Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but inner beauty is transcendent

by Joanna D'Angelo

I'm sure many of you have heard/read about the People Magazine issue of Heidi Montag's 10 plastic surgery procedures - along with the before and after pics - well - the before pics aren't quite "before" as she'd already had several procedures done.  I'm not sure what to make of it - if indeed it is as she says - her attempt at gaining control over her own insecurities or a manifestation of her obsession about her looks or just another publicity stunt that she and her reality TV husband have concocted to get more media attention.

I admit to having watched The Hills in the past.  You may scoff at that - but I watch a variety of TV shows because - well, I'm always researching and thinking of ideas - and you have to watch TV to work in it.  I remember I was at a TV festival once and a TV producer - said, "Oh, I never watch TV." She was quite disdainful about it too. Why bother working in TV then, if you dislike it so much? Novelists read books. Filmmakers watch movies.  I just shake my head at that.  But I digress.

The two most "love to hate" characters on The Hills are  - of course - Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt.  Like most reality show stars - they have become famous for doing absolutely nothing - well aside from being on TV.  At least on shows like The Amazing Race and American Idol - the stars are actually doing something.  But what Heidi and Spencer - or "Speidi" as they are known in the tabloids  - are good at - is getting attention.  They are always "on" in search of the paparazzi spot light. In fact they even wrote a book about how to be famous.  So, I do have to wonder at the planning that went into Heidi's big surgery reveal. Was it all part of their ongoing narrative or is this a real issue for her? Maybe a little of both. 

I'm focusing on  Heidi Montag's surgery in this post because - she is - for want of a better phrase - a kind of "role model" for young girls. Young girls watch The Hills - and are influenced by the styles, attitudes and actions of the young people featured on the show.  So when one of its stars takes such drastic action to alter her entire body - how can that not impact even some of the girls around the world who watch the show? Heidi is a 23 year-old woman. 23 years old. That's the age when everything looks pretty much as it should. And yet she disliked the way she looked. So after multiple surgeries she is now a 23 year old who - I'm sad to say no longer looks 23 years old.  Meanwhile, her husband Spencer gets to play with his living Barbie doll.

I know, it sounds like I'm judging Heidi - but I'm not.  Even if it figured into a publicity stunt - the point is she went through an enormous physical transformation that I think is a result of a terrible sadness inside of her.  Something has to be broken inside for a young woman of 23 to want to change so much about herself on the outside.  And truth be told,  I have mixed feelings about cosmetic surgery. On the one hand - I believe that such an extreme approach can be unhealthy both physically and mentally and I have to question the ethics of the cosmetic surgeons who perform such procedures.  On the other hand - is it so wrong for someone who has really bad teeth to get them fixed? Or to minimize terrible acne scars?  I had a friend in high school who had cystic acne  - and she was very uncomfortable with how her skin looked.  Or what if you had a really big nose? Another girl in my high school  got herself a nose job.  She had a great big ol' bump in her nose and she had it removed one summer. When school started in the fall she looked much better without the bump in her nose- although she was still one of the  most annoying girls in school. Oh, she also became quite conceited as well.  I guess in her case - the nose job only brought out the ugliness inside of her.  I made a short comedy video inspired by that years ago.  Except the protagonist was a guy and we used a clown nose to illustrate our point. It was a very shticky comic piece - called A Nose For Beauty

Someone very close to me had a nose job a few years ago - she had always hated her nose - felt it was too broad at the bottom. She had no problem with the rest of her face - just her nose. So she had it thinned.  She didn't like how it turned out so she had a second procedure.  Now, years later I don't really notice a difference - perhaps there is a difference - but she's still the same person to me  - both inside and out. I've always hated my nose as well - perhaps that's too strong a word. But being Italian - well big noses run in my family. There are two kinds - the big romanesque nose with the bump/hook/bend - some of my cousins have that one.  And then the chubby (kiddie-looking) nose which runs in my immediate family. Thanks Dad! Cute nose as a kid.  Not so cute as a grown up.  I shouldn't whine about it - because quite frankly it's not a big deal. I mean the real problem in my family is the lousy sinuses we all seem to have - wreaks havoc when anyone gets the slightest cold.

A friend told me once that she thought I had a nose like Kate Winslet...before her nose job. WHAAA?!?! My dear Kate Winslet had a nose job? Noooooo...... She's supposed to be the hold out. One of the "real" women in Hollywood who talks freely about stretch marks and her breasts "running for sanctuary" when she lies on her back and being happy with her curves and all of that wonderful real woman stuff.

