"Binge and purge" is starting to look downright respectable. In one of my very first essays for this reputable magazine, I introduced myself with the attractive autobiographical detail that my cousin Linda and I, as teens, were wont to stuff ourselves silly and immediately relieve our persons of the consequences thereof. We were ashamed of it, as far as that goes. And so no one ever knew-till 100,000 subscribers coast to coast knew.
This October the American Society of Plastic Surgeons met here in Philadelphia to "proclaim from the rooftops," as it were, what was heretofore breathed only "in the inner rooms" of my and Linda's houses-the gospel of total self-gratification with zero need for character development. In unabashed tones formerly reserved for discussion of their more historic mission-fixing disfigurements associated with burns, tumors, mastectomy, and birth defects-the practitioners of nips and tucks basked in the brave new world of rhinoplasty, Botox, and breast, cheek, calf, and buttock implants (my twenty-something daughter tells me the latter is all the rage).
"Plastics," whispered the businessman to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, and he was more prescient than he knew. Here is a sure bet for a growth industry, explaining why over half of plastic surgeons now spend over half their time lifting faces and bosoms of the perfectly healthy rather than ministering to the sick. And if you think the silicone results are attractive, consider, for surgeons, the attractiveness of cash on the nail (or scalpel) and no insurance reimbursement hassles. For having excess adipose tissue removed from your thighs, still considered "elective" as of the date I write, is not covered by your Blue Cross and Blue Shield policy.
But who can speak for the future? Today's "elective" and shameful practices become the civil rights of tomorrow, clamoring for insurance coverage at taxpayers' expense (consider abortion). In Canada, where girls can get breast implants without parental consent at 16, the national discussion is presently over whether taxpayers will foot the bill for this augmentation in teenage self-esteem.
The other problem with "elective" choices is how they tend to become socially compulsory-like cell phones. (My son assures me I'm the last holdout.) Rod Serling's 1964 Twilight Zone episode, "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You," concerns a totalitarian state, sometime in the future, where there is pressure to eliminate not only all human ugliness but even slight departures from perfect physical beauty. The last holdout here is Marilyn Cuberle, who steadfastly resists coaxing from family and friends to choose from a catalogue of 12 models the face for her Transformation operation. In a chillingly profound twist, Marilyn not only ultimately consents to the procedure but, as the camera fades to black, seems pleased at her new reflection in the mirror. She now not only looks but thinks like all the rest.
A day may come when such Transformations go as smoothly as a newly liposuctioned thigh, but in the interim we are encountering potholes. Ask movie star Mariel Hemingway, who is still suffering, years after the fact, from side effects of implant ruptures. I would suggest you ask Cinar co-founder Micheline Charest too, but she went into cardiac arrest and died following breast-lift, face-lift, and liposuction. The jury is still out on Angelina Jolie's luscious, pouty lips. Over time, the lip plumpers (a concoction of bovine collagen, little Plexiglas beads, and lidocaine) are known to go lumpy.
Still the "Botox parties" go on, volume business for practitioners who herd groups of crows-foot-lined beauty-seekers into home offices, salons, and gyms, serve them refreshments, administer a shot of Botulinum Toxin Type A, and send them on their way wrinkle-free and freshened up for that upcoming class reunion. And people of means take plastic surgery vacations for cut-rate fees, entrusting their lives to who knows what quality of hands.
It was written of old, "Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight" (Proverbs 4:7). But it is written today-and hawked over airwaves and sitting in ambush at every supermarket checkout aisle-"Get beauty, and whatever you get, get sexual allure."
Someday you may have occasion to visit the ruins of Pompeii, that culture suddenly stopped in its tracks by divine fiat of fire and brimstone that I will not presume to plumb. There you will see depictions on walls of inner rooms now eerily silent, testimonies of the last stages of an ethos of self-gratification-exaggerated, distorted, grotesque. Your humble essayist will refrain from describing these further, out of respect and an old-fashioned sense of decorum. Besides, I would spare you the urge to throw up.