During his twilight years, Mark Twain agonised that “life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18”. Homer dubbed old age loathsome; Shakespeare called it the hideous winter.
It has been divinely ordained that the moment a living creature starts its life cycle, it simultaneously initiates the process of its demise. Nothing can change this despite the ageless quest for the elixir of youth.
Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, set out in search of this mythical potion; his death at the age of 49 manifested the futility of the exercise. Alexander is known to have sought it; he only lived for 32 years. Florida, US is home to the ‘Fountain of Youth’ – still a great tourist attraction. It is said to have been discovered by the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, who drank from its purported mystical waters. His death at the age of 47 proved that the fountain’s mythical powers were but a myth.
As this unattainable quest continues, Anatoli Brouchkov, a Russian scientist, injected himself with a 3.5-million-year-old bacteria found in the Siberian permafrost. A foreign news outlet, The Siberian Times, quoted the scientist as saying that after its trial on rodents, “mice grannies not only began to dance, but also produced offspring”. The aspiration to travel around for millions of years is a macabre one indeed.
The first century medical document, De Medicina, penned by Aulus Cornelius Celsus, laid out the methods of skin grafting and reconstructive surgery. Today, advances in medicine have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry claiming to re-sculpt faces and bodies. Surgery as a remedy for a disease is understandable; opting for it to beautify oneself or reverse the order of nature is as worrisome as it is inherently dangerous.
The recent lockdowns with hours of video calls has resulted in a large number of people seeking cosmetic surgeries. Dubbed ‘Zoom dysmorphia’ by Harvard Medical School Professor Shadi Kourosh, the condition is attributed to negative self-appraisal. Webcam limitations and the play of angles and light deceptively portray sagging skin, facial shadows or distorted features. Studies show that 80 percent of aspirants sought plastic surgeons solely on these deductions. Another contributing factor has been the spare money; with vacations and events on hold and the chance to recover at home or cover surgery marks with face masks, many people opted for such treatments.
A plastic surgeon friend of mine shared that many teenagers – both boys and girls – come up to him with photographs of movie stars, wanting to be look exactly like those celebrities. Some are deterred by the advice to avoid unnecessary procedures, others remain adamant. The money in this business has seen a rise in the number of untrained ‘cosmetic surgeons’ performing complicated procedures and administrating unregulated and cheap products which sometimes lead to horrifying consequences.
Some years back, a well-known Pakistani actor shared a video, narrating his extremely painful ordeal after opting for a hair transplant – an otherwise mundane procedure. Facial fillers, much sought after, if injected accidentally into a blood vessel may cause permanent scarring. In some extreme cases, people have even lost parts of their nose and lips. Needless to say, even ‘successful’procedures sometimes result in distorted and unnatural faces.
Men too have been smitten by fair skin, an aquiline nose or a mannequin face sans age lines. The obsession with fair skin forces them to have their faces injected with skin-lightening products or use bleaching agents. Most invariably consist of hydroquinone, a substance known to cause cancer and exogenous ochronosis, a disease that causes severe skin discoloration. Hydroquinone, as a skin lightener, is banned in South Africa, Japan, the EU and the UK; here it remains the magical concoction of choice.
Oscar Wilde nailed it when he said, “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise and get up early”. Our increasingly nocturnal and sedentary lifestyles and our addiction to junk food are compounded with the dangerous aspect of quick fixes. We tend to have the result sucked away with liposuction – a fat-removal procedure. Not advisable over the age of 40, it causes the same percentage of blood loss as the fat; clots may occur and compression bandages are needed over a long period to hold back the sagging skin. In some cases, large fat deposits accumulate at the most unlikely places.
Another fad that has taken hold is anti-aging remedies. Dubbed dietary supplements, they escape the rigorous safety protocols undergone by standard medicines. There is no guarantee for their efficacy and no warning about their side effects. Young people, especially men, have taken to using unregulated anabolic steroids to enhance muscle mass. Apart from fatalities, these steroids cause bone loss, serious kidney and liver damage along with heart and lung failure.
It is therefore imperative that we should not fall prey to the seduction of ‘miracle beauty’ products and the quest of perpetual youth. Parents should remember that if they opt for these products, their children are likely to be inclined to do the same. The young should be ever thankful for what they have been blessed with; those ahead in years should accept the inevitable with veneration and respect.
The quest of agelessness is timeless; it remains an ageless mirage. The fantasy’s breeding ground is denial and envy – the denial of nature’s ordained course and envy of those deemed more attractive. These contributing emotions are something that we should avoid in every facet of our lives. True self-worth remains synonymous with one’s heart and soul and his/her zeal to help better communities and lives. This alone is, and shall be, the paragon of true beauty.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
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