Perfect purpose

by Yule Heibel on July 29, 2012

Seems I’ve been too buried in my house project to get a weekly links post together this Sunday. Instead, I’ll just point to an article on my old hometown’s newspaper site: B.C. teens, twenty-somethings turn to Botox for forever 21 look. It made me wonder about a bunch of things.

According to the article, more and more very young British Columbia women are getting Botox treatments. They have no wrinkles, and their use of the procedure is mostly prophylactic – to ward off the wrinkles that may appear decades from now. (Botox’s use as an aid in the fight against acne is mentioned, although I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work, exactly, unless facial mobility contributes to zits. Maybe someone can enlighten me here? Edit: the google to the rescue, first result for “can botox prevent acne” is “may also prevent breakouts by decreasing skin’s oil production.” Note: “may” – and besides, does oil production cause acne? Didn’t think so…)

Anyway, I was really struck by this:

For some, plunging a Botox-filled syringe into a young woman’s skin poses more emotional risk than physical, and speaks to an insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture [emphasis added].

“At age 13, what is it preventive of?” asked Dr. Gayle Way, a Vancouver-based psychologist. “The big fear is that, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to turn 30.’ Is it happening more in B.C. because we’re kind of the California of Canada? Could be.”

The part about an insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture struck me.

Some things I noticed in my ten years here:

My former Victoria dentist has a thriving business administering Botox and fillers. Booming industry.

If you have misaligned teeth in BC, chances are you’re not just going to get braces. You’ll instead get your jaw broken (and reset) to produce an ideal, perfect result. (Your dentist or orthodontist might suggest it even if your teeth aren’t misaligned at all. You may have a “shy” chin, prompting him or her to suggest a radical intervention.)

Victoria friends told me of their daughters or their daughter’s friends who were getting their breasts augmented, apparently a fairly common procedure among the BC teenage set.

I find this fascinating, if totally creepy: imagine the weeks of anticipation leading up the operations, the shock to the nervous system of full anesthesia, the potential of risks, the inevitable pain, the healing, the possible complications…

All this, done for perfecting beauty…

I live in New England now, and can’t help but think that people here don’t hold with that kind of folderol. Maybe it really is more of a West Coast thing?

But is the pursuit of perfection all bad? Perhaps not (although surgeries and Botox are pretty far out there, imo – and, sure, ymmv). For another angle, consider other aspects of life where West Coasters excel at pursuing perfection, …while New Englanders lag behind, it seems mostly because they couldn’t care less.

Take food. Sometime in 2007, Tourism Victoria (motto: “Victoria – full of life”) came up with an ad campaign that touted the city’s “orgasmic” culinary delights. (The links have all but disappeared; however, see this post on Vibrant Victoria to read part of Shannon Moneo’s article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail about the branding campaign.)

I challenge New England cities to promote themselves as having an orgasmic food scene. Not gonna happen. In a land where Dunkin’ Donuts (in Canada, think Tim Horton’s) still dominates coffee culture and where Starbucks is considered by (too) many to be “fancy” coffee, the artisan, hand-made approach to what you put in your mouth is mostly alien. “Handmade” – or rather: homegrown – might come up as a traditional staple in the summer months, when going to a farm or downtown farmer’s market to buy either berries, corn, cider, or – rarely – baked goods, amounts to contact with artisanal food production. But it doesn’t seem to survive past the harvest. Once the cold weather returns, you get in your car and drive to the supermarket.

Not so in orgasmic Victoria, or in Vancouver – or in Portland Oregon, another city I know reasonably well. Perfection is sought around food – whether it’s the best damn pie in the universe, or amazing coffee, or quirky, fabulous restaurants, or “how I wish we had them here because they’re not your average soulless chain and have great stuff and super-friendly staff” supermarkets.

The people who work in these stores and restaurants seem ok with their jobs – most of them will tell you that they’re really artists or creatives who are just doing “this” to pay the rent. But they’re happy to be doing this, because they know that they’re part of something with a purpose. I can’t say I’ve seen too much of that back in New England, where there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to creating the perfect cup of coffee or the perfect fresh handmade pie or the perfectly stocked market with drool-worthy delis and well-informed, helpful staff.

I guess the article raised at least two questions for me. What are you going to perfect? (Yourself? The local economy? An aspect of the culture?) And what’s the relationship between perfection and superficiality? (That taunting sentence, about the “insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture”…)

It’s true that (for the most part) New Englanders don’t seem to know from foodie culture – and don’t bloody care, either. I won’t go into detail about the drabness of the small local supermarkets, which don’t seem to bother keeping up, or the blandness of the large chain supermarkets, which don’t seem to care and where staff is mostly indifferent. A culture where Kielbasa is considered ethnic and a jar of Mama Mia tomato sauce is considered home cooking. But New Englanders are genuinely much nicer than West Coasters (who are surface-nice). The West Coast does seem superficial, compared to New England.

Maybe a search for perfection is a race, and a bit of a hallmark of people who can be indifferent to other, less-worthy seekers. But injecting a bit of purpose-driven perfection-seeking (especially around foodie culture and artisan entrepreneurship) might not be a bad thing. As long as the injection isn’t delivered via a needle…

Image from Random Order’s website of their perfect pie.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jason August 5, 2012 at 8:19 am

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