I've always loved Kate Winslet.  She reminds me of one of my dearest friends who shares the same name.  Not because they look alike - but because they're both good at "taking the piss" as my friend says.  They're both from Reading, England - both went to the same school - only a couple of years apart. And they both knew each other by reputation. I won't go into details - but let's just say they were lively girls in their youth.  I've loved Kate Winslet ever since Heavenly Creatures.  So when, I saw the before and after pics, my heart fell. It's subtle but it's there. But I refuse to judge her. I adore her in fact  - not just because of her awesome talent but because she is one of the few actors who really strives to stay "normal" - stay true to herself in the weirdness that is Hollywood.

There are people who have been in terrible accidents or fires whose faces have become disfigured beyond recognition. I remember watching an episode of Oprah (yeah, so what) about one such woman. A drunk driver smashed into her car, triggering an explosion/fire that burned her face and body.  And no matter how many cosmetic surgeries she went through - her face was drastically changed forever.  How then does the notion of beauty apply to someone whose face has literally melted away? What are you left with?  That's when true beauty kicks in. Oh, it's easy to say that when you've not had to suffer through that kind of experience. But think about it for a moment.  While the rest of us whine and complain about our noses, pimples, wrinkles etc...there are a very select few people who have no choice but to look inside themselves and decide - either to live by a code of inner beauty or to live in shadows and despair. In so doing they transcend their bodies - transcend the physical - they are beyond us. They are enlightened beings. I shall have to remind myself about that the next time I whine about my nose.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts about any of this. What do you think about Heidi Montag's big transformation or Hollywood's obsession with cosmetic surgery or the search for inner beauty?

My friend @squozed wrote a thoughtful piece about looks/cosmetic surgery last week.  You can check it out here: squozedtoo.


  1. I really didn't see much of a change in the first & second picture at first (other than the boobs). When I looked closer, I could see the differences and I think she looks older now.

    Something I notice about those Hollywood women (the ones with all the surgery), is that they all seem to look exactly alike. They have nothing to distinguish one from the others. It's like they are Fembots. I think that says more about what society (Hollywood) thinks is beautiful than what those women think themselves. They've been brainwashed into thinking they need to look like that.

  2. I agree with you Chris - I think she does look older. Sad really - sort of a loss of innocence in a way. One thing I forgot to mention was the use of botox - that celebs - both women and men seem to be overdosing on - and you're right it's created a breed of "sameness" in Hollywood. I think for some of the more serious actors it takes away from their performances - it becomes the focus when they're on camera.

    Thanks so much for your comment! I appreciate it.

  3. Kate wasn't quite the holdout you may have thought. When she was criticized for being too heavy after Titanic, she lost the weight. I thought she looked fabulous before.

    I've been so against plastic surgery but now that I'm getting to a certain age, something minor is tempting... especially when more regular folks - even outside California - are doing it.

    Unfortunately, celebrities don't know when to stop - think Joan Rivers - poor woman.

  4. Hi Kathy: Well, in regards to Kate Winslet - I think she has just fluctuated throughout her life - as most women do. She's talked about that. I remember the criticism directed at her. James Cameron hired her because he liked her work and he thought she possessed the sort of Victorian beauty he was looking for in the role but at least he didn't force her to diet before shooting. I do agree with you though - perhaps it's more a question of where do you draw the line?

  5. While some things are understandable, and I'm one for wishing well on what ever floats one's boat....

    I have to say, I can't believe anyone (man or woman) would prefer that 'after' over the 'before'. She is pretty in both, no doubt. But she's a poster now, whereas before she was unique and dimensional. But this is through my eyes, whatever floats her boat. :)

  6. Well, her hubby certainly seems happy about it - I think he has a lot to do with her "transformation". In any case - one can become addicted to plastic surgery as we have seen time and again in Hollywood. Thanks for your comment. ;)

  7. How scary! And sad that someone already beautiful believes she needs surgery to enhance her looks. She will never be comfortable in her own skin, no matter how gorgeous she is, or how many people admire her, so she's to be pitied. What kind of a life is that?
    As for Kate, I'm disappointed too, as she's one of my favorite actresses. Her nose job didn't diminish her down to earth qualities for me, at least. I read one article in which she said she uses lots of butter because she's not going to deny herself a few calories in exchange for the pleasure of it. So long as she doesn't become obsessed with perfection too, she'll be fine. I agree with Crystal - imperfection is what makes us each unique, and therefore something to be treasured (or maybe I'm saying that because I haven't even exercised in so long, ha ha).

