Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Salt Lake City is Vainest of Them All?
Salt Lake City, Utah, is known for its ski slopes, Latter-day Saints, Sundance Film Festival and … unmatched vanity? One of these things is not like the others, but according to research at Forbes, the Beehive State’s capitol earned the now-infamous title “Vainest City in the Nation” in 2007, which still stands, according to the most recent data. Anyone who has driven along a SLC freeway and seen the billboards might not be shocked to hear the city has the most plastic surgeons per capita at six per 100,000 residents – topping NYC and LA! But it’s not just plastic surgery that places SLC at the height of vanity, where 66% of procedures are considered “cosmetic.” The little metropolis’s “self-help” regimens lead the nation, as well, due to the record-breaking millions spent on cosmetics, skin care and hair products each year: ten-fold the amount spent in cities of comparable size.
Thus, we decided to take a closer look at SLC’s unfortunate distinction to further investigate how and why these stats are playing such a role in this locale, and how it may be taken for granted as normal and natural. Even if you’ve never been to Utah, we see this as a case study that is very representative of the rest of the Westernized world. And while it’s well known that statistics can be manipulated or misinterpreted, we’d like to provide some context for how and why THIS is the place for cosmetic surgery and an apparent quest for physical “perfection.”
First, keep in mind the University of Utah has a premier School of Medicine offering residencies in plastic and reconstructive surgery, which may lead to higher numbers of surgeons staying in Utah to practice. Plus, getting “work done” in Utah is cheaper than the rest of the nation, where a tummy tuck is around $6,000 but as much as $15,000 in LA. Even then, Utah surgeons estimate only about 20 percent of their clients come from out of state.
We also see Utah’s chart-topping birth rate and early marriage age leading to the perfect storm for the ultra-popular “mommy makeover,” which includes breast enhancement, tummy tuck, and lipo. Utah plastic surgeons report online that a “very large” percentage of their work is devoted to body contouring and breast surgery, where nearly 100% of their patients are women and roughly 80 percent elect to those procedures. Women who have lost weight, given birth, and want bigger breasts appear to represent the vast majority of cosmetic surgery clientele in the Salt Lake City area.
And get this – according to stats just produced by RealSelf, the “most visited website in aesthetics,” people in SLC search online for info on getting breast implants more often than any other city in the U.S.! They calculated the total searches for a topic based on millions of consumers in a three-month period, and then broke them down to location of the visitor. In Salt Lake City, residents seek out info on getting breast implants 74% more often than the national average. Wow.
One SLC plastic surgeon, Dr. Brian Brzowski, told hypervocal.com he believes the intense interest in breast implants can be attributed to both the fact that women have babies at a younger age than the rest of the nation and that Utah women lead an active lifestyle. “A thinner, fitter populace tends to have less breast fullness. This can complicate clothing choices and make fitting into swimsuits and the use of padded bras more of a reality,” he says.
While his point about young mothers is very accurate, the latter point about the thinner, fitter populace and their troublesome small chests is a bit off the mark, in our opinion. Sure, it might be true that a fitness-oriented population might not have as much “breast fulness” as the rest of the population, but the assumed “complicat[ions]” of that fact are what’s bothersome. Women shouldn’t need to “fit into” swimmingsuits – swimmingsuits should fit THEM. And why the use of padded bras? Why the unquestioned, unchallenged pressure to visually enhance the parts that have likely been instrumental in nourishing the babies they’re so proud of? Why is the appearance of breasts such a dominant concern?
Another reality here is that many “fit, active” women will tell you breast implants get in the way of physical activity. Ever swung a golf club with large breasts? Ran? Jumped? Dove off a cliff? The list goes on. Having implants in your breasts does not exactly contribute to that “active lifestyle.” Plus, the time spent on the operating table, weeks recovering, chances of a botched surgery, and implant replacements every decade can really get in the way of a healthy and fit lifestyle.
