I’ve just officially confirm that it is not just me who thinks that today’s “beauty treatments”—most of which I hear about from my students, who seem to relish horrifying me—are using the amount and quality of the pain they induce as proof of their effectiveness.
Laura Craik suggests that dominant culture has moved from “no pain, no gain” as a mantra for vigorous exercise to using it as a slogan for enduring excruciating facial masks (the videos of which are widely viewed on YouTube), body waxing, anal bleaching, and any number of unpleasant beautifying regimens. The companies selling these products make pain sound not only necessary but desirable.
No. Just no.
Sometime around the 5thor 6thof my 17 surgeries, I formed an important rule that I have lived by ever since. I call it the Voluntary Pain Rule, or VPR. As you probably guessed, it states that I do not voluntarily undergo painful procedures of either the physical or psychic variety, unless they truly are medically necessary.
This means that I do not smear burning acid goo on my face in the hope of having younger-looking skin. But I take my refusal to endure unnecessary pain much further.
I do not have plastic surgery. I do not have tattoos, and my only piercings are one in each earlobe, done when I was 16 years old, long before the implementation of the VPR. Botox shots and Brazilian waxing are out of the question.
I also do not watch horror movies. I’ve actually tried to endure the sociopolitical angst of watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but within 5 minutes I start foaming at the mouth with feminist rage, my shoulders tight as rocks, a tension headache tearing across my temples, and I have to shut it off.
I do not engage in extreme activities likely to result in bodily damage, such as skydiving. Every time I see those “inspirational” posters at the prosthetics shop advertising prosthetic equipment, I shake my head at the amputees scaling icy mountain peaks or hanging from a climbing wall. I avoid places where poisonous snakes are likely to cross my path. I don’t go camping with Lyme-disease-bearing-ticks and the risk of nocturnal visits from hungry bears or other toothy predators. Actually, I don’t camp ever, unless you count staying at motels with no room service.
I have a deep-seated aversion to reading Cosmopolitan (and similar) magazines, the visual and written content of which induce such extreme body-shame that I am left keening, despite my intellectual rejection of cultural misogyny and my cherished belief in the immanent value of bodies of all shapes and sizes. I just can’t even go there.
I also treat pain immediately and without guilt. I take prescription pain meds for phantom limb pain, ibuprofen when I have a headache or my tendonitis flares up, numbing gel prior to Novocain injections before dental work, and 12-hour decongestant when I have a sinus headache.
I’m not immune to temptation, of course. My inner feminist is loath to admit it, but since my early 40s I have longed to have my breasts lifted back up to their previous position, a completely unnecessary procedure (although it may be medically necessary for some women due to back problems or other health issues). This clearly violates the VPR, and I won’t do it.
The VPR also prevents me from doing something creative and liberating, unfortunately. I would dearly love to have delicate floral vines tattooed around my port scars and allograft scars as decoration for the physical evidence of my survival and persistence, like other women with scars have done. But tattooing on the side of and between my breasts and on the remains of my inner thigh would be too lengthy and painful an experience for me.
As with all rules, there must be exceptions. All life involves some risk—simply getting in my car every day involves substantial risk of accidents. I don’t blame people for taking reasonable chances in doing something that they love or value. And everyone gets to determine the acceptable pain levels for themselves. I know my limits.
If I ever become YouTube famous, it will be for cool amputee Halloween costumes or some wild feminist rant; it will not be for enduring voluntary pain in the name of beauty.