  8. Hi Cate - I agree - I think for people who suffer from body dysmorphia - it will never be enough - she may very well keep tweaking for the rest of her life - until she will be virtually unrecognizable from her original self. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Hollywood is a fantasy by the nature of the industry so striving to be what the perceived image of the perfect woman or whatever the "it" look is at the moment is probably de rigueur. I think that those who get all of the surgeries solely for cosmetic purposes (excepting rhinoplasty or dermal abrasion to remove cystic acne scarring for example) are so insecure or so hate themselves that it is almost a therapeudic exercise. The new me sheds the horrible/heinous perception.

    I've said before that an industry which is supposed to be so glamourous is, once you scrape the veneer, in reality an ugly business. The fashion industry is no different. Flaws and imperfections, unless the part calls for that look are going to be the death knell for lots of aspiring and established actors and models.

    Sorry for the long response but the short of it - a cruel, unforgiving business.

  10. Thank you for your post, Joanna; and thanks to all who left comments.

    If you ask me, it's not just sad that Hollywood has embraced plastic surgery to this extent. It's an artistic disaster. When it's done to the face, it freezes it up. One can no longer express emotions clearly, powerfully, and with exquisite fine-tuning. And isn't that just what an actor/actress is supposed to be doing?

    What's more, too often plastic surgery doesn't make a person, celeb or not, look better. It just makes him, or more often her, look phony. And as the years go by, the effect gets worse. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

    I fear that a considerable number of plastic surgeries and other procedures to enhance one's looks are really done to give people the feeling they're accomplishing something for themselves. It's just a feel-good measure, even if the "improvement" is questionable, or worse.

    If someone wants plastic surgery for a legitimate medical reason, such as to correct a birth defect or repair a wound, I say more power to them. If it's to extend their career in show business or modelling, maybe. If it's for sheer vanity, no way!

    Finally, Joanna, your nose looks fine to me!

    Keep up the good work!

  11. Hi squozed - you know your comment reminded me of when Nicole Kidman won for The Hours for her role as Virgina Woolf - she was virtually unrecognizable - and when she walked up to accept her award - Jack Nicholson who was at the podium said to her - something like - oh, nice to see you without that nose - or something like that. Being ugly in Hollywood only works if it's in the context of role - but in "real" life an actress must be the epitome of beauty and glamour. Truly a twisted world. Thanks so much for your comment.

  12. Hi Mary Ann:

    I agree with you - it's like Hollywood is creating a zombie-like race of actors - with frozen foreheads and faces with no lines to indicate a life well lived. Very sad. and I think a disservice to the profession.

    Thanks for the comment about my nose ;)


  13. Hey Joanna

    Your comment about Nicole Kidman made me think of Charlize Theron in Monster. Unrecognizable!

    And lol, your nose looks fine. It's you! And that's helped to make you who you are.

    One thing I don't get about cosmetic/plastic surgery is that you're going under the knife then, literally! I've had surgery twice over a week in catastrophe after my cancer diagnosis, and I cannot imagine going for that sort of procedure of your own volition.

    You know at the heart of us, we are who we are and if we feel so bad that we need to change that, that's sad really. You've gotta love yourself for who you are and a man/woman's gotta love you for that too - not this idea of perfection dictated by Lord knows who in trends that come and go like the tide. I mean, if we don't accept ourselves, who will?
    A lot of people have been trying to convince me to have plastic surgery done (breast reconstruction since I had a radical mastectomy on my left side), but I don't feel the need for it (thankfully it wasn't anyone who really mattered, like the hubby!). Wearing padding/prosthesis in my bra doesn't make me any less of the woman I was before when I had a full chest! But that may be just me. I've always been a take it or leave it gal.

    Heidi, sad fact, looks older, totally not okay in her skin, and virtually a living Barbie. And like you said, many look up to her as a role model *shivers*

    Great post, girl!


  14. Oh, Z I had no idea! I hope you're well. I'll say a prayer for you. Sending healing thoughts your way.

    I do agree with you - you have to love yourself from the inside out - for some of us it's a work in progress.

    Take care,

  15. Well, I hate everything Heidi & Spencer stand for - being famous for well...being famous. That's it. Nothing else. Oh yeah - being annoying. I've never watched The Hills. I avoid all reality TV. But I've read enough magazine articles about them or interviews with them to see they are completely unattractive people.

    I am all for cosmetic surgery if you are fixing/changing something that bothers YOU. To me it's no different than braces, teeth whitening, hair coloring, etc. BUT - it should not be used to make a whole different you. Or to make someone else happy. I would imagine the majority of procedures done are a single fix. But we get to see the freak shows in the magazines and on TV.

    I just saw a picture of what Heidi looked like pre (supposedly) any procedures. It's like looking at pictures of two different people. If I were her parents I would be very sad. And would take a hit out on Spencer.

