A friend of mine recently visited a dermatologist for a persistent rash that had been plaguing her for a couple of weeks. So there she was, ensconced in his waiting room, leafing through old issues of Femina as she waited for the mandatory hour and a half that every doctor of note feels obliged to make you hang around before he deigns to see you.
Once she had made her dogged way through all the dog-eared magazines, she began looking around curiously at her fellow sufferers in this third circle of hell, playing a game that we have perfected over the years to stave off boredom and unbearable ennui: making up life stories to go with the faces we see around us.
It was then that she realised with a start that apart from one token male – looking very uncomfortable indeed – every other person in the waiting area was a woman. What’s more, all of them fit a pattern: aged between 35 to 45; carrying oversized designer bags; sporting expensive heels; wearing way too much make-up; and boasting of improbably smooth foreheads and cheeks.
Clearly, they were not here to treat a spot of allergic dermatitis. It was a slight touch of Restylene and a bout of Botox they were looking for – at an average cost of Rs 20,000, to be topped up every four to six months. But judging by the oversize diamonds that flashed imperiously on their immaculately-manicured fingers, they could well afford the expense.
Which, of course, is very nice for them. But terribly bad news for those of us who couldn’t possibly stump up those sorts of sums just to assuage our vanity. So, while these women (and some men, to be fair) of privilege will look agelessly perfect, no matter how many years roll by, the depredations of time will do their worst to our faces and bodies until we begin to look like their mothers (or fathers).
Beauty has always been a preserve of the rich. Take a good look around you. If you discount the odd aberration, on the whole it is the prosperous and wealthy around us who are far better looking than those who are poor and disadvantaged.
There is a good reason for this, as most cultural anthropologists will tell you. Over the centuries, rich and powerful men have married the loveliest women in their vicinity and produced beautiful progeny of their own. Their children then make the same kind of aesthetic judgements when it comes to marriage and babies, and thus every subsequent generation gets better looking than the first.
That is probably the reason why most upper-class and rich Indians are a shade or two fairer than the lower classes. A fair skin is prized in these parts, and thus prosperous men steer clear of dark-skinned women when it comes to choosing a wife. So, every generation gets lighter and lighter until they look markedly different from those from the less prosperous classes who can’t indulge in this kind of genetic engineering. Which explains why rich folk are, on an average, better looking that poor folk. But my friend’s experience at the dermatologist leads me to a far scarier conclusion. In another ten years, the rich will also be much younger looking than their poor counterparts.
To an extent, this has always been the case. The rich can afford to eat more nutritious food and take care of their insides with organic vegetables and detox diets. They are the ones with enough down time to exercise regularly. They have the money to hire personal trainers and dieticians who can sort out every problem they could conceivably have. And they can well afford the odd nip, tuck and injection when they need a little bit of repair.
So, how could they not look better than the Average Joe (or Joan) who eats badly and certainly has no time to go for a morning walk let alone a vigorous work-out? As for affording cosmetic procedures – perish the thought.
Let’s take a couple of extreme examples. At 50, Madonna has the body and face of a woman half her age. And no, it’s not down to some genetic freakery. She sticks to a strict macrobiotic diet, prepared for her by an army of in-house chefs, overseen by a dietician. She works out for a couple of hours every day, with her personal trainer putting her through the wringer. And needless to say, she has signed up for every cosmetic procedure you can think of – and then some. (As she put it rather succinctly, "There’s nothing wrong with having plastic surgery – only with talking about it.")
It’s much the same with Demi Moore, who looks completely age-appropriate alongside husband Ashton Kucher, despite being nearly two decades older. And closer home, the ever-lovely Sridevi hasn’t aged a bit in the last 10 years. If anything, she looks even better than when she retired from the movies and puts it all down to a healthy regimen of eating right, drinking lots of water and regular exercise. Yeah, right!
So, are we well on our way to living in a society in which how good (and young) you look depends directly on how much disposable income you have to spend on vanity treatments? And where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is measured not by the bottom-line of your bank balance but by the lines on your brow?
I have a terrible feeling that this may well be the case.