Saving Face – The taboo around talking about having work done

It’s not hard to notice that many people take care of their appearance in Singapore. The year-round warm weather means full-time sandal and swimwear-wearing is possible. It prompts a lot of us to exercise, visit the manicurist, hairdressers, and decisions over choosing going natural, bikini, Brazilian, or French. In pre-Covid (Pre-C) times the regularity of marathons and fun runs seems to keep porta-loos and security barriers employed 52 weekends a year. Nail bars are everywhere catering for the constant desire to keep our toes polished and presentable. It’s enough to make you skip the wax package and head straight for the IPL so you can be done with body hair forever. We freely trade information on the best places to go for body maintenance and the results we’ve gained from different personal trainers.

But asking, “have you had any work done?” still feels taboo. And I’m wondering why? I’m talking about injectables, face treatments and every trending technique that promises to reverse our age. What they call minimally invasive procedures. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the proliferation of aesthetic clinics in Singapore. Just pick up a magazine at the dentist’s and almost every page has an ad for one. It suggests to me that getting stuff done must be common enough to support the need for all these establishments. Although the number of people who opt to have cosmetic surgery continues to go up each and every year, the number of people talking about it doesn’t really change much. So why don’t we talk about it? I think it’s wrapped up some sort of taboo to talk about having plastic surgery, perhaps not wanting to give away one’s age or wanting to appear a natural beauty.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for or against going down the road of having botox, fillers, and other procedures. It’s very much a personal choice and there are probably all sorts of factors that play into the decision that can be pulled apart: from a simple desire to look better for oneself and correct some imperfections through to a more severe perceived societal pressure to look better and even body dysmorphia. But let’s park those. Understanding the motivation behind why we might do it probably involves talking about things like the beauty myth, the Instagram face, the commodification of women, and a lot of other hairy subjects that I’m not qualified in. That’s not what this is about. I’m not trying to normalise “getting work done”, any more than I’m trying to say that you shouldn’t give in to the idea that you should appear ageless and stay natural. Instead, what I’m wondering is, can we normalise talking about it with friends and family, if we’ve gone ahead with it, without the fear of reprisal and judgement? 

Women battle so many contradictions. We have opinions about what kind of person it makes us if we give into the pressure to improve our looks, while youth is the standard we see reflected back at us everywhere we turn. We raise daughters to believe that beauty comes from within, while secretly wishing we looked younger. We are strong and independent and don’t care what others think, yet very much want to look our best. Talk about inner conflict! Wouldn’t we all benefit from being able to confide in those we trust that we are both these things without fear of being labelled a hypocrite? As women, we already have many double edged swords to fence and imbalances to straddle. Can we cut ourselves some slack on this one? The fact is, we live in a society that can make us feel we would look better if we had work done, but is also quick to admonish us if we do. Not having Botox doesn’t automatically make you feminist and going ahead with it doesn’t necessarily make you vain. But the implication of these things is a great way to create opposition and silence discussion on a complex issue.

The same way we talk about our hair, nails and bodies we should be able to talk about our faces without recrimination. There’s room for everyone to feel comfortable with their choices, even a Kardashian!

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