Saturday, April 12, 2008

Eternally Polished

I loved dolls when I was a child. I loved dressing them up and fixing their hair. I’d wash it, dry it, braid it, cut it, you name it. Using the hairdryer wasn’t a great idea. The plastic locks got scorched and after the haircuts I’d given them, my dolls typically looked like they’d gotten stuck in a paper shredder.

Doll Store

Young girls today don’t have to learn about hairstyles the hard way. American Girl Place, a shop in Los Angeles, has a hair salon for the dolls, a hospital to repair a doll after say a bad haircut or an amputated limb, a cafe where moms and daughters can dress up and have tea, and enough clothes and furniture for the dolls to fill one of those old Sears catalogs from the 70s.

The Cafe

This grooming obsessed culture is not just hard on young girls. Trying to stay real in such a narcissistic world can be rough for all of us. I live among the world’s most cut upon and waxed bodies. In my neighborhood for instance, let’s just take the four blocks immediately next to mine, there are four tanning salons, ten hair salons, and five salons that specialize in waxing alone.

Health insurance policies for the wealthy in Buenos Aires include one free plastic surgery per year. It’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t. Foreign tourists take advantage of the highly skilled, low-cost sculpting the city offers. You can get your surgery done the first week and then take in a cruise through Antarctica to complete your recovery before going back home with a tighter face, bigger boobs, a higher butt, or smaller labia.

For those weary of the knife yet still desiring a new look, one guidebook’s list of 25 things to do in Buenos Aires lists "A Brazilian" as number 12. I thought they meant sex with a Brazilian, which seemed an odd recommendation. Then I remembered having read about Brazilian waxes being a lot cheaper here in Buenos Aires.

At first the obsession with polished, fuzz free skin and Baywatch bodies reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s book The End of Eternity in which one of the characters had no body hair because he came from a time when beauty was defined by one’s lack of hair. Could Asimov have known back in 1954 that some lunatic mothers in the States would be taking their 8-year-old daughters for their first Brazilian? (I really am grateful we’re talking about wax.)

Plastic as Buenos Aires is (Argentina ranks third in the world, after the US and Mexico, for number of cosmetic surgeries), I haven’t heard of mothers taking their prepubescent daughters to remove the one or two pubic hairs they might have. I don’t see 13-year-olds in hair salons exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals for a few streaks of blond or red. And graduation presents tend more towards a watch or nice piece of jewelry than new boobs.

Grooming rituals will probably always change, but I hope some of the "back to nature" movements that are changing the way we eat will have an influence on the way we see ourselves. In the meantime, check out one of the best articles about attitudes towards the body I've ever read, Horace Miner's "Body Ritual among the Nacirema."

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