It’s enough to make you drop an F-bomb of an entirely different sort.
This all came to mind Wednesday when our morning paper came with a special insert: a glossy magazine called Scene: Silicon Valley’s Guide to Style. Not sure whether every subscriber got the mag or whether it was targeted to specific zipcodes, but here’s what I found on the well-laid out pages: Fashion, make-up, be-the-best-you-can-be features all wrapped around copious ads from local purveyors of pretty — from hair salons to designers to plastic surgeons.
The stuff of the typical woman’s magazine, yes? But here’s what shook me. A chunk of the pages were devoted to fixing, as in everything from fertility to flab — and in major ways. I’ll get to specifics in a minute, but first this: The editor of this magazine is one smart cookie. Brilliant, funny, savvy — and one of the last people who would ever be part of the presumed media cabal that conspires to make women feel bad about themselves. In other words, as feminist as the rest of us. So why this focus on the big fix?
What I think is that the editor knows her demographic: this is the kind of aspirational stuff that many women want to read. Because, bottom line, they’re dissatisfied. Lusting after some greener grass and looking for a quick fix to get there. Chasing perfection. And buying into the subtext that anything short of capital-P-perfect is the equivalent of another F-word. Fail. So fix it, already. Will someone love you just the way you are? Sorry, piano man. Apparently, you had it all wrong.
Now. Lest you think I’m ranting about articles about changing your life with new shades of lipstick or little fitted blazers, here’s the troika that got me all afluster. The first was a feature on pricey fertility treatments, all with limited success rates — from meds that have been around for decades to cutting-edge pre-implantation genetic screening. All good. I agree. But what struck me was the underlying message: If it’s infertility that has made your life less than perfect, science will fix it for you. And, apparently, it’s never too late. One of the reproductive specialists said, somewhat self-congratulatory, that his cutoff point for treatment, based on his own set of ethics, is…. fifty. Fifty?
Actually, becoming a first-time mama at age 50 might make sense, in light of a second piece that tackled one more aspect of the perfect life: longevity. When you’re studiously attempting to perfect all aspects of your life, death is clearly the ultimate buzz kill, right? The story profiles author Sonia Arrison, a transhumanist, who believes that the miracles of science and technology can make “radical longevity” a reality. The fountain of youth, as it were: living to age 150. What got her thinking in that direction was an episode of Extreme Makeover, where a man and woman had just had head-to-toe surgery that completely changed their appearance. At which point Arrison became entranced with the idea that people could completely change the way they look and feel through science and technology. Fix your face, fix your life?
Surely, you’ve caught my drift. If not, there’s this feature included in the bride guide. Head: “The perfect bride.” And deck: “These cosmetic fixes can help make you the belle of the ball.” We’re not just talking teeth whitening. Among the slate of fixes: liquid lifts, or fillers injected into your wrinkles for a fuller, younger-looking face; “lunchtime lipo” treatments; lifts to get rid of those saggy, baggy upper arms as well as lifts to vanish unsightly back fat (back fat?!); and a botox underarm treatment to eliminate sweat. Because, you know, a wedding is about how you look, right? As opposed to, say, marriage.
The message, of course, is that the perfect life is not only about the externals, but it’s yours for the money. But here’s the punchline: Research has shown that when it comes to what we call “happiness”, only about 10 percent of it is related to changed circumstances – where you live, where you work, what you drive, how you look. The rest derives from genetic makeup and life itself – and how you deal with it. There’s also something called the “hedonic treadmill”, a theory that humans rapidly adapt to a new situation, whether good or bad. Which is why lottery winners and victims of horrific accidents often have the same level of happiness a few years down the line.
In other words, if it’s satisfaction, or even happiness, you’re after — look inside. Which is why we’ve got a better F-word for you: Rather than fix yourself, find yourself. Ahem. We wrote a book about that.