Coming from different aspects of the beauty continuum as we do, we’ve both had a longstanding interest in beauty and the perception of beauty and how they can impact how people feel about themselves and one another. Two of the biggest things to impact teens’ psyches are weight/body issues and acne, so we decided it would be interesting to conduct an image-based study quantifying exactly how acne can alter others’ perception of teens. The study coincided with National Acne Awareness Month, and the results were very interesting.
Working with the American Acne & Rosacea Society (AARS), we asked thousands of teens and adults to offer their first impressions of teens based only on photos of their face. One face was without acne and one had been digitally enhanced with acne. The results showed that teens with acne are more likely than teens without acne to be perceived as shy (39% vs. 27%), nerdy (31% vs. 17%), and lonely (23% vs. 13%). Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposite also proved true: teens without acne were more commonly perceived as self-confident (42% vs. 25%), happy (50% vs. 35%), and leaders vs. followers (49% vs. 29%).
We were expecting the results of the study to show that having acne would be difficult for teens, which it does, but what we both found most distressing was the extent to which acne can really skew the way society perceives teens. We live in a very visual society and based on the survey results, people do make snap judgments about teens with acne. The results illustrate the fact that unfortunately, acne does play a role in how teens are viewed by both their peers and adults. So, what starts as a purely medical condition can have emotional and psychological implications for young people who are often already dealing with social, sexual and cultural chaos.
Our colleague Dr. Diane Berson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a founding board member of AARS said, “What surprised me most about the survey was confirming the length teens will go to improve their acne and what they are willing to sacrifice.” According to the study, if they could have clearer skin, 59% of teens would go cold turkey on Facebook for one year, 30% would give up dating for 12 months, 13% would take their mom or dad to the prom (now that’s a sacrifice), and 11% would be OK with seeing their grade point average drop. That’s testament to the desperation with which teens view acne and its role as a kind of marker of social stigma—a modern-day Scarlet Letter, if you will.
To us, this indicates a strong and urgent need to connect with teens about what acne is and who develops it so that we can bust the myths surrounding it and foster greater self-esteem in those unfortunate enough to develop it. Human beings of any age have a hard enough separating appearance from intelligence and moral character. How much more difficult must it be for youths who are in the process of slowly (and sometimes painfully) discovering who they are and developing own their body image? By teaching teens that acne is a disease, not a verdict, perhaps we can help foster greater understanding and kindness while making one of the obstacles on the path to adulthood a little easier to climb.
Imagine the stereotypical Botox patient. Go ahead. Are you seeing someone from “Real Housewives of Orange County,” a woman whose face is immobile after countless invasive plastic surgeries and who is so obsessed with defying the aging process that she’ll mutilate herself and inject her body with dangerous toxins to avoid a furrowed brow?
That’s the stereotype all right. But it’s false. It’s a phantasm born of a dozen bad reality TV shows. Sure, there might be some women for whom Botox is one part of a shallow, self-absorbed trek into deep denial, but the huge majority of women who get the procedure are normal, healthy people who just want to look better and feel better. Yes, we said feel better. In The Beauty Prescription, we talked a little about research that showed that having Botox treatments actually made women feel more positive. Now there’s more evidence that the phenomenon is real .
Research results published in the March issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology suggested that based on a controlled study, people who received injections of Botulinum Toxin A (Botox is the brand name) to paralyze the muscles in their brows and make them incapable of frowning actually showed fewer negative emotions and experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety. Twenty-five volunteers participated, and while 12 recieved Botox, the control group got facial peels and other therapies for “frown lines.” After two weeks, all the patients filled out surveys on their emotional states. The patients who got Botox scored much lower for depression, irritability and anxiety.
What we find very interesting is that the Botox patients said their improved mood didn’t stem from feeling more attractive after the treatments. We agree with the researchers who surmised that the effect probably came from a kind of “feedback loop” (our Beauty-Brain Loop in action) in which facial expressions that reinforce positive emotions stimulate more of the same in a person, while expressions such as frowning stimulate anger, fear, irritation and stress. Essentially, when you frown, you might be cueing yourself to feel like there’s something to frown about, which makes you frown more. As goes thy face, so goes thy mood.
This is a small sample size and there’s more work to be done, but we find this research incredibly promising for promoting the idea of holistic beauty. In a holistic system controlled by the Beauty-Brain Loop, how you react to your environment stimulates your inner beauty, which affects how you look physically. Your appearance sparks a reaction from the people around you, who are also part of your environment, and that reaction feeds back to you. Simply put, think beautiful and smile, and you become beautiful. The evidence is piling up that this is so, and it offers wonderful possibilities for women and men to take control of their own internal and external beauty simply by making new, conscious choices for how to view life, people, and the events of the day. Imagine if you could be more beautiful on your own, without injections, by choosing to smile instead of frown.
