The good, the bad, and the ugly of aesthetics and the upsell.
I am a regular consumer of beauty products. I have face creams, moisturizers, makeup, concealer, and serums. And, I’m accumulating bonus points at Ulta at a healthy clip. I pour over articles for DIY facial scrubs and oils using food items already in my kitchen cupboard.
My few (remotely cosmetic) procedures included the “one-day peel,” microdermabrasion, and a deep cleansing facial. For years, my facials were with an excellent aesthetician, whose growing range of talents included micro-dermaplaning, a procedure that lightly removes the top layer of dry skin, stimulating rejuvenation.
My aesthetician made a move to the more medical side of cosmetic procedures and joined a doctor’s office. When I was past due for another facial this last time, I was referred to one of her office colleagues.
I arrived at a beautiful, elegantly decorated, and rather spa-like waiting room. Placards and displays quietly were placed throughout the waiting room, advertising face, skin and body improvements. I took a seat in one of the very plush chairs. On a nearby table, there was a book about the size of children’s storybook. I flipped through the pages. It was a simplified primer on health and nutrition and beauty. Another storybook showed the reader the “before and after” of tummy tucks, disappearing double chins, dissolving and softening wrinkles, and pulled taut arm “flaps.”
The facial was fantastic. My skin felt fabulous and glowing from skin renewal. My aesthetician suggested follow-up appointments and other procedures. Upon my exit, we passed an exam room; and, my aesthetician introduced me to the doctor. Enthusiastically, she shook my hand, while everyone in the vicinity “oohing” and “ahhing” at my new healthy glow. Then, the doctor gave a thoughtful “hmmm,” lightly touching my face and turning it from side to side, examining me in the light like an artifact. “Very nice,” she said casually, “your skin is beautiful.” She looked again and commented to my aesthetician, “yes…I can see the discoloration around the mouth and the dark spots…we can take care of that…”
I like to think that I’m a confident woman who is secure in her overall appearance. But, at that moment, my understanding had been (until then) an intellectual understanding of the commercialization of beauty. I’ve read the articles about women bombarded with messages that “they aren’t pretty enough,” or “their skin isn’t tight enough.” They needed to fight the signs of aging and freeze-off (or melt-off) belly fat with a simple procedure (“in 3 to 4 treatments at $300 per treatment”). Every women’s magazine cover tells women they need to be tighter, smoother, thinner, and younger. Knowing these messages were directed at me, I’ve prepared for them. And, every day, with high confidence, I let my “Black Girl Magic” essence fly.
However, I found out that even I was not completely immune to these ideas. At that moment, and even knowing the plan, I felt that “yank” at the thought buzzing in my brain that “I’m not 30 anymore.” Heck, I’m barely 40 anymore. But, my mind took inventory of the dark spots, the discoloration, and the stubborn, annoying blob that has become my belly. I felt my brow furrow and my brain panic about those same two furrows across my brow. And though I’m not trying to look 20, I felt myself on the “slip-and-slide” toward the rabbit hole that is the never-ending human desire for improvement.
I thanked the doctor for her time; and, she returned her attention to the patient in the room. My aesthetician escorted me to the front desk to check out. She walked me through products conveniently placed for immediate purchase while I was still feeling mentally beauty depleted. As I looked over the products and inquired about pricing, my genetic predisposition to frugality kicked in, pulling me from the brink.
The takeaway was not only glowing, rejuvenated skin, but a healthy respect for the slippery slope that drives women, and people overall, to get that lift, tuck, freeze, and melt. This industry is sometimes fueled by preying on the natural and inevitable aging of the living. The extreme of which is body dysmorphic disorder, a mental condition that can drive a person to get excessive and unnecessary cosmetic procedures to change their body to solve often imagined flaws. Sadly, there may never be an end.
Sharing my experience is not meant to demonize this industry. It does a lot of good. One of the single most positive changes to my life and overall health came from a cosmetic surgeon when he corrected a painful issue with my abdominal muscles that had resulted in a type of hernia. Upon waking from the anesthesia in the recovery room and lifting only my head, I almost cried with relief at the sensation of my abdominal muscles immediately going to work. It felt like a warm hug, as I didn’t know what I had been missing. Years before that, I had a procedure to correct a deviated septum that caused persistent and recurrent sinus infections. I also gained a slightly slimmer nose.
I appreciate that cosmetic surgery is available; and, some specialists make it their business to combine highly skilled medical training with a strong emphasis on a high aesthetic standard. Following my brief trip around the cosmetic periphery, and one day when I’m a senior with the means of disposable income, I may not be above getting something frozen or melted. In the meantime, I’ll just scrub and oil it myself.
Millicent Sherman is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law, working as a button-down attorney in Detroit, Michigan. When Friday comes around, she is the “weekend Bohemian,” who loves her local Eastern Farmer’s Market, and can’t pass up a specialty market, roadside fruit stand or boutique. She enjoys cooking and travel, and given a chance, would steal Anthony Bourdain’s job.