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Drawing the Line 

America's addicted to the nip and the tuck

Having lambasted the ways in which marriage is portrayed in the media in last week's column, I decided to go see Tyler Perry's latest film, Why Did I Get Married? Many of my friends suggested that I see it. I can honestly say that this very average film had great intentions, a wonderful wardrobe and some B-list celebrity talent. It also challenged dominant notions about and behaviors related to marriage. But as I sat and stared at the big screen, I thought to myself that I had never seen a professor dressed in clothes that expensive during my entire life, that I really need to get my book out so that I can pay off these student loans and that I wanted to throw a search party for the rest of Janet Jackson's nose.

Although I should have been completely focused on the film, I could not get past how different Janet Jackson looked from her "old self." A beautiful child and stellar beauty during her teens and 20s, Janet looked like a caricature of herself. Her face looked like a puzzle whose pieces barely fit together. Like her brother Michael who has literally destroyed his face, Janet's nose looked odd, her cheeks swollen, and her eyes hollow.

This revelation disturbed me immensely, particularly because I worshipped Janet Jackson during my teen years. Her Control album was my mantra; I too "had my own mind, and was going to make my own decisions" (right after I left my momma's house and rules). I embraced Janet Jackson because she eschewed her famous family baggage, child-star persona, and created her own identity -- which resulted in a superstar recording career that has placed her squarely at the top of pop diva-dom. It is somewhat incongruent for someone who delivered a message of personal and female empowerment to kneel down to dominant standards of beauty to such an extent that she looks like a shell of her former self.

We have all noticed how stars "experiment" with their looks over time. Boob jobs, tummy tucks, chin implants, hair transplants and liposuction are all popular procedures to which many stars admit ... or deny. Ashlee Simpson still will not admit to her nose job, which greatly enhanced her looks; although it is clear that she is a much "prettier" girl now than, say, two years ago. The latest celebrity for no reason other than money and a sex tape -- Kim Kardashian -- attributes her famous rump to her Armenian genes, which is possible; however, high school photos of the "it" girl betray her booty, nose, chin, breasts and eyes. This child appears to have had a tremendous amount of plastic surgery. On her reality television show, her sisters -- who are attractive -- are not stunning like Kim, nor do they look like her ... although they look like each other. You do the math.

Plastic surgery in this country is big business. Stars like Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston admit to having "procedures" to enhance their looks. These procedures not only enhanced their looks but also enhanced their checking accounts, a direct outcome of plastic surgery in the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry puts forth amazing looking people, promoting beauty images that are mostly false. Seriously, if Jennifer Lopez was that fine, wouldn't we have remembered her from her days on In Living Color? What is the major difference between then and now? About 40 pounds, an eye-lift and a nose job ... allegedly. There really isn't anything wrong with plastic surgery, particularly when it enhances features, helps to improve self-esteem and allows one to achieve a standard of beauty that they have not been able to accomplish with normal behavior. For example, a mother of three, who works out everyday (complete with Pilates and sit-ups) but who cannot seem to lose her pooch, deserves and should have a tummy tuck if she wants it.

What is troubling about plastic surgery is when it goes awry. Socialite Jocelyne Wildenstein is commonly referred to as "The Bride of Wildenstein" or "The Cat Woman" because she has had so much plastic surgery, that she resembles an animal. Joan Van Ark, Lil' Kim, Vivica A. Fox, Donatella Versace, Joan Rivers, Wayne Newton, Hunter Tylo, Priscilla Presley, Mickey Rourke, Burt Reynolds and Nicole Kidman (my favorite actress) all look like hell. There is a lady in my building who looks like her face has been stretched from here to California, and a student who is clearly "botoxed" to death. When women in their 20s start messing with their faces, we have a problem.

Some say that it is because of shows like ABC's Extreme Makeover and Fox's The Swan that regular folks like us are flocking to plastic surgeons. Because of these shows, the general public is more educated than ever before about the full range of available procedures. Coupled with constant exposure to "enhanced" celebrities, the general public can get in on the business of looking great, which is not a bad thing. What is problematic is when someone slices up their face or harms their body in an effort to meet a standard of beauty that does not even exist and is only met through extreme measures. In addition, those with addictive personalities can become addicted to plastic surgery (as evidenced by Wildenstein, Melanie Griffith and even my sheroe Janet Jackson). Cosmetic surgeries were up 32 percent in 2004 and have steadily increased to more than 9 million procedures performed annually. So, more and more people are flocking to plastic surgeons.

In a culture obsessed with perfection and beauty, plastic surgery is becoming the norm -- and not just in hot spots like Los Angeles and Miami. Hopefully our stars and our "regular folks" will know when to draw the line (pun intended) so that who they are as a person or their performance remains the focal point of interest as opposed to their latest procedure.

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