Yesterday’s “news” here revealed that a Los Angeles songwriter has just spent $100,000 on plastic surgery to look like Justin Bieber. On its website, World Vision states that For $35 a month, you can help change a child’s life and community. For good. So on World Vision estimates, this man’s Bieber fetish is 2,857 months of improving a child’s life, or the lives of 13 children for 18 years each.
At the beginning of 2011, experts predicted that worldwide, consumers would spend $22.6 billion (US) on cosmetic surgery. Subsequent figures show that Americans spent 10.4 billion and Australians spent 1.45 billion, so with the spending in Europe and Asia thrown in, it seems likely that that figure was, if anything, an underestimate. So there you are. In a single year, major developed countries spent more than $22.6 billion on nips, tucks, liposuction and Botox. On vanity, in fact. And that was two years ago.
There’s no way in the world that I’m a model of physical perfection (excuse me while I laugh a lot) but in the general scheme of things – life, death, joy, grief and everything in between – what the hell does it matter if I’ve got enough wrinkles to drain the Fens? But meanwhile I think my obvious imperfections give me the right to say what I want to say about the current obsession with cosmetic surgery.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for making the best of what you have. I also sympathise with those whose physical characteristics are extreme enough to cause them genuine anguish. In those circumstances, if you can afford it, go for it. But as for the rest… To spend thousands of dollars on achieving some ephemeral paradigm of the perfect physical image suggests to me that our values have become seriously warped. And as for the normal signs of aging – literally millions of people in third world countries should be so lucky.
And that’s the point.
In 2012, life expectancy in at least 17 countries in this world was less than 50. In Mogadishu alone, again in 2011, 15 of every 10,000 children died each day as a result of drought and famine. Statistics show that one out of eight babies born across the impoverished region of East Africa is born prematurely, and in Kenya, over 8% of newborns die of complications associated with premature birth and low birth weight.
How can we spend this money having our bodies carved up, sucked out and injected with toxins in the name of beauty while millions are denied the basic right of living? How can we look to liposuction as a remedy for overstuffing our faces when people are dying, not of fatty livers or clogged arteries or type 2 diabetes, but of plain, grass-roots, wholly preventable starvation? How can we be so self-obsessed that crows’ feet and the wrong sized boobs bring us to despair, while skeletal children sit silently and wait to die?
I’m not an economist. I have no idea how far $22.6 billion would go in the fight to save these lives, but it’s certainly got to be better than nothing. Neither am I naïve enough to think that anyone would forgo the Botox and send the money to Africa instead. But surely it’s time we took a long, hard look at our priorities. What will it take for westerners to develop a social and humanitarian conscience, or even a sense of proportion? Or if that’s too hopelessly naïve, perhaps it’s time to remember that history is littered with revolutions brought about by economic disparity.
In 2008, western greed brought the world to its financial knees, and most of us had to work out what we could do without. It would have been nice to think that in the process, cosmetic surgery would lose its grip on the western psyche, but obviously not.
Instead, vanity in the developed world has become a global financial obscenity.