Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beauty, Body Image and Cosmetic Procedures in Pageants

I am getting ready to compete for the title of Mrs. Utah America in March and I shared this on my blog a couple of weeks ago and thought I'd share it here to since it is so fitting. Pageants are often stereotyped in a negative way and get a bad rap for focusing just on the physical appearance but I love how author Rhonda Shappert takes issue with body image and pageants. Enjoy!

Beauty, Body Image and Cosmetic Procedures in Pageants
By RhondaShappertAugust 30, 2011 02:38

In a beauty pageant competition, your physical attributes are being evaluated by a panel of judges. However, your value and worth as a human being are NOT defined by how physically beautiful you are.

Besides, beauty is completely subjective.
It’s good to appreciate your physical traits, but don’t make the mistake of basing your entire self identity around them because in the blink of an eye, they can be taken away from you.

I have experienced this many times in my life and finally in my mid 40’s, the lesson has been learned. At age 5, my mom enrolled me in dance classes and very quickly dance became “my thing”. People enjoyed watching me dance and I was always complimented on my abilities. This South Dakota farm girl dreamt of being a Solid Gold dancer or dancing in movies like Fame, Flashdance and Footloose. Okay, so I’m dating myself here, but these were really cool back in the day.

Then one day during high school basketball practice, I badly dislocated my knee. When I went to the orthopedic surgeon, he said he could do surgery to mend the ligament, but because of the way my bones were formed, my knee would always be weak and susceptible to dislocation. Plus, if I had the surgery, I would probably have a permanent stiff knee or very limited mobility. He told me I would never be a professional dancer.

I was devastated. If I’m not a dancer, than who am I? At the age of 14, I had my first identity crisis. Instead of surgery, I chose weight training and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles. I continued to dance but I suffered several excruciating dislocations over the years and at times needed to wear a brace. I quickly learned my dance limitations and turned my focus to my singing ability. If I couldn’t dance professionally, then I could be a professional singer.

I had received a theater scholarship for my freshmen year to the University of South Dakota and thus began my musical theater training. Then, at age 18, I interviewed and was accepted to travel with the international non-profit organization, Up With People. For two years, I traveled Asia, Europe and North America where I lived with host families, learned about other cultures through community service, and performed every day. After Up With People, I wanted more than ever to perform on Broadway so I transferred to the musical theater program at The Ohio State University. Then the other shoe dropped.

I developed vocal nodules and was told that if therapy didn’t reduce them, I would need surgery. There was no guarantee that I would have my full singing voice back. Man, first my knee then my voice. I went through speech therapy and relearned how to speak properly so I wouldn’t further damage my vocal chords. Thankfully, I didn’t need surgery but to this day, I have to monitor my speech. The nods are still there; but I’ve learned how to coexist with them.

These two events made me pause to think about how fragile our human bodies are and the importance of not basing my self-esteem and life on my physical attributes. But the biggest lesson was yet to come.

Three babies and 12 years later, I was in my mid 30’s preparing to compete in the Mrs.Ohio America pageant for the first time. At this point, I decided it was time to permanently cap my one top front tooth that had been chipped when I was a child. Mind you, the bonding was still perfectly good. People didn’t even know it was there unless I told them. My smile was the one facial feature people always complimented me on. Anyway, I felt it needed to be “perfect” for the beauty pageant, so off to the dentist I went to have him cap it.

It had been over 6 years since I had been to this cosmetic dentist. I didn’t feel it necessary to do a background check on him because he was the last one to fix

my tooth and he did a great job. Mistake #1- A lot can happen in six years.

He convinced me that I needed to have both front teeth capped to ensure a uniformed appearance. I was reassured that I’d love the results, it was a routine procedure and there wouldn’t be any problems. Because I really wanted to win the title and felt I needed to do this, I agreed for him to do the work. Mistake #2 - There are always risks, even with procedures labeled “routine”; and are no guarantees of what the exact end results will be.

