Dinner and a show

The other evening I enjoyed a seven course tasting menu featuring foods both foraged and sourced from local producers and ethically and sustainably run farms.  The tickets also included wine pairings and as I do not drink I brought along a friend to serve as my booze beard. The event  was hosted on the second floor of a local museum, an austere setting with long white clothed tables that sat about twenty people each, fine silverware and crystal and a lovely terrace that looked over the city.  The focus was meant to lie on the chefs who had prepared the fantastic meal, but I was soon distracted by another exhibit altogether.

One of the attendees was one of the most cosmetically altered people I had ever seen.  She took her seat three spots down on my right, so I could not see her clearly but my dining companion had a full frontal view for the duration of the meal.  As the hours wound down my friend, drinking both her own wine pairings as well as my own, got deeper in to her cups and commensurately more riveted by this woman.  “She has had everything done.” she murmured.  Half an hour later she hissed “EVERYTHING!” .  When the woman took a turn on the balcony I saw her in full force.  On top of having a deep tan, tinted and straightened hair, false eyelashes and shaped eyebrows all of which can be achieved by a trip to the tanning salon and an aesthetician she had also had obvious breast augmentation, cheek implants, rhinoplasty, facial peels, botox, lip fillers, dental caps and I believe the first butt implant I have seen in person.  Her bum, which was considerably larger than her frame would have suggested and could not possibly be achieved with any amount of weighted squats was a bulbous cushion that appeared on top of where her real butt should have started and seemed to originate around the 9th thoracic vertebrae.  The most unnerving thing to me was that it appeared she had Fraxeled the backs of her hands.   I have a friend who was one of the first initiated in to Fraxel which is a laser treatment usually reserved for the face.  When I asked her about the process my friend admitted that basically you start by setting fire to your face, shearing off several layers of skin and taking all the fine lines and freckles with it.  The effect on this woman was there was neither hair nor lines on her hands and forearms and she looked to be entirely without pores.

The net result?  The woman looked otherworldly.  Like a sex doll, but curiously (to my heterosexual female eye) not sexy.  She didn’t really look human, more like an assembly of stamped parts selected from a pre-approved catalogue of what passes for beauty.  Her face was set in a rictus of passivity and it was impossible to guess an age (though her un-enhanced female companion looked to be in her early 40s).  I seriously doubt anyone from her youth would be able to recognize her.  She had left no defining markers and was oddly generic despite her extensive efforts to enhance her appearance.

I have been thinking about her quite a bit, and I realize that my recounting of the event is completely judgemental.  I have tried to unpack my own attitudes about what I saw and am concerned about my inclination to invent a back story for this person that may be entirely untrue.  I am a product of my era and as someone who is edging to the end of my first half century on the planet I am affected by the generation in which I was raised.  Back say, 30 years ago plastic surgery was something one did to reduce or enhance a part of the body that you were unhappy with.  Breast implants would take someone from an A cup to perhaps a bouncy C at the most, and a nose job would shrink the original shape of one’s original proboscis down a size or too but the intention was to make these changes as subtle as possible, so no one would guess as to the extent of one’s vanity.  I understand that this has changed over time and now in some cases surgery is viewed as an accomplishment.  The irony (to me anyway) is that certain procedures – like the “duck lip” phenomenon of the past few years –  just seems to make everyone look MORE alike, rather than a new and improved version of the person you were.  We read about celebrity surgical mishaps – Heidi Montag (who I only know throughout the tabloids and could honestly not name the genesis of her notoriety) underwent a series of surgeries that turned her from a very pretty blond girl to a similarly pretty blond girl who didn’t look much like the first girl, except for having much larger breasts.  Renee Zellweger has created a new version of herself that bears almost no resemblance to the original and frankly scrubbed away any unique appeal she may have had, and the list does go on.

Heidi MontagRenee

Again, I have no idea who this woman at the museum was and it would be enormously hypocritical for me to castigate someone for trying to get professional assistance if they really believe it will make them look and feel better.  I realized my own inclination was to assume that this woman disliked who she was as a person and was suffering from a severe body dysmorphia or that perhaps she was paired with a partner who was insisting she undergo these procedures to mould herself to his desires. I have no way of knowing this to be true.  My own reaction was shock then pity, neither of which I suspect would have been well received.  She might be the president of a Fortune 500 company who is using her own body as a canvas.  She might wake up every morning, look in the mirror and give herself a mental high five for what she had achieved.  I know she must have spent tens of thousands of dollars and undergone an enormous amount of discomfort to achieve the results.

I would love to have had twenty minutes inside this woman’s head, and if I could replay it perhaps I would have asked her to indulge me.  I didn’t ask, and I averted my eyes every time she looked over because I didn’t want to be caught gawping.  Is that fair?  Does she want to be admired?  She must know she is creating a reaction.  Is that the point? Would she have given me insight, maybe even empowered me?   I would love to know.



Leave a Reply