’t know when to stop.

“Smile -- it increases your face value.”
― Dolly Parton

If any public figure was more criticized for her choice to undergo plastic surgery, it’s Dolly Parton. The famous US country singer and icon turned 72 this year and looks fabulous. She never hid the fact that she used breast augmentation and implants and Botox over the years. “I always wanted to be prettier,” Parton said about her teenage days. “I got to fixin' myself up. I wanted my clothes tight, my makeup bright, my nails long, my lips red. I got into it.

Parton’s honesty and approach to cosmetic and plastic surgery should serve as an example to all women. She never became susceptible to public opinions although many used her as an example of surgery gone wrong. Constantly asked if her breasts were hers, Parton once said: “People always ask me if they’re mine. Yes, they are… all bought and paid for.” Even though she had a rhinoplasty, Botox, brow lift and other procedures she still looks like herself and doesn’t appear to have gone far from that image.

Expectations vs. reality

Outside of the celebrity world, people are also faced with this dilemma. Some form an addiction and simply can’t stop until the surgeon refuses to operate. There are those who put their health on the line every time they undergo surgery. It may be their decision when to stop, but it’s not their fault they see themselves as not perfect enough.

I’ve had a nose bump all my life. At first I thought that it would disappear as I grew older, but my teen years passed and my 20s are almost over and it’s still there. I’ve seen celebrities who had nose jobs and completely changed their appearance, like Jennifer Grey and Jennie Garth.

We all live under the same sky but share different views on the clouds. Where I would see a cat, you may see a dog. This difference is what makes us unique contributors to the world around us. If you always wanted to have bigger breasts, then you should have them. But if someone told you to do so, think again if that person really loves you. Being accepted just the way you are should never be overpowered by what others want you to look like.

I am fortunate that I was always surrounded by supportive and loving people. That is probably the reason why I waited so long to consider my options when it comes to corrective nose surgery. This is the period in my life when I need a change. I want to meet the new me and see where it will take me. It’s my decision to change, and if I do, the rest of the world will have to get used to the new me.

If you don’t like yourself, that is not because you are ugly or imperfect. It’s because people forgot to highlight our qualities and help us overcome the insecurities. Instagram and YouTube are full of strong, beautiful women and men of all sizes, shapes and nationalities. They’ve embraced themselves for who they are and make their own choices about their body. They’re a much-needed example of positive attitude since the technological era has us surrounded with images of why we’re not beautiful at all or enough.

In the end

There is always the limit we shouldn’t exceed when working on our appearance. Clothing, makeup and even plastic surgery should help us look better, not change who we really are. Plastic surgery has an unjustified bad reputation. It helped many women after their mastectomy to regain a sense of self-worth, and those inflicted by genetic diseases were given a chance to have a normal life. It helped countless individuals regain the control of their life by returning them the faith in themselves. And to those like me, it offered the possibility of change. 

Published by Victoria Lim