To make my two-year saga short, the dental board had revoked his license and he was practicing illegally. In the process of preparing my teeth for the caps, he had damaged the nerves to both of my once healthy front teeth and performed two root canals (which he wasn’t qualified to do).

Within days, my two front teeth and gums were infected and rejecting the material that the permanent caps were made of, and he was gone. Yup, no one in the office would say anything as to his whereabouts or when he was coming back. One of his associates relieved my pain, apologized profusely for his partner’s incompetence, and told me to call the dental board for further action. One lawyer, a new dental practice, an endodotist, a prosthodonist, a periodontist and two years later, I finally received my two front teeth that glow in dark under a black light. My kids laugh at them every time we go to play laser tag or where there is a black light.

Today, when I look at my smile, I wish I had my original two front teeth. But because my head was telling me that my smile wasn’t “good enough” I have permanent tissue damage, phantom pain and a reminder that I should have been more grateful for how God had created me in the first place. Mistake #3- I ignored the feeling I had in my heart that something wasn’t right when I was consulting with the doctor in my appointment. Always trust your gut feeling.

When I was competing in the Mrs. circuit, I had some people tell me I needed breast implants, Botox, dermal fillers and a whole list of other procedures to win the big title.

When I won the title of Mrs. Ohio, I had six weeks to get ready for Mrs. America. Part of my prize package included services for aesthetic procedures. Because they were free and knowing I would be one of the oldest contestants competing at Mrs. America, I agreed to have Botox injected into my forehead, Restylane filler put into my nasolabial fold area (the grooves from your nose to your mouth) and to have Aura Acne Laser Treatments done to “turn back the clock” per se. I have to admit, I looked fabulous going to nationals.

But in the following months when the effects started to wear off, I had to make a choice. Do I continue down this expensive, high maintenance path, or do I accept my natural aging process? As tempting as it was, I had learned my lesson with my teeth. Every kind of procedure carries risks.

As Mrs. Ohio, I had a taste of how additive cosmetic procedures can become. How far is too far? And at what cost both financially and mentally? For me, I chose acceptance. (Just for the record, I do color my hair; but that’s as much risk as I am willing to take).

I’m not condoning nor condemning cosmetic procedures. I am stressing that before you consider doing anything to your body, including hair processes, spray tanning, and nail enhancements, do your research to find out the list of risks. Check out the doctors and their facilities to make sure they are in good standing with the licensing board in the state they are practicing.

Be very clear about the reasons why you’re considering any procedure. What are the long term effects of continuing the procedure? Would you still feel beautiful and worthy if one of your physical strengths was suddenly taken away from you? What would you feel?

I have to be honest with you. When my smile was temporarily taken away from me, I felt a temporary sense of loss. I felt like my personality had been taken from me and I felt self-conscious. When the competent doctors reconstructed my teeth, my confidence came back along with a genuine gratitude and appreciation of my body. I wouldn’t have learned that lesson had life not pruned that part of my appearance.

When I worked in the garden with my mom as a child, we cut off the dead, non-productive part of the plants so new growth could begin. As a result the plant grew stronger, healthier and produced more flowers. I have noticed the same thing holds true in my life. When physical things are removed from my life, my attention immediately turns to the more important areas.

This is my own personal opinion, but I feel God intended for our bodies to naturally age for a good reason. When we are young, firm and physically invincible, we spend far more time tending to our outer needs than we do developing our inner self. The two need to be in balance.

As the wrinkles, sagging, aches and pains start to set in, it’s God’s way to prune our attachment to material things and give us more time to develop our inner self.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should all let ourselves go nor am I judging those who choose to enhance or alter their bodies. Reconstructive surgery can do wonders to rebuild a person’s dignity after an accident, disease or birth defect. I’m talking about the choice to alter your healthy, although aging, naturally given body.

What I’m encouraging you to do is to take a look at how you define your own beauty. What are you basing your beauty and worth on? Are you investing as much on developing your inner beauty as you are spending on maintaining your exterior?