Cosmetic Changes: How Far Will We Go?

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A funny thing happened at this morning’s dental appointment. In the course of a routine cleaning, my lovely dental hygienist mentioned that I might want to consider Invisalign, a clear plastic alternative to metal braces. The reason: to create a greater cosmetic perfection to my lower front teeth.

I had a good laugh when she mentioned this. It’s not that I couldn’t use it, but what I said to her surprised even me: “You know Kristina, rather than do that, I think I probably ought to just replace my entire head!” Why, after all, have a perfect smile and still have the same bald head, the same wrinkles, and the same less than completely even and taut facial contours. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” as the old English saying goes. Don’t just paint the old car, buy a new one!

If you’ve had your car repaired, you will be able to relate. Fixing a damaged vehicle is expensive. The car doesn’t actually have to be beyond repair for it to be considered “totalled.” When the body shop tells you this, they mean that the expense of the parts and labor exceed the current value of the car. In other words, you’d be better off buying a new one. It displeases me to say that my head has reached that point.

Imagine the following conversation with a salesman: “I can offer you a good price on the new head you want, Dr. Stein. But, I’m afraid that there isn’t much I can give for trading in the old one.” God, the humiliation of it!

The picture of me (top, right) is actually pretty realistic. I have some serious mileage on this head and this body. To the good, however, my younger daughter recently commented on my upper body to the effect that (unlike all other middle-aged or older men she has seen) “you don’t have ‘man boobs,’ dad.”

You can only imagine how wonderful this made me feel. But, it is true, my body is pretty fit. Lots of aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and weight lifting account for it. However, since I didn’t conduct therapy sessions with my shirt off, I didn’t hear much about my physique while I was in practice. Just as well, since I actually wanted to continue practicing. I wouldn’t have enjoyed a professional review board questioning me about the topic of “topless” therapy.

We’ve all seen those TV shows where someone gets a major “makeover.” Teams of surgeons and fashion consultants transform some unfortunate soul who really needs it. He or she never has to pay for this because the services are donated. Retail price would probably be a seven-figure sum. I’m not that vain or that rich.

I would, however, like to look like Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt for just one day. I’d also like to be Beethoven, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Willie Mays (a famous baseball player) — each in his prime, also for one day per person. It would be pretty neat to know what it would feel like to inhabit those bodies and brains from sunrise to sunrise, and to receive the world’s approbation for the same 24 hours. I’m not quite evolved enough to say I’d like to be a woman for a day, but I’ll bet it would be even more informative and interesting. None of this will happen, of course.

Yet.

Cosmetic alteration clearly has a future. And, I suspect, all of us who are less than perfect in appearance (in other words, just about everybody) have an appointment with that future. Let me explain.

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There will be a time when you won’t have to have a million dollars to make yourself look like a million dollars. I imagine a future in which each person will have the capacity to holographically alter his appearance, even if the actual body hiding behind the holographic image isn’t the world’s most beautiful. Every day would be like Halloween, but with really good — and good-looking — masks. Mail-order catalogues, websites, and brick-and-mortar stores will have a department that lets you pick out the face you’d like to face in the mirror. Computer programs will let you “photo-shop” the image to your precise specifications. Everyone will be stunning! Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

How would that change the world, I wonder? Well, yes, there would doubtless be some who still want to stand out at any cost. Lots of perforations and punctures, body art, wild clothing, that sort of thing. But for the most part, just beauty as far as the eye can see. Jaw dropping appearances. Men would look like Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt if they wanted to, women could be as physically attractive as Marilyn Monroe or Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez or Katy Perry. A movie-star level of beauty all around.

The effect would be paradoxical, I think. In a world without disease or death, for example, no one would think about how he feels or worry about getting sick. In a climate that is always mild, sunny, and clear, no one would care much about the weather. And in a future of endless and omnipresent pulchritude — where anyone could become exquisite just by visiting the department store — the value of physical allure would surely diminish. The beautiful girl or guy would become something of a commonplace.

