Is cosmetic treatment vain?

I recently enjoyed a consult with a lovely middle-aged lady who was seeking help for acne scarring and pigmentation on her face. She is a successful business owner, well spoken, well put together, well educated, in touch with her spiritual and physical self, and clearly a lovely soul who has spent a lot of time introspecting throughout life. She has allowed her hair to grow out to its natural colour, wore little make-up during our consult and although she was nicely dressed, was certainly not ostentatious.

The thing that has stuck with me since her departure from the clinic was her self-deprecating opinion that she was vain for wishing to have intervention for her skin. …… erm no! And other than the fact that she was being consulted by someone who has tried almost every cosmetic treatment on the market…. here is why I think that she (and others prone to the same beliefs) should give themselves a break.

Firstly, Dr Greer (an Ohio-based plastic surgeon), rightly identifies that the very definition of vanity is contradictory to how these women view themselves. Being vain is to have or show an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance, abilities or worth. In fact the women that sit in front of me, feeling shame for exploring cosmetic intervention are the exact opposite of this. They are often driven to the point of seeking help (against their own judgement) because they have a poor opinion of the feature that has put them in front of me, or themselves in general. Often these people like the patient in my consultation, or my own mother, are actually quite time poor and spend little time grooming or devoting time to themselves… not the habits of a narcissistic character.

But why is there such guilt about indulging a little bit, if such treatments are something out of the norm for you, and within financial grasp? Is it fear of the unknown and that our image of cosmetic treatment is akin to the abnormally perfected and obsessive Kardashian-esque brand? Well in answer to that… for every woman that is clearly recognisable as having prescribed to this unreal version of ‘reality’, there are hundreds walking around that choose to be less conspicuous about their ‘work’. Is it because we feel like we are cheating, and misrepresenting our years by seeking intervention? Well really we can never cheat age…regardless of what we do it is a fight that cannot be won and there is no ‘hard-yakker’ solution that will flog you back to your youth like cross fit will for holiday indulgence. Is it because we draw a line at a level of invasiveness or expense? We are quite happy to poison our hair with bleach and not think about it being vain, and yet toxin for wrinkles seems to cross the line. Interestingly I can think of times I have paid far in excess of my botox bill for a cut and colour at the salon.

In summary this has turned into a long winded, post night-shift endeavour, however I would like to leave you with a little thought. That is, that rather than bludgeoning ourselves for taking steps to improve our self-esteem, perhaps we should instead thank ourselves. For it is a well recognised phenomenon that confidence is opportunity creating, often begetting personal, professional and existential success by positively influencing our actions and interactions.

Enhancing self-esteem is not outwardly promoting yourself as superior, it is improving your inward perception of self. Rant over.

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