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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Perfection Obsession

Women can now look younger for longer, thanks to science. But they also have a harder time accepting signs of ageing
The Straits Times - September 16, 2011
By: Gladys Chung
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Perfection Obsession

Wrinkly knees, neck and decolletage, once natural consequences of ageing, have become the new battleground against inevitability.

The New York Times recently dubbed cleavage wrinkles - the deep, thick lines between the breasts of heavily endowed women - the new stretch marks.

It reported that more women are becoming concerned with lines on their chests that form when one sleeps on the side for hours and one breast falls against the other.

So, as with every other beauty problem, someone will create a (usually costly) solution - in this case, the bone-shaped Intima Pillow (about $73) that is slipped between the breasts to keep them separated as one sleeps.

In this age when everything is a cause for concern, there are new monikers for other body flaws that were once overlooked: 'cankles' for chubby ankles that make one's feet look like they are joined directly to the calves; and 'kninkles' for knee wrinkles.

Doctors here say they are seeing more patients repudiating hitherto acceptable changes in the body.

For the last two years, Dr Joyce Lim, a dermatologist at Skin and Laser Clinic in Paragon, has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year jump in the number of women seeking solutions for wrinkles on their cleavage, neck, shoulders and even knees.

'Once they are happy with their rejuvenated faces, they seek treatment for non-facial areas so they can show off their decolletage,' she says.

Dr Calvin Chan, medical director of Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic in Wheelock Place, has noticed a similar increase in the number of requests for treatments for those same 'finicky issues', including bulging back fat.

'Patients realise that these small problems are giveaways to their age when they look otherwise youthful and attractive,' he says.


With more anti-ageing aids at their disposal, it is not uncommon for women to look 10 years younger than they are. The latest beauty trends include convenient DIY home devices for laser treatments traditionally performed by aestheticians and breakthrough formulas that are said to stimulate one's genes for cell renewal.

This leads to an odd situation: With these scientific advancements, women now have more difficulty coming to terms with signs of ageing and imperfections.

The situation is aggravated when they are constantly bombarded by unrealistic images of beauty everywhere they look.

Associate Professor Eric Thompson, from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) sociology department, says women in modern, urban societies are targets of the burgeoning multi-million-dollar beauty and advertising industries that set them on an endless quest for 'images of airbrushed perfection'.

'The profit margins are enhanced by women's perpetual and obsessive feelings of inadequacy,' he says.

Prof Thompson notes there are still more expectations on women to look youthful and attractive because they 'tend to be valued more for their beauty and looks, whereas men are valued more for their status and wealth'.

Indeed, in the past two years, consultant psychiatrist Brian Yeo at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre has seen a 10 per cent increase in female patients with eating and mood disorders associated with anxiety about their looks and addictions to cosmetic surgery.

'Developed societies have all subscribed to the slim and youthful figures exemplified by beauty pageant winners, fashion models, actresses in films and personalities in reality TV shows,' he says. 'Claims such as 'There are no ugly women but only lazy women who do not take care of their looks' are discouraging and disrespectful too.'

Assistant Professor Lo Mun Hou from the University Scholars Programme at NUS, who studies gender, sums it up: 'These days, not going to the gym or getting regular facials is absurdly considered a kind of moral failure. We are seen as more in charge of ourselves when we are able to 'discipline' our bodies.

'Unfortunately and unfairly, there has always been greater pressure on women to demonstrate that they have such self-control.'


However, some women are fighting this irrational bent on never growing old.

At 45, Ms Sesame Chew has found peace within herself that she did not have in her 30s.

The part-time lecturer and beauty blogger says: 'I was always envying the good and younger skin of others and looking for the latest laser and intense pulsed light treatments and supplements,' says the mother of one.

As she grew older and started reflecting on the idea of beauty through her blog, she began to realise that 'perfection is an endless quest'.

'I can try to perfect some part but there will always be something else that is imperfect,' she says.

These days, she is more comfortable in her own skin. Her beauty regimen is simple: natural skincare and daily facial massages that she performs on herself.

'I still aim to look five years younger than I am and I will still get upset if people say I look old,' she says.

'However, I have come to accept my flaws like my pigmentation - which I can simply cover up with foundation - because beauty is a total package, not just how good one's skin is.'

Ms Nguyen Kim Trang, 38, a homemaker and part-time model (right, who is on this issue's cover), has also grappled with and confronted her perceived imperfections.

'Once, I even tried to learn how to smile without wrinkling my eyes and nose but gave up after deciding that that kind of smile is too fake,' says the mother of two, who has been modelling for a decade. 'It helps that my husband thinks wrinkles are normal.'

These days, she also stays away from modelling jobs that require youthful faces although her agent encourages her to accept them.

'I won't go and compete with the young ones. I've accepted the fact that I'm older and I'm comfortable with myself.'

An obsession with unrealistic standards of beauty can get out of hand, warns Dr Yeo.

'It can cause financial strain while not neccessarily giving one happiness or satisfaction,' he points out.

'Remember that life's journey is more than your dress size or looks. In the end, what matters are your family, friends and spirituality - all of which have nothing to do with transient beauty.'



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