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SKIN DEEP

by Nancy Rechtman

Do you remember playing make-believe, when you were little? Things such as dress-up, let's pretend, and whatever else might propel us headfirst into adulthood at warp speed. Little girls would rummage through their mothers' closets, trying on her dresses, slipping into her shoes, smearing their lips with gobs of red lipstick (perhaps as precursors to the pouty, collagen-enhanced popular look of today). Little boys would pretend to be policemen, cowboys or firemen - all occupations that would allow them to brandish any semblance of weaponry. Living in the real world and coming to terms with reality was supposed to be a cornerstone of adulthood. It was sad to see the last remnants of fantasy life vanish as the teen years approached, vanquished by the promises held out by driver's licenses and the independence of college life. Growing up was something to look forward to. The question, "When will I be old enough to (fill in the blank)" was heard on childrenís lips in the eternal plea of the young straining to spread their wings and fly away from the nest.

What happened? Today, the question is not "When will I be old enough?" The question has become "Why am I not young enough?" Fantasy has replaced reality as the coveted goal, youth has trumped maturity; beauty and fame have trumped all. Why just play princess when you can look like one? Now we have television shows that will make you over, change every aspect of who you are so you can become a clone of the rich and famous. The message is that this is the only way to be accepted by society. While feeling good may be important, looking good is the be-all and end-all, as Billy Crystal's Fernando might tell us. We are now in the era of the plastic surgeon as icon, remaking and reshaping America to fit into the newly constructed molds of our modern society. Style over substance by all means.

Which brings me to a blurb I read in the weekend magazine of my newspaper the other day. Did you know there is now a website where you can rent a designer purse "at a fraction of its cost" by paying a monthly fee? Now you can bamboozle everyone by making them think that you can afford this unabashedly shameful display of wealth and wasteful spending. How about taking a deep breath here. If it is so important that your friends think that you own a $1,000 designer purse, maybe you should find some new friends. And, for those who have thrown out their money on a $1,000 designer purse, how about waking up to the reality of the rest of the world and taking that money next time straight to your local shelter to help feed hungry people.

Where are our priorities? What happened to growing up and being responsible? Why have we abdicated these mainstays of society? We have become so self-absorbed that all that matters is appearances. And, if everyone continues to work so hard on changing his or her appearance, how in the world will we ever know who anyone is anymore? If we can't trust our eyes to tell us about what we're seeing, everything has just become one grand illusion. Just because someone has become beautiful on the outside, we immediately assume that she must be beautiful on the inside. Worse, if someone is plain or unappealing on the outside, we turn from him or her, not taking the time to discover that there may be true beauty within.

It is nothing new to worship beauty or to strive towards perfection. What is new is having the ability to completely change oneís appearance to comply with the demands of our increasingly shallow society. If there is truly some physical feature which makes you uncomfortable, makes you the target of taunts, by all means, feel free to see what a doctor can do for you. But when all you want is to mesh with the impossible standards of beauty constantly thrown in our faces by the media, or resemble a particular star, or be transformed into a happy and popular person by enlarging your bra size, itís time for a reality check.

There is nothing wrong with fantasy. Fantasy is fun. We all need to dream about better things, even if they seem impossibly out of reach. But we also need real goals, goals that will enrich us in some way. Fantasy with substance. Because when the clock strikes midnight and, rather than a glorious coach awaiting, there is only a pumpkin to behold, will you be able to look into the mirror without saying, "Who are you?"

The History of Inanities

For a short time, I had a humorous/observational column in a local magazine called Upstate Women. Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer being published. I enjoyed the experience of writing a column so much, that I want continue writing in that vein. So once a month, I offer a new column about something that bugs me in some way that may strike a chord with you, too.

Several of the columns you will see have already been published; the others were written after the demise of the magazine. The column is called "Inanities" because I feel that is the word which aptly describes the things that make us want to smack our heads in frustration. Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at nancy@nancyrechtman.com.


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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail nancy@nancyrechtman.com.