It’s the Soul that Needs the Surgery

I have a beautiful daughter, Caroline. But is it even OK to call her beautiful? Maybe I should mention her empathy, her love of animals, or intelligence first.

Mama said, “You’re a pretty girl.
What’s in your head,
Brush your hair, fix your teeth.
What you wear is all that matters.”

Surely that’s not reflective of my parenting, her mother’s, or her step-mother, Robin’s. Still, all of us at SunRaven have been listening to this song Caroline has brought home. Released as a surprise to the world, Beyonce’s latest album is autobiographical and poignantly so. Specifically, one of the songs, “Pretty Hurts,” has really struck a chord with me.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there’s a good billion girls and women who would kill to be Beyoncé Knowles—to have her face and hair and body, not to mention her fame and power. And yet, when she first heard this song by Australian singer-songwriter SiaFurler and American producer Ammo, she just knew she had to sing it, to empower all her female fans with this message. 

Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says, “Bigger is better.”
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says, “Thinner is better.”

It kills me to think that if a woman as stunning and successful as Beyoncé could succumb in any way to the insecurity foisted on females by our looks-oriented culture, then what hope does my similarly beautiful daughter – what hope does any woman in our society – have?  Beyoncé, Furler, and Ammo (credited here on the “Visual Album” as Joshua Coleman) all correctly criticize the beauty industry as a viscous and predatory monster that devours little girls and spits them out shivering, cowering messes with no self-esteem—in pursuit, of course, of cold, hard cash.

Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation

Sure, I want Caroline to feel good about the way she looks – and of course I do think she’s beautiful, both inside and out. But what if she didn’t? What if she wasn’t happy with her nose or her ears or her chin? In many ways, I couldn’t blame her, despite the litany of encouraging messages she’s received from those of us who love her. She wouldn’t be alone. There were 14.6 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed last year. Of note, these numbers were up, significantly. And that’s during a recession! Pretty hurts. We’re constantly sending girls and women the message that a) their looks matter; b) they’re far from perfect; c) they should do something about it post haste; and d) that will change everything!

There’s only one problem, as the song points out:

We try to fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

Yes! You see, the problem is on the inside. The problem, paradoxically, is the very insecurity our culture has created in the first place. It’s not our fault. For God’s sake, if the most beautiful woman in the world can relate (ironically looking utterly flawless in the video as though she wakes up that way every day) then the rest of us have to understand we just can’t win this damn war.

But we should consider:  With what are we left (besides physical pain, scars, psychological side effects, and massive medical bills) after numerous unnecessary cosmetic surgeries and other unintelligent medicine?

Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far
Then you break when the fake facade leaves you in the dark
You left with shattered mirrors and the shards of a beautiful past

Heartbreaking phrase. Whose father wants his daughter to go through that? And when the time comes, do I want her to wind up with a man who loves her only for a nose or breasts she bought from a plastic surgeon? So here’s the $64 million question that I think sold Beyoncé on this song; the great equalizer; the existential question we all need to ask ourselves regardless of whether we’re a celebrity or a “nobody” in our own mind or mirror:

When you’re alone all by yourself 
And you’re lying in your bed 
Reflection stares right into you 
Are you happy with yourself?

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