Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Naked Canvas

Artistry in one form or another is a dream we all wish to achieve. Who doesn't want to unleash the artist within? You might be a talented singer, graceful dancer, or impoverished actor just waiting for your moment to be discovered. Or you may demonstrate skill in writing, public speaking, or in the healing of others. None of us are talentless, but skill is not enough these days to generate success or happiness. There's a flourishing art form in town and it's called the naked body. Essentially a blank canvas to doctor, mold, and market your natural or modified wares. The world takes pride in the products it produces and the body has become a part of that conveyor belt.

Functional by design, bodies could be described as beautiful for this purpose alone, but in our skin-shallow era beauty takes precedence. The demand for cosmetic surgery has increased dramatically over the years, a bit of botox here, a nip and tuck there... Under the surgeon's knife anything is possible, even if the results are more plastic than fantastic. Natural is out and fake is in, and like Pringles, once you start you just can't stop. The pressure to conform to this model of perfection is huge with no age group, race or gender left untouched. Young teens are those most affected. Not yet fully developed and at an impressionable age, cosmetic surgery appears the obvious answer to solving all their bodily concerns - the instant “ugly duckling to swan” transformation. Showing them botched ops may be a too-late deterrent in our body and celebrity obsessed culture. “You're worth it!” is the media's message. Why live with normal when the benefits of enhancement far outweigh the risks?

I'm not the only one questioning how we value our physical selves and our definition of beauty, but my opinion like many others is no match against the delusional inhabitants of Ken and Barbie world. I had hoped the Channel 4 body-focused series -“The Ugly Face Of Beauty” would advocate body happiness, but it fails to do anything of the sort. Fronted by Dr. Christian Jessen of “Embarrassing Bodies” and “Supersize vs. Superskinny” fame, it is more of an educational guide to achieving the best surgery. A basic list of dos and don'ts. What it does reveal however is the unscrupulous practices of some cosmetic surgeons as well as our false perceptions of self. The programme makers have chosen a “do or die” position i.e. It's better to be armed with knowledge and do the surgery, than to be uninformed and die trying. My problem with the series is this – shouldn't it be addressing our superficial attitudes, instead of how to mask our body insecurities further? Isn't this playing devil's advocate?

The assumption that beauty is about flawlessness is mistaken. There's beauty in our imperfections and quirkiness. These are as individual to the owner as are their thoughts – we're not all designed to look and think the same. Cosmetic surgery can mask the outer, but it cannot change the inner. Change your mind, not the body, and be proud of the natural form you've been given.