When Xander Ford made his first public appearance since undergoing a range of cosmetic procedures, public fascination was so high that the topic trended on Twitter worldwide. In telling his “ugly duckling” story he was vocal about how bullying and bashing spurred him to do it. On the other hand, people can’t seem to stop talking about how actress Arci Muñoz “went too far” with her latest beauty transformation, turning a gorgeous face into what some have called a “caricature.” Xander seems happy; Arci has yet to say anything; those on social media are only too happy to talk enough for the both of them.
In medical ethics, by which we promise to first do no harm, body modification can remain a thorny problem. It has its own complications, and as we know all too well, procedures don’t always go according to plan. Many consider it taboo, as though in modifying their bodies, patients were practicing some sort of deceit about their appearance, with “natural” beauty as the standard. And yet what a conundrum: We bully people for not meeting our standards of beauty, and then jeer and shoot them down when they try to. It seems that for folk born “ugly,” there’s just no winning: Filipinos look at plastic surgery as though it should be a shameful, dirty secret.
The opposite is true in some cultures: In countries like South Korea, where plastic surgery has reached new heights of sophistication and public acceptance, surgery for average folk becomes less a matter of “should you do it?” than “when are you getting it done?” A standard of K-pop beauty dominates the public consciousness, and the beauty industry is only too happy to exploit that.
We have yet to arrive at a happy medium that allows us to respect the choices that people make about their own bodies, as well as to modify our concept of beauty to be more inclusive. The appreciation of beauty is human, almost instantaneous; surely despite changes in fashionable body types, there is something universal and timeless about the pleasure we get from looking at figures in classical art. Thus none of us are accountable for creating today’s standard of beauty. But how much are we doing to perpetuate it, and to resist inclusivity? How are we reversing centuries of white-beauty dominance, to recognize that a dark, full-figured, hirsute, transgender individual can be beautiful, too? We’re reminded of Charles Darwin who wrote, “If everyone were cast in the same mold, there would be no such thing as beauty.” Hugh Hefner’s recent demise was a jolting reminder of how much one idea of beauty can be allowed to dominate the collective imagination, so much so that iterations of the same Playmate figure, hair color and facial features have been tattooed into our minds for decades.
We’re making progress. Full-figured model Ashley Graham celebrates her cellulite; both an acid attack victim and a Filipino transgender girl can have an active following as beauty gurus on Instagram. It isn’t just media personalities but the teams behind them, too; representation on TV and film has changed such that on the HBO series “Insecure,” a thousand technical choices are made to highlight the beauty of its cast’s black skin, in an industry where lighting for Caucasian skin has been the standard. It’s clear that we’ve still got a long way to go, and that these forward ideas of beauty have yet to trickle down into our daily interactions with friends, workmates, and the celebrities on whose social media profiles we love to comment. Maybe if they did, Xander Ford would have been able to feel more that he actually wanted the make-over, more than needed it.
Never mind that, if we pause for thought, we could also recognize that beauty is not a function we are required to perform; that life should not be a beauty contest that none of us signed up for. The appreciation for beauty and the desire to attain it is as human as human can be. But maybe, as civilized humans, we should be able to recognize it more where it isn’t readily visible, and maybe we should stop punishing those who weren’t blessed with it—or with our idea of it.