Either way, Botox or no, it’s exciting. We’ll keep you posted on more research of this kind as it comes along.
Well, so much for the idea that doctors are any more “recession-proof” than anyone else.
We’ve heard that statement a lot recently. Along with morticians, peace officers and firefighters, physicians are supposed to have some sort of “Get Out of Recession Free” card when it comes to an economic downturn, presumably because people still get sick, need therapy and so on. But we’ve already seen evidence that it’s a false idea, as hospitals are losing money and some are threatened with closure. So it should come as no surprise that cosmetic surgeons are seeing a downturn in their business.
After all, people are already delaying treatment and skipping medication for serious health problems because they lack health insurance or can’t afford the co-pays, so it’s hardly a shock that more are passing altogether on elective procedures. That’s what the Chicago-based American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery says is happening. In a survey of 242 members released on January 14, the Academy revealed that nearly 80% of cosmetic surgery practices had reported a drop in business, with the average being a whopping 50% reduction in the third quarter of 2008.
The Economic Impact Survey also showed that more and more patients are choosing cheaper, less-invasive procedures than when the economy was strong and they felt flush. In fact, since all cosmetic surgeons have to train in another specialty before going into cosmetic medicine, the survey found that about one-third are going back to former areas of training such as general surgery, ear/nose/throat or obstetrics & gynecology in order to make a living during these tough times. Those who don’t want to go that route are shoring up their practices with cosmetic procedures that are more commonly done by a dermatologist: fillers, Botox, liposuction, chemical peels and microdermabrasion.
In fact, these non-invasive or minimally-invasive options are just about the only cosmetic procedures that are becoming more common, with reports coming in that the rates of Botox injections are actually up around the country. What does this say about us as a people, especially since just a few posts ago we reported that people are still spending on beauty products such as cosmetics and skin care products? Well, it’s obvious that there’s an inverse relationship between the cost of the procedure and the willingness to have it done. A $30 jar of moisturizer is fine, but $2,000 for an eyelid lift…that’s going to have to wait until the stock market goes back up.
Clearly, we still are willing to spend money and invest in our looks. It remains a priority for the same reason we discussed in that last post: because it gives us control over some aspect of things when it seems like everything else is spinning so out of control. But we are becoming more luxury-conscious, and there’s a self-imposed “frugality line” that we won’t cross. Hard economic times cause most of us to “reboot” our priorities and take a hard look at what is worth paying for and what must be put off, and the answer is different for everyone. For some women, getting a regular microdermabrasion treatment in her dermatologist’s office will remain a priority even if she can’t afford a new pair of shoes; for another, she’ll make her own facial scrub with kitchen ingredients or do without.
Our theory is, the more your outer beauty is a critical aspect of your self-image and the more your self-esteem depends on it, the more willing you will be to spend money you might not have on cosmetic treatments. The more comfortable you are with yourself on the inside, the more likely you’ll probably be to go back to basics until things turn around. Inner beauty, thank goodness, tends to be free. As the economic situation plays out, we’ll see if our theory is correct.
A few weeks back, we blogged about a new reality show, “True Beauty,” premiering this year on ABC. Supposedly, the show would feature the usual collection of contestants who, while they thought they were being judged on their external good looks, were actually being judged on their “inner beauty.” Well, we’ve seen the premiere episode and it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for. We applaud the producers, including Tyra Banks, for bringing the issue of inner beauty to the fore, but we had something different in mind. And since we try to be positive on this blog, we’re going to offer our constructive criticisms on how “True Beauty” could become a truer test of bona fide Inner Beauty.
Make the setting more natural. Right now, the show’s setup is pretty typical: take a bunch of people, stick them in a house, and let personal conflict erupt. Instead, we’d love to see the show be more natural and unforced. Follow the contestants around in their personal lives with hidden cameras and audio to see how they interact with others. Inner beauty is about self-esteem and seeing the beauty in other people and the world around you. Do the contestants treat themselves well or engage in damaging self-talk? Do they treat others with compassion and respect? Do they maintain a positive frame of mind? Those are questions you can’t answer in an artificial setting.
Expand the palette of people. This might not be able to happen until next season, but we’d love to see people who aren’t all great looking be on the show. The contestants right now are all varying degrees of gorgeous, and that doesn’t reflect reality. It sends the message that inner beauty only matters if you also have outer beauty, and that’s not a healthy message to send. Add a plus-sized woman, a geekier guy and maybe even a disabled man or woman to the cast next year and we think viewers will relate much better.
