How far will we go for beauty? Apparently, pretty far. I just recently heard about a product called Latisse. It helps your eyelashes grow longer. It originated from a group of popular medications called topical prostaglandins, drugs used for glaucoma patients. A side effect of this product is hypertrichosis, a condition characterized by darkening, thickening, and lengthening of the eyelashes. The product people use to lengthen their eyelashes is actually a side effect of a drug used to treat a serious medical condition. So people who do not have glaucoma are taking a prescription medication for the benefit of its side effect. Really?
As if this weren't enough, having thin eyelashes is actually a medical condition of its own now. Latisse received FDA approval for the treatment of "inadequate eyelashes". Who determined that thick eyelashes are desirable and beautiful? Hair in other parts of our body is undesirable. What if we saw eyelashes as one of the undesirable places for hair to grow out of? It is so subjective, yet people are now taking a prescription medication to have thicker lashes.
It's not just eyelashes that we have medicalized in this country. Natural life events like puberty, childbirth, menopause, and aging have also become medicalized. These stages in life are now "conditions" that require drugs and doctors. The media and pharmaceutical companies are creating disease and selling the cure. We are buying it. Melody Petersen, in Our Daily Meds, gives some powerful and disturbing examples. One such example is the disease of bad breath. Pharmaceutical company, Warner-Lambert, expanded the market for Listerine mouthwash in the 1920s by creating public anxiety about halitosis, better known as bad breath. Based on a widespread ad campaign that blamed halitosis for job and relationship troubles, Listerine's net earnings increased forty-fold. One of the ads said, "You 5,000,000 women who want to get married: How's your breath today?" Suddenly bad breath was a social ill and medical condition. Promoting the more serious sounding monikers, halitosis and hypotrichosis (the opposite of hypertrichosis), seems to legitimize the medical treatment of them.
Have you been lured into the frenzy? When I was a teenager, my mom took me to a dermatologist who put me on Accutane to help with my acne. Accutane is a pretty serious drug with plenty of short-term and long-term side effects. I was a normal teenager with a few pimples. I did not need to be on Accutane, but at the time, we didn't know any better. Perhaps the drug makes sense for people with severe acne, but that wasn't me. I cringe at the thought of having taken it. My sister was recently taking allergy medication because the hair dye she was using made her scalp itch. Ultimately she switched hair dyes, but where does it end?
I recently saw an article whose headline read, "If you can't tone it, tan it!". The article talked about how being tan can help you look skinnier. It made me think about how we define beauty. There used to be a time when being pale was desirable because it meant you weren't working in the fields. Similarly, being heavier was a sign of prosperity and fertility. I just wonder—with all of the plucking, tweezing, waxing, tanning, dyeing, injecting, and medicating—what disease are we trying to cure? Is it the disease of "unattractiveness"? How can we cure a disease when the diagnosis of unattractiveness is so subjective and seems to change over time and with geographic boundaries?
I'm not saying we shouldn't do anything in the name of "beauty" because that isn't realistic. We are all products of our socialization. From an early age, we are told what beauty looks like; it is deeply engrained in us. But, I am saying we should make it a conscious choice and not let it completely consume us. Do it because it makes YOU feel better about yourself. Think about everything you are putting on and in your body and recognize the impact it has on your mental and physical health. For me, I choose to dye my hair. For you, it may be thick eyelashes or a tan. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and that you are doing it mindfully. Yes, I dye my hair, but I keep the rest of my beauty regime simple. And, I use natural products for my shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and makeup. It's all about balance. Don't let your quest for beauty compromise your health. If we focused more time on being ourselves and less time trying to live up to this model of what society says is beautiful (at this moment in time and in this part of the world), we might be happier. We'd certainly have more time for fun!
Look in the mirror and find beauty in what you see—inside and out. What beauty rituals can you let go of for better overall health?
For more information about the perils of prescription drugs, see Just Say No (to Prescription Drugs). For more information on choosing less toxic beauty products, see Going Au Natural.
Dina Colman is an integral health coach and writer. She has her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University and her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University. She has an office in Danville where she works with clients to live an integral life of health and wellness. She founded Four Quadrant Living, providing information and motivation for healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. This blog is from the Body quadrant. Contact Dina at firstname.lastname@example.org