Danger in the pursuit of flawlessness

    Illegal injections for body enhancements are just one of the many ways that women pursue their ideal body. The pursuit of flawlessness is a risky and sometimes fatal path, yet the American pastime of body obsession continues.

    Recently I learned about Philadelphia’s “Black Madam,” Padge-Victoria Windslowe, a woman who was hosting “pumping parties” and telling women that she could enhance their buttocks with a simple injection. The quest for a pop-star “booty” has left some women severely sick. One woman whom Windslow is suspected of injecting even died.

    Bizarre products: Buying perfection

    Body enhancers are a societal norm and have been for a while. Ever hear of a “booty bra”? You’re one Google search away from a list of websites promising products that will “beef up your booty” or give you a “bootylicious booty in an instant.”

    This bizarre body obsession — that has women squeezing into a skin-tight contraption to get that “bootylicious” look — speaks to how easily influenced we are as a society.

    When I think about the impact that people like Sir Mix-A-Lot (best known for his song “Baby Got Back”) and Kim Kardashian (best known for her buttocks) have on our culture, it’s like an episode of “The Twilight Zone”!

    On MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” a silicone bikini insert belonging to one of The Situation’s many lady friends (she called it a “chicken cutlet”) was found floating in the Jacuzzi. In our society, any product on the market that promises to “pump” us or “slim” us is game for retail success — and television exposure.

    Extreme measures

    You can buy a new butt, lips and breasts, but what is the cost? These procedures can have dangerous complications, including nerve damage, permanent scarring and other physical trauma like bleeding and infection.

    Despite the tales of botched plastic-surgery nightmares from celebrity tabloids, a recent survey found that 51 percent of Americans approve of plastic surgery (49 percent of men and 53 percent of women), according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

    An Illinios woman took matters into her own hands by injecting warm beef fat into her face to reduce wrinkles. The case is obviously extreme, but the idea of pursing perfection is still the same.

    Last year alone, there have been 13.8 million cosmetic surgery procedures performed in the U.S., and that’s up five percent since 2010, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

    Fooled by Photoshop?

    As a woman, I’d like to think that all women have the intelligence to see past celebrity endorsements. However, I can admit that I’ve been brainwashed, if not programmed, to believe that these glamorous photos represent what we should all aspire to.

    Comparing yourself to these “model” versions of women is unfair, and it’s messing with our self-perception. Even though we know that Photoshop, studio lighting, make-up and the slimming under-garment Spanx are the real pillars holding up our idols, we’re still buying into it.

    Last December, a CoverGirl campaign featuring Taylor Swift was banned in the U.K. due to “excessive Photoshopping.” In another British case, a Lancome advertisement with Julia Roberts was banned following complaints that it was misleading because of airbrushing.

    Women: Wake up!

    I realize that not all women are getting on the pop-culture train, but it’s still important to reassess what message our culture is endorsing.

    Since high school I have revered feminist Gloria Steinem as a force in America, following in the path of women such as Susan B. Anthony and Betty Freidan. Steinem’s infamous 1963 investigative report on the way the women of Playboy were treated in a sexist culture was inspirational.

    Another activist, Isabel Allende, was actually fired from a publishing job because she made changes to the dialogue of female characters to make them sound more intelligent. (She even changed the ending in Cinderella, letting the the heroine find independence and go on to do good in the world.)

    But you don’t see women like these in CoverGirl ads.

    We may never see one well-rounded intellectual woman in advertising. And let’s face it, they will never stop Photoshopping.

    I have a strange image of modern women — as starving zombies, hungry to consume the next promising beauty product or body enhancer. But this can’t be our identity. The only way to curb the aggressive culture of beauty that attacks our hearts and minds is to talk about changing these perceptions, and to remember the horror stories behind the glossy magazine pages.

    Correction: A previous version of this article suggested that Janet Hardt, the Illinois woman who injected warm beef fat into her face, died from the injections. Following an autopsy, it was determined that she died of natural causes.

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