Rhonda was seen at the emergency room, following a fairly routine Botox injection that she received 24 hours earlier. She had several red welts surrounding her mouth, as well as unilateral swelling on her face. After many tests, the emergency room physician diagnosed the case as a botox allergy.
After her 40th birthday, Rhonda expressed insecurities regarding aging. Day after day, she stared at herself in every mirror she passed, sometimes counting the wrinkles around her eyes or mouth. She no longer enjoyed social plans with friends, and she dreaded work events, feeling too unattractive to socialize. After months of complaining to her girlfriends and husband, she determined that the cost, effort, and potential risk of a cosmetic enhancement was well worth gaining her confidence back. She made the necessary appointments and eventually received these botox injections to remove what are known as “smoker’s” lines around the mouth. And who could blame her? Her entire life, from around 13 years of age, she was constantly bombarded with a societal pressure to be beautiful, attractive, pleasant to look at.
Large, bleached white teeth. Full lips painted red. Narrow, slightly upturned nose. Voluminous, curly hair. Slim hips that resemble those of a 16 year old child’s. A complexion entirely void of blemishes, freckles, or wrinkles. This is an average photograph in an average magazine advertisement, existing to promote an average product. Despite the meticulous work of the marketing team, the average viewer will fail to internalize the product being sold. Instead, the impression left with the reader is that this woman is society’s beauty ideal. Though this is a single, measly advertisement, the remaining pages of the magazine bubble with content designed to “teach” women how to achieve this appearance. Rhonda’s office is cluttered with these magazines. As a human resources manager at Sephora, a popular makeup retailer, Rhonda is consistently reminded of these beauty ideals, perhaps even more so than the average woman.
Despite her heightened level of exposure to this industry,Rhonda is far from alone in her sentiments. From a young age, girls are socialized to scrutinize their appearance and constantly strive to look better. Instead of receiving encouragement to be smarter, stronger, or kinder, most girls are pressured to attain a certain aesthetic. Unsurprisingly, this leads to feelings of inadequacy and a subsequent execution of inconvenient, irrational and expensive beauty regimens for both young girls and women. Some mildly unpleasant examples include body hair removal and chemical hair relaxers – uncomfortable and expensive, but fortunately safe. More dangerous and harmful procedures, such as tanning salons and injections, are sought and performed at an alarmingly regular rate as well.
For women, this practice is not new. Risky beauty procedures have existed throughout history and across the globe. In the 16th century, women wore debilitatingly tight corsets to achieve a small waist. This caused nerve damage and fractured ribs. In earlier centuries in China, tiny, bound feet were considered beautiful. Girls’ feet would be bound to prevent proper growth. The examples are plentiful; woman will literally break bones in their body to achieve a particular look. Evidently, it is not the specific physical archetypes that are to blame, as what is considered “beautiful” is a dynamic concept. The true issue is the general accentuation on physical qualities in our society for women. If young girls were taught to value traits unassociated with their physical appearance, and marketers stopped objectifying the female body as a sales tactic, perhaps women wouldn’t risk their physical health for beauty’s sake.