Other things would correspondingly count for more. The trophy spouse would have to be a Nobel Prize winner or an author; or someone of unusual charm or wit, generosity or kindness. A different world, for sure.

Until then? I think I will hold on to my old head. Despite some relatively high mileage, it has served me well. It is not the head of a handsome 25-year-old, but there are some good ideas and interesting experiences contained therein. I wouldn’t want to be without them. I’ve earned the weathering and learned from the lines. With a little buffing and waxing, it still does its job.

See you at the car wash.

The top photo is of Jon Hamm. The bottom image is a poster of John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde in the 1920 Paramount Pictures classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at Old People or “Is Fifty the New Forty?”

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You might not want to read this.

It’s gonna get scary.

I recently went to a funeral attended by a number of people who were middle-aged and beyond. The crisscrossed lines in their faces resembled an electric grid.

Still, one noted a few exceptions. Some, always female, had facial features that appeared to be immobilized by a Botox overdose. No forehead lines, no wrinkles, no movement; for the price of frozen time they had also obtained, at no extra charge, a visage as smooth as stone and as hard to animate. When trying to smile, a few of these folks looked like their faces were about to crack, while necks and hands told a different story.

Then there were the face-lifts that didn’t recapture youth so much as they made one look like someone else. Not better, but different. A few others sported eye and jowl lifts that had lost their hydraulics. I guess the old saying applies: what goes up must come down.

The men didn’t have this problem, but made an equally pathetic effort to disguise ancient origins. One guy had a comb-over that started behind his left ear and ended just over his right ear. Didn’t his wife notice this? Whose idea was this anyway? What was the man thinking?

Bad toupees suggested a recent visit to an Oriental rug bazaar in order to buy a discarded carpet remnant.

I am bald myself, but make no effort to disguise it. I do remember, however, hearing about something called scalp reduction surgery designed to get more coverage out of the hair you have by reducing the territory on top of your head.

I can imagine the following conversation:

Surgeon: ‘Well, Dr. Stein, we’ve studied your head, your hair-line and scalp and we have some good news and some bad news.”

Me: “Tell me more, Doctor.”

Surgeon: “The good news is that we can give you a full head of hair!”

Me: “And the bad news?”

Surgeon: ‘Your head will be the size of a pea.”

Back to the distaff side, a few of the women seemed to be hoping that you wouldn’t look at them closely because you’d be distracted by the dazzle of their jewelry. One seventy-ish lady had so many bracelets that she wasn’t able to lift her arm to shake hands. Her metallic bands created an orchestra-like percussion effect that drowned out the clergyman’s eulogy whenever she moved a millimeter.

Then there were the older men and women who dressed in styles more suitable to young people. One muscular guy wore a shirt revealing just enough to suggest that a lot of iron had been successfully pumped, but that all recreative work had stopped above the shoulders, sort of like an unfinished home rehab that never got to the top floor. “I don’t think that is his real head,” my wife whispered to me. We both wondered who his surgeon might be.

Ginger Rogers in Her Youth

A few of the older ladies wore skirts or dresses that befitted teens and twenty-somethings. The attire was usually combined with a long-haired coiffure that reminded me of how Ginger Rogers looked in the dreadful old age of a once gorgeous creature, still thinking that her beautiful blond hair should be worn just as it had been 50 years before.

If desperation had a fragrance, the room would have been ripe with it. But then, as Billy Crystal’s old SNL character “Fernando” used to say, “I’d rather look good than to feel good.”

The problem was, no one really looked good, even with all the obvious effort.

Is 70 then the new 60, as some like to say? Is 50 the new forty?

Is dead the new alive?

My advice? Accept the unacceptable. Hold on to your dignity.

Try hard not to look like an idiot.

As wise men have said for centuries: “There’s no fool like an old fool.”

The top image is called Happiness by Marg, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.