Last week a friend of mine returned to Texas from her first visit to Utah in almost twenty years. When I asked her how she liked it, her first response was, “I’ve never seen so many fake boobs in my life!” Her comment reminded me of an article that I read in Forbes magazine a few months ago about how Salt Lake City is the “Vainest City in America”. Not only #1 in the number of plastic surgeons per capita, but on the amount of money spent on cosmetics and hair coloring products. I’m sure it’s only the nonmembers there having surgery and wearing all the make-up, right?
In a Conference talk in October 2005, Elder Holland pointed out that “a fixation on the physical. . . is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world.” Yes, a fixation on the physical would do that, wouldn’t it? But here’s the problem: what is a fixation? As a brunette (and proud of it) I don’t quite understand the dedication of my fair(er) sisters who spend many hours and dollars keeping themselves blonde. Or tan (in the winter!), or have gorgeous (and very fake) nails.
Let me just pause here to state for the record that I am not pointing fingers. I have, at one time or another, colored my hair, gone tanning (though not in the last decade), and had fake nails. I also have had plastic surgery. Yep, I once had a really ugly chin. Now I don’t. And I did all of these things while not living in Utah, so I’m not saying that only our sisters on the Wasatch Front are dealing with the issue of vanity.
I remember the day before I had plastic surgery; my doctor was also my Stake President. I told him I felt rather vain for going to all this trouble for a new chin, even though I wanted it desperately. He said that if it gave me more confidence in myself then what was wrong with that? So I went through with it, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. In a way, I stopped obsessing over my profile once it was fixed. I became less preoccupied with my appearance once I had plastic surgery. I’m pretty sure this is not what Elder Holland had in mind, but it’s what happened to me.
Now that swimsuit season is upon me, I find myself stragely attracted to the idea of massive surgery to make my stomach look like it hasn’t carried six babies. And my thighs look like they belong to a nubile high-schooler. Yeah, I know, I should be celebrating my rolls and cellulite and stretch marks. I should embrace them as symbols of the marvelous job my body has done keeping me healthy and mobile. But I don’t. Not even close. I want to cover them up and pretend they don’t exist. I don’t really have any idea how to go about not obsessing over them.
I think Elder Holland is completely right. We are being “bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything!” We shouldn’t fixate on, as Nephi put it, our “vain imaginations”. I would love to love my body. But how? No, Really! How? I read my scriptures every single day and go to church every single week, but it still bothers me how limp my hair is, and I still am on my quest to find the perfect shade of lipstick.
I don’t really know how any of us are supposed to know if we are fixated on ourselves; if we have a superficial standard. Because we all do something with our looks. We all sit in front of the mirror at some point each day. There will always be a woman who spends more time and money than us making herself look beautiful, and there will always be someone who spends less. It’s so easy to judge each other. To look at one person and think, “she’s so vain with all that make-up and plastic surgery.” And to look at another and think, “how can she let herself go like that? She should try a little harder.” There must be a balance, but how to find it? I want to look pretty, and I also want to please the Lord. How do we decide what is acceptible, not a fixation? Is it a personal decision or should everyone follow the same standard?