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December 16, 2023

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All I want for Christmas is Botox:The problem with cosmetic surgery shame

Confession: I’m in more group chats than I care about. But this week I read a teasing message from a member on how excited they were for an upcoming development.

“Ooh, pray tell us more ...” I thought. A blossoming relationship? Career change? Have they perfected their downward dog? Next popped up a voice message. The sender was giddy to announce they were having fat sucked from one part of their body and pumped into another.

My jaw clenched. My inners bent. My heart sank. What an unsensational development for humanity!

A cocktail of frustration and sadness sat with me for days. But given I hardly know this person, what do I care about which parts of them gets sliced, diced, tweaked or otherwise? More to the point, why shouldn’t they feel whatever they want to feel about it?

Despite my irritation, it’s clear that beauty is constantly evolving and with it, the pressures to conform. As standards change, so does how we view our bodies and the body of everybody else. Each shift has a ripple effect, creating trends like Brazilian butt lifts, filled lips and smooth foreheads, often requiring knives and needles to achieve. Yet despite their growing familiarity, the stigma surrounding cosmetic help hasn’t changed. In other words: tons of people are getting work done, and no one’s talking about it nicely.

Apart from Sol, a friend on WeChat. When I asked about Botox, she enthusiastically text: “I love all plastic surgery. I’ve had six procedures and plan to have more. Thank God we have access to it, unlike our grandmas. Becoming old is the law of life, but getting old with dignity should be mandatory.”

Meanwhile, my dear friend Mark said: “Embrace who you are and own it, not some other idea of what defines beauty.”

To which someone else replied: “Agreed. While I’m all about what helps people feel their best, the temptation for abuse is strong.”

He’s right, there’s a fine line between “well slept” and “haunted,” and we secretly love to see when someone goes too far.

Tabloids and social media posts hunt celebrities with before-and-after photos, trying to out the nipped and tucked while being inadvertently snide to anyone who’s done the same. It’s a peculiar paradox we’ve created. We’re obsessed with physical perfection, yet we “Botox shame.” We demand flawlessness but we’re quick to judge the physically enhanced. We praise those that go natural, but we swipe left.

This head-spinning mentality is seriously unhelpful, and lying about cosmetic surgery is dangerous. All that’s left is a catalogue of botched jobs and the lie that nobody is getting good work done. It fuels our outdated idea that cosmetic surgery is for the superficial, vain and insecure.

How we see ourselves matters, and the motivation to have a treatment or undergo surgery can run deeper than stigma has us believe. For some, cosmetic enhancement might be a means of reclaiming their self-esteem or a path of self-expression. And while it’s not popular to say, some people look great with a little lift. Reality can also be quite simple: Some just want to feel their best. Lots, actually. So much so, the cosmetic treatment industry is expected to be worth US$43.9 billion by 2025.

Let’s face it, we live in a society where looks matter and for women they are knotted to our worth. The good-looking swan through life with greater ease. We fawn over beauty because we like looking at pretty things. There are some people who can fight against that, and God love them for it. But others can’t, so don’t shame them. Ultimately, the decision to pursue cosmetic procedures is a choice. Surely in an individualist society, we should encourage everyone to feel confident in their own skin, no matter how tight that skin might be.

I haven’t had any cosmetic surgery, and I have no immediate plans to. But I am torn between my ethics and my vanity. Despite my initial judgment, I reflected on the group chat messages. The undeniable truth is that feeling good about one’s appearance is empowering. Should we take down individuals? Or should we focus on condemning a society that perpetuates the desire for supposed perfection?

As we endure the season of giving, let’s offer something that costs nothing: a reminder to each other that we’re inherently brilliant just as we are. While some will dismiss this as drab, I see it as life-affirming for ourselves and future generations. It’s the gift of self-acceptance, empathy and affirmation beyond how we look. And who doesn’t want that for Christmas?


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