February 11, 2010

Circus Freak or Canary In a Coal Mine?

There’s been lost of buzz about Heidi Montag’s overhaul (what she calls her transformation from ugly duckling to her “best me”) in the last month. Most of the press has been negative and the reactions have ranged from anger to horror.  Many women, specifically, are angry that she has “sold out” and made things “that much harder” for other women. Others are horrified by the extreme measures she has taken to achieve a warped and industry-influenced perception of beautiful. She claims her mother looked at her like a “circus freak.”

A similar thought came to mind when I saw the photographs of her newly sculpted body and face (that she had the means to purchase-hello-expensive). It’s the same reaction I get when I see pictures of Pamela Anderson. Eww. What a freak.

The platinum hair. The humongous, perfectly round orbs. The manufactured face.

But, Pamela Anderson used to the epitome of beauty to me. I cringe as I admit that. I used to fake-n-bake when I couldn’t get to the beach and smear accelerator on my crying skin (after all, it was the early 90s), I bleached my hair for years,  and wore acrylics for far too long.

I don’t think I was the only one. I know I wasn’t the only one. And I know Heidi isn’t the only one these days.

I realize Heidi is a celebrity wanna be, a media monger with scant talent. I realize that her beach work outs, wedding and, probably even this plastic surgery story, are calculated PR attempts however lame they may be.

But I have empathy for Heidi and I don’t think she’s as much of a freak show as we make her out to be. Yeah, she had 10 procedures in a  day. Yes, she almost died. But Heidi is not the only one supporting Dr. Ryan or the countless other plastic surgeons paying their bloated mortgages in swanky neighborhoods on the insecurities of wealthy women and women with mountains of debt (and men..yes, I know about the men). Shoot, I know people who have gone to Dr. Ryan for countless procedures with the desire for more.

What strikes me about Heidi Montag is that her desire for an unrealistic image of perfection has become more and more normative. Walking through parts of Los Angeles, I tend to see the same face over and over. I remember being slightly drunk at a Beverly Hills establishment some years ago and asking, “why do all these women have the same face?” In my state of intoxication it was like some bizarre carnival side show.

But it isn’t a bizarre carnival side show. It is increasingly becoming the norm. And not just in LA. Across the country. Across the globe. It’s an anthropological curiosity.

The outcries of horror and claims of freak come from the fact that she has candidly shared the gruesome, life threatening means required to achieve this notion of “beauty.” Almost innocently and surprised, she said that this is what it takes to be noticed and profitable in the industry. That’s what freakish because it is sadly true.

The fact that women (and men) *choose* (this is a point of debate) to pay to go under the knife and possibly experience complications or die in an attempt to look like a gazillion other women is ludicrous. And freaky. But that is exactly what is happening all the time to more and more women at younger and younger ages.

But most women don’t talk about the extreme measures and boat loads of money it takes to pursue this illusory beauty ideal. If more women gave honest accounts of their torturous beauty regimens we’d realize that Heidi isn’t a freak but the canary in the coal mine alerting us of dangers as more and more of our women, young and old, elect to construct and manufacture their faces and frames.