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Women, Beauty and Botulism

Do we really have to do awful things to ourselves to be beautiful?

It is really hard for me to think about botulism in terms of beauty. I knew what botulism was when I was seven years old. When I was a kid, being Italian, once a year my mother and grandmother would can tomatoes to be used to make the sauce for Sunday dinners. Anyway, they had a whole procedure of sterilizing the glass bottles for the tomatoes because they were hyperaware that there was the potential for botulism -and that was the most horrible of fates. The fear was that you could die from eating botulism laden tomatoes. Now people think it's ok to inject botulism in your face in order to look younger. In the canning tomato days, I always thought of botulism in terms of "God forbid" and could never imagine that it was something that wouldn't kill you. We watch familiar personalities on television and try to figure out why they just don't look right, or why something is amiss about how they look. Then it dawns on you that they had something done to their face and somehow they just don't look like them anymore. Botox, Botulinum Toxin Type A, was approved by the FDA for the treatment of frown lines in 2002. Are there long term effects?

The reality is that women do all kinds of things for the sake of beauty. I have no problem sitting for hours in a hair salon with glop on my head, in public view, all in the hope that I will emerge looking better than when I entered. And then there is the phenomenon of the nail salon. Hours devoted to shaping and buffing and painting nails that grow within days and have to be shaped and buffed and painted again when all we really had to do is clip them. And the powerful relationship between women and fashion, and makeup and the gym and the list goes on and on. And all of these things are fine, in moderation. But then there are the extremes, and extremes are never good.
As a therapist who has worked with women for close to thirty years, I can tell you that "beauty" enters the equation a lot. No matter what it is that brings a woman to therapy, at some point or other, beauty will come up in the discussion. Whether it comes up in the form of "I hate the way I look," or "I'm obsessed with the way I look," or "I need to change this or that," or "I really don't care about how I look anymore," it's there, and it's ever-present.

We live in a culture where beauty matters and women are particularly vulnerable to feeling compelled to measure up to an unattainable standard. Women feel the pressure and, in turn, do really questionable and sometimes dangerous things in the name of "beauty." So they inject botulism into their faces to look younger and eat in weird ways to be thin. To quote from my book, Skinny Revisited, "Women are rarely satisfied with the way they look. There is always something wrong or something they don't like about their appearance. Why is it that women are known to walk into a room and do a "once over" to assess themselves in comparison with the other women in the room and subsequently adjust how they "feel" on the basis of how they measure up in terms of looks? And depending how we feel or who we compare ourselves to, we can feel either "thin" or "fat," having nothing to do with body size or weight. Women know what I mean. Why is it that women seldom eat what they really want? There are always self-imposed limits to what and how much they eat in order to look "good" and fit into something trendy. And something trendy is always small. We are never okay just the way we are. We have "bad hair days," we have "nothing to wear," our shoes hurt and we "feel fat." We are constantly surrounded by something or some way to improve ourselves-something we can buy, a product with a promise, or something we can do, be it a diet, a procedure, or surgery. The quest for beauty is endless."

My book is about how our culture has everything to do with women's perpetual feeling of needing to improve themselves as manifest in eating disorders. Our culture exerts too much pressure for women to be beautiful and thin and perfect. The good news is that you can feel good about yourself if you learn to make peace with who you are and challenge the absurdity of having to be perfect. And you don't have to starve or inject anything into your face to be beautiful.

More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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