Did you know the American Medical Association banned advertising for plastic surgery procedures until 1982, when the FTC demanded more competition between medical providers to decrease costs? Since that year, cosmetic surgery has seriously infiltrated pop culture. On top of that, in the last decade, media images of women in all genres have morphed into a standard of beauty further from reality than ever before. At the same time, female body hatred has skyrocketed. NO WONDER so many women elect to breast implants, lipo, and every type of beauty product and procedure! Here, we see a direct link to what we perceive as media entertainment and all-too-real effects on the way women are spending their time, money and energy to “fix” every inch of their bodies.
Though so much evidence tells us beauty ideals of extreme thinness and shapely perfection have little to no correlation with actual physical health, we still see evidence demonstrating people believe these myths. Multiple studies demonstrate most females now perceive underweight bodies as being ideally healthy. Even underweight and average weight females are striving for weight loss using dangerous and unhealthy means. As representations of women’s bodies have shrunk to a level of thinness and altered “perfection” never before seen, eating disorders have reached epidemic proportions, with 10 million US women fighting a life-or-death battle with anorexia or bulimia and millions more with a binge eating disorder.
So many of the most popular weight loss tactics have almost nothing to do with improving actual indicators of health and fitness. Unfortunately, they’re still marketed as health-focused, fitness-conscious means to improve peoples’ well-being. Numerous studies show us that body weight often has very little correlation to health or fitness. A huge analysis of medical studies since the ’70s concluded with the little-publicized fact that overweight and active people may be healthier than those who are thin and sedentary (Macias Aguayo et al., 2005; Heimpel, 2009). Therefore, understanding that activity level is a much more reliable indicator of a person’s health than their body weight is key to promoting real, effective health goals that can lead people away from extremes like disordered eating and obesity — and away from misguided attempts to lose weight and improve health through procedures like liposuction.
While many claim they use liposuction as a way to drop pounds and gain health, new research helps us see these fast-fix procedures might do more harm than good. A 2009 study of 31 women who underwent lipo in one or more areas showed that while the women lost weight, their health did not improve and in some cases it worsened. It has been verified that most lipo patients regain their pre-surgery weight and in many cases exceed it, and what is worse, this study and others show that lipo does NOT remove visceral fat (the bad kind of fat that is associated with insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, hypertension, etc.). In fact, lipo often leads to body fat redistribution, which is associated with increases in obesity and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Yikes! It turns out liposuction does NOT lead to greater health (And THAT is reported by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery).
Based on these facts, we can see how a variety of factors have joined forces to create the “perfect” storm for vanity in one specific city. An affluent, fitness-oriented population that marries young, has more children than the rest of the nation and receives endless appearance-focused messages (on the roadside and otherwise) is primed for this unfortunate distinction as “vainest in the nation.” SLC residents aren’t bad. Having cosmetic surgery in any form is not bad. Purchasing beauty products isn’t bad either.
What IS bad is the pressure too many women feel to undergo procedures, spend exorbitant amounts of money and engage in unhealthy acts to achieve a standard of “beauty” and appearance-focused “health” that benefits industries much more than the women themselves.
It’s time for all of us to re-evaluate what health, happiness and beauty mean to us and how we believe they can be attained. Why are we so willing to sacrifice our time, money and often our health to achieve these ideals? In what ways do we often try to achieve “health” using unhealthy or dangerous measures? Do we believe our happiness is dependent on fixing our “flaws” that are defined by profit-driven industries? Who benefits from us believing those messages? How much are you contributing to the cosmetic surgery industry, the beauty industry and weight loss industries? Are they helping? Have they improved your self-esteem? Have they improved your self-perception as a dynamic, valuable and multi-faceted person? Because you are.
Beauty Redefined is currently in the process of purchasing billboard space throughout SLC to promote healthy body image! For more information, read about our campaign HERE. For helpful reminders on how to redefine your perceptions of beauty, health and the role of appearance in your own life, please check out our strategies for men and women.