Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What I've learned from watching surgery

[Fair warning: the second link is probably NSFW, unless you work in a gynecologist's office.]

Anyone who knows me well knows of my obsession with televised surgery. Few things make me happier than watching a skilled surgeon draw back the fleshy veil to expose the glorious clockwork of the human body. Whether it's a nose job, a heart bypass or the removal of a man-sized tumor, I watch, riveted, high on a heady brew of fascination and revulsion, curiosity and fear.

But it's not just the blood-and-guts thrill I'm seeking and not just a stolen glimpse into the hidden realm. Every surgery patient has a story, and I find myself irresistibly drawn into their lives. I'm a sucker for the sympathetic narrative, the grainy high school photo, the lingering long shot of the soon-to-be-patient walking hand-in-hand with a loved one, perhaps for the very last time (though, of course, I know said patient must have survived or there'd be no show). The knowledge that these are ordinary people--imperfect, fragile, human-- only amps up the wonder I feel at the extraordinary machinery that lies beneath the skin.

What these programs say about society fascinates me as well, particularly the plastic surgery shows. I despair that a woman will vanilla-fy a strong, exotic, gorgeous nose, paring it down to a perky little nub to conform to conventional notions of beauty. Thank god Sofia Loren never did that; more's the pity that Jennifer Grey did. I stand amazed at the physical traits that people obsess over, and the lengths they go to to "fix" them. Sure, saggy breasts are less than sexy, but are hard, over-inflated boobglobes really an improvement? And who knew there was a "cuteness" standard for labia? Who decides this stuff, and why do so many people buy into it?

Still, I'm cheered (and, yes, seduced) by the idea that flaws can be fixed, genetics transcended and the ravages of time reversed. These shows give me hope and solace, I can't deny it. It's a comfort to know that someday, if I want to, I can send my eye bags packing. And I have gotten misty more than once when the "after" shot revealed not only the patient's new face (or bust or belly) but a new sense of self-worth, of radiant pride and buoyant confidence.

I am a child of Women's Liberation, taught to see beauty in all its forms (including my own nascent crow's feet) and to value intellect, humor and kindness over perfectly pouty lips or a set of pneumatic ta-tas. I value that enlightenment. But what I never learned from Our Bodies, Ourselves (but have learned from Plastic Surgery: Before & After) is that not every pursuit of physical beauty is shallow. If having those pouty lips means you smile more readily and flirt with more abandon, then the world has gained a happier, more passionate citizen. If sculpting that nose lets you shed the prickly defenses you donned in junior high, or getting calf implants makes you want to bike and run to show them off, then I believe you (and society) are better for it.

Sometimes accepting yourself as you are is not enough. Sometimes learning to love yourself, warts and all, is just an impossibly long haul. Why should we wait for the wisdom of age when we can simply lose the warts now? I'm not saying plastic surgery is a sure and easy fix for the wounded psyche; I'm sure there are some people for whom it's just another expression of self-loathing (hello, Michael Jackson!). But I've come to see it as a personal choice as valid as getting a haircut or buying flattering clothes. And I'm convinced that, sometimes, achieving outer beauty taps into, and draws forth, the hidden beauty within.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Public Service Announcement

Since the best part of having a blog is using it as a bully pulpit, I will begin with the thing I most often find myself wanting to shout in public places:

Ladies, there's nothing you can catch from the toilet seat. Nothing. Not from sitting on it, anyway. In fact, you are more likely to come in contact with nasty germs as you turn the doorknob on your way out of the loo...or as you eat the food that's been touched by half a dozen hands before it lands in front of you...or as you tongue wrestle with that guy you picked up at the bar. So, for the love of god, stop being a priss and SIT DOWN.

Or, at the very least, if you really feel you must hover (and I swear some of you are doing the fucking lambada in there), wipe the seat. It'll take you three seconds, and it will save the rest of us from having to A) clean up after your skanky ass or B) hunt you down and kill you like a dog in the street after sitting in your pee for the millionth time.

Thank you for your cooperation.