Take more time. The first contestant was expelled from the program after one week and after one not-so-beautiful act (failing to hold a door for someone). Even though it follows the the “Survivor” format of “knock ‘em down one at a time,” that doesn’t seem fair. Inner beauty is a matter of thoughts, attitudes and actions over a long period, not one isolated incident. Heck, even the most inwardly gorgeous of us is inconsiderate or mean-spirited from time to time. Again, we know this violates the “who’s going to be booted next” ethos of reality TV, but it would give each person a fairer shake.
We’re not TV producers, and we haven’t thought these ideas through completely, but we think that in general the result would be a “True Beauty” that was more true to its name: a test of the genuine inner beauty of a group of people. It would also send a more positive message to the audience: that real inner beauty is its own reward, even if you don’t win a spot on People’s Most Beautiful list.
We like to talk about inner beauty, but outer beauty matters, too, especially as a bellwether of health. And when it comes to skin health, nothing is a greater concern than melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma is strongly linked to sunburn during childhood and adolescence, but it can strike women (and men) in areas that rarely receive any sun exposure. Melanoma is a difficult cancer to treat; after years of research, the only reliable treatment has been to surgically remove the malignant growth before it becomes more than one millimeter thick. The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 48,000 deaths from melanoma around the world each year.
So it’s pretty exciting to read about a newly released study from the University of Bonn, Germany, in which a “designer molecule” fights melanoma in two ways at the same time. In one line of attack, the molecule acts like a virus, which alerts the body’s immune system to power up and start attacking the tumor cells. In the other line, the molecule uses an aspect of RNA discovered in 2006 by two Nobel laureate scientists to “switch off” a specific gene in the tumor cells, essentially driving them to suicide more reliably than if you’d forced the cells to watch 24 straight hours of reality TV.
The disguised-as-a-virus approach tricked the immune system of the research subject (in this case, a mouse) into aggressively attacking its own malignant cells as though they were an infectious body, while the suicide strategy took advantage of a natural self-destruct mechanism that exists within all cells and keeps them from becoming out-of-control cancer cells. The bottom line of this experiment was that in mice, the double-assault tactic inhibited the growth of melanoma cells that had metastasized to the lungs, and even shrank or eliminated secondary tumors. The researchers caution, however, than what works in mice doesn’t always work in humans, and that more work and study is needed. Fair enough. But it’s safe to say that after years of having nothing but surgery in our arsenal to fight this dangerous cancer, any new advance is a reason for hope.
In the meantime, limit your sun exposure, wear sunscreen, and be sure to get a skin check every year from your general practitioner or a dermatologist. In fact, if you go to your dermatologist for something as routine as Botox, have a skin check while you’re there. Having a suspicious mole removed once in a while is infinitely preferable to enduring melanoma, no matter how much you like the idea of bronzed skin. That’s what self-tanners are for. That way, you can ensure that you stay healthy so you can enjoy being beautiful. And by the way, if you can only afford one skin care product, make it a moisturizing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 45.
One of the most controversial aspects of healthcare in recent years has been the advent of aggressive, “ask your doctor about…” style advertising. It’s blamed for the dramatic increase in the rise of prescription drug use, but it’s also played a role in the increasing popularity of plastic surgery (up 59 percent from 2000 to 2007) and the two-year increase in the average age of patients seeking the top 10 cosmetic procedures (according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery). So many women and men are so eager to look younger than their years that they are apparently willing to believe questionable claims from companies and clinics offering unrealistic plastic surgery results.
If you’ve read our book, The Beauty Prescription, then you know that we’re in favor of plastic surgery—when it’s appropriate. It isn’t always. Any surgery comes with hazards, and often women can achieve more satisfying improvements to their inner and outer beauty by making changes in their lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet, getting in shape and maintaining a smart skin care regimen. Certainly in some cases plastic surgery can be a blessing, but not when it’s based on misperceptions based on ads that are, frankly, fraudulent. We’re not talking about the airbrushed photos of models in the newspapers; most readers are savvy enough to take those with a grain of salt. We’re talking about breast augmentation clinics that promise breasts that are anatomically impossible, and “lunchtime face lifts” that are little more than snake oil. Such misleading marketing costs patients big money (since many cosmetic procedures are elective and thus not covered by insurance) and puts them at risk.
So bravo to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which has come out with a strong statement condemning such false advertising at its annual conference. The group called out such practices as clinics that offer “act now” discounts of up to $500 to women who had breast augmentation surgery quickly. You don’t have to be psychic to know that such incentives are bound to lead to rash decisions and bad outcomes, especially among young women who are willing to believe that they can look like Pamela Anderson with three easy payments.
We can only hope that we’ll soon hear the same kind of responsible, ethical talk from the billion-dollar U.S. plastic surgery industry—and it would be even better if it had some sort of regulatory teeth behind it. We’ll keep you posted.