    And doctors that perform 10 elective surgeries in 1 day on a young girl or perform nose job after nose job on the same poor nose (talking to you Michael Jackson's doctors) should have their licenses revoked. And does anyone really NEED DDD boobs for any reason whatsoever? Really?

    So if Kate Winslet or Jennifer Aniston or anyone else fixes a nose they really don't like - that's fine - do it - we have the technology (queuing Bionic Man/Woman theme...). But if they keep changing it every couple years or because a casting agent suggested it. Then it's a deeper issue they are trying to fix.

  16. Great post, Joanna. The whole obsession with cosmetic perfection is disturbing. To undergo all those procedures, and to put her health at risk for -- what? Will it actually enhance her acting career (as opposed to her tabloid career)? Now she will be even more typecast because it's hard to downplay her recent additions.

    What also makes me grit my teeth is the double standard that exists in Hollywood with the need for women to maintain an impossible standard of youthful perfection and for male actors to be relatively free of that standard. Hail to Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep who haven't gone to extreme measures and are still rocking the screen!

  17. Z - hugs from me, too. I'm glad you're a 'take it or leave it gal'. My grandmother had a mastectomy in her 50's and is still going strong at 87.

    Joanna - By now you're probably aware that my personal feeling about the whole beauty thing is to look at it in bemused disinterest. I don't even see the attraction to regular stuff like dying hair, etc. If a person wants to get cosmetic surgery, it seems to me that the real desire is to be someone else. Will that person ever be content? Probably not.

    But for post-accident or disfigurement issues, I'm grateful that cosmetic surgery is available. All you have to do is remember the anguish of the Phantom of the Opera character to know how horrible it would be to feel freakish through no fault of your own. In fact, Gerard Butler mentioned in an interview that he was treated differently by crew members while in Phantom makeup on the set. He experienced the revulsion of people gazing upon disfigurement even though everyone on the project knew it was only makeup.

  18. Hi Celeste - well said! I think there's a difference between getting a procedure done and this ongoing insane "tweaking" that so many hollywood celebs are obsessed with. Thanks for your comment.

  19. Hi Pam - I agree there is a double standard - but more and more it's becoming clear that actors are falling into the "botox" haze as well - and I agree - thank god for the Helen Mirren's and Meryl Streeps! Thanks for your comment. ;)

  20. Hi Julia - I agree I think in regards to a disfigurement - cosmetic surgery does what it is supposed to do - give people back a sense of normalcy - unfortunately it has become an obsession for so many people who begin looking normal and end up looking abnormal. Ironic. And you just had to slip GB in somehow didn't you! LOL. ;)

  21. Lol, GB can slip in anywhere!! he's most welcome!

    Thanks for the hugs Joanna and Julia (lol, that made me think Julie and Julia!)

    Funny you mention trying to look normal ends up with looking abnormal - just look at Mickey Rourke and Ray Liotta. Totally messed-up faces to guys who had been cute to start with.


  22. I really don't see much of a difference. She looks as vacuous as ever to me. The thing I hate about Hollywood is that after the age of 30-35 no one looks real anymore. Some didn't look too real before then, but I hate these amazing actresses that get caught up in the youth hype and start disfiguring their faces with nips and tucks and injections until they look like a parody of who they used to be. Worst of it is, it doesn't help their careers. And when I watch them now, I can't focus on the acting because I'm too busy staring at a face that looks as though it belongs in a wax museum and not on the big screen.

  23. Great article, JoJo! Very sobering. When I was a child, I was convinced that I looked quite hideous. Being one of those kids that others make fun of (they really do sense who is weak and afraid), my self-image was pretty much shot to hell.

    On the other hand, believing I was ugly as sin meant I couldn't really do much about it, so I focused on other things. When I was fifteen, I read an incredible book called Psycho-cybernetics. Written by a plastic surgeon who started trying to understand why the patients whose defects he corrected still believed they were unattractive!

    He realized then that what needed fixing was not the 'big' nose or sagging face but the self-image. And also brought to light that people responded to us based more on what WE think of ourselves, than how we look.

    I thought I was ugly, therefore other people thought so too. Perusing old photos proves it really was all in my head. This also holds true for people with eating disorders. We wonder how can they not see they're so thin, but their body image is formed within their beliefs.

    On one hand, small changes are part of what makes life fun. Why not go blonde or brunette or become a fiery redhead? However, when it goes extreme it's scary. I saw a movie with Heather Locklear where her daughter is trying to fix her up with a guy. Here's the scary part--her daughter had more wrinkles!! Heather looked polished and unreal. Stepford Wives here we come!

    Very thought-provoking, my dear. Really good article!



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