In spite of all the feel-good, love-yourself messages cropping up in our media with increasing speed, it would be a mistake to say that our societal standards of beauty are suddenly anything other than a hot mess, rife with endless unattainable ideals and double standards. The only difference is, where once the goal was to look good, now we’re supposed to love ourselves and look good — which basically translates into “try to look your best, but don’t try too hard.” As in, we’re expected to maintain peak levels of attractiveness, but it would be in bad taste to look like we’ve had anything “done.” The new fun double standard of our culture — edit and perfect to a moderate extent while pretending like you fell out of your mother’s vagina looking that way. Good luck.
The fact remains that body modification on some level is still practically necessitated by our culture. Though the term “body modification” tends to connote with extreme procedures that dramatically alter an individual’s physical appearance (such as piercing, tattooing, tongue splitting or implants), in reality, body modification literally refers to any appearance-altering practice, including ones as commonplace as tanning, liposuction, strategic muscle toning or weight loss. Basically, almost anything you do to your body to change its outward appearance can be considered body modification, and almost all of us do it to some degree.
Recently, there’s been a kind of trend (and I’m not sure about the word “trend,” considering only a handful of girls seem to have done it) rising in Eastern Europe, which Forbes Magazine calls the “Barbie Flu,” of girls changing their appearances to resemble living dolls. Valeria Lukyanova, the girl responsible for pioneering the real life-Barbie look a few months back, drew widespread fascination and even more criticism with her long blonde hair, plastic-like features, too-perfect proportions and large, vacant eyes. Interestingly enough, while Lukyanova appears to be the convergence of all our cultural beauty ideals in one little body, the end result is too much for us to handle.
We’re encouraged to modify our bodies. We are. If that weren’t a thing in our culture, plastic surgeons wouldn’t enjoy the kind of business they do. On the other hand, we’re not supposed to do it too much, in any direction — regardless of whether we choose to tattoo every inch of skin à la The Lizardman or modify the “socially acceptable” way like Lukyanova or Heidi Montag, there’s never a shortage of people out there to point fingers and call us freaks for straying too far from the norm. And all that is because there’s not just a simple pressure to be beautiful — there’s pressure to be naturally beautiful. We’re supposed to just have it. And if we don’t have it, we’re supposed to get it without looking like we bought it.
Full confession: I wear makeup every single day. My face routine is creepily similar to the living doll paint job, albeit with a slightly different color palette. It might seem excessive, but when I worked as a makeup artist I cannot begin to tell you how many women came to me asking for a similar “natural look.” And while they sat patiently as I recreated my face on theirs, piling on product after product, it took every ounce of self-control not to shake them and scream “Babe! If ‘natural’ is what you want, just roll out of bed! This shit takes WORK!”
So in this context, what does “natural” even mean? Literally, nothing. It means not doing anything. “Natural” means leaving everything alone and letting the chips fall where they may, letting our bodies run their courses without trying to intervene. When we mess with the canvas we have, we are, by definition, modifying. We’re changing. We’re taking the “natural” and turning it into our own creation. And it follows that when we modify, we relinquish the use of “natural” — the term no longer applies, or makes logical sense.
Honestly, as a cultural statement, I think the living dolls are pretty cool. If men and women everywhere wax, dye, tan, paint and straighten themselves into fake flawless oblivion, what’s wrong with showcasing fakeflawlessness? Why shouldn’t we make ourselves look the way we want to, even if it’s blatantly “unnatural”? Isn’t a large part of feeling comfortable in your body customizing it, in a way? Why do we have to be stuck recreating what we wish we’d been born with when we’d rather create something else?
In that sense, when it comes to body modification, is there really such a thing as “too much”?