The Beauty Book is a publication aimed at making aging women feel terrible about their faces, bodies, brains and insides to sell them expensive procedures and snake venom. Alex Casey gifted the book to her Mum and noted her reactions.
My mother is fifty-something years old. It’s not because she’s ashamed of her age that I don’t know exactly, it’s because she’s forgotten. She’s not even entirely sure how old I, her only child, am. On a recent visit to the family bach, I brought with me the fourth edition of a publication called The Beauty Book. “New Zealand’s Beauty & Surgery Beautiful You” the subheading reads, eschewing any sense or punctuation in favour of writing beauty as many times as possible.
It’s like The Entertainment Book, but instead of being full of vouchers for all the delicious places you can eat dumplings, it tells you all the places to go to get your body and face sucked, prodded, injected and radiated to come out looking like a beautiful, younger version of your former dried prune of a self.
Launched last year at an Audi dealership to a crowd of older, moneyed women, the services on offer reveal who the target demo is pretty quickly. I sat down with my Mum and pointed out some of my favourite treatments and products available, to see if she could be convinced to transform herself into a shiny, taut Mum.
The letter from the Editor opens with this passage:
“As a woman I am constantly reviewing myself and questioning if I am in shape? Am I toned enough? Am I skinny enough? Is my skin looking good? And am I up to date with my makeup? Women have been judging ourselves for years, we are our harshest critics and our own worst enemy.”
Ah, nothing like a good healthy dollop of refined sugar-free, gluten free, paleo, raw self-loathing to begin. “I never ask myself that,” Mum scoffed. “Do you ask yourself that?” she leaned in, slightly more concerned.
Just to help you to greater understand how fluent my mother is in fashion and beauty industry speak, the only thing that she related to in this entire book was a picture of baked beans (“we use those tins at home”). She mostly wears board shorts that are 7/8th in length and an old t-shirt that says “Bug Off: I’m Reading!” on it. The ‘O’ in Off is a ladybird.
As we flicked through the book, she became more familiar with the upmarket world being presented to her. “I’m getting the hang it of now,” she nodded, “it’s all jewels and conferences.” She was particularly thrown by an image in the food section, which appeared to be a small toffee apple parfait from The French Cafe. “I wouldn’t be very happy if I got that in a restaurant, what do you think it is?” My step-dad leaned over from his newspaper, “it’s just a cracker,” he said, never more sure of anything in his life.
Crackers aside, the one thing I wanted us to get stuck into was the chapter entitled “appearance medicine”. Opening with a beautiful Confucius quote: “everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”, it leads directly into an extensive directory of Auckland’s top plastic surgeons.
Let the old men help
Something that I had to chortle at was just how many male experts are ready and waiting to tinker with female bodies. From face and neck fiends to no-sugar-chocolate creators to breast specialists, there’s definitely something very weird going on in the gendered division of appearance specialists.
Mum’s take: “These are all men! Oh there’s Meredith, ‘Auckland’s only female plastic surgeon in the private sector.’ Only. Female. God help us all.” [turns page over] “Here’s more men telling me about problems I didn’t know I had!”
Bad Grandpa prosthetics
I don’t even know what’s going on here, this image accompanied an article about various methods of skin rejuvenation. All I see is a production still from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Mum’s take: “Absolutely incredible, that’s just complete nonsense. That’s a 20 year-old and a 70 year-old. I’m not even laughing, I’m just annoyed at that.”
Video killed the radio face
This is a “face tightening” procedure which I believe uses the neuralizer from Men in Black on your wrinkles so they forget how old you really are?
Mum’s take: “Radio frequency face lifts… they shoot radio waves at your face? I think this treatment would make your nerves jangle and go a bit pink. It costs $450 for a whole radio face which ‘volumises the skin’… does that mean you get more face?”
Bound 2 bleed
Carrie’s going to prom! This is a particularly grim ‘Vampire’ treatment, popularized by Kim Kardashian, consists of wiping your own blood across your face like Patrick Bateman. If nothing else the guy’s definitely got good skin.
Mum’s take: “Here’s what I think they do. I think they take a syringe of blood and then they smear it all over your face. I think they might even inject something right back into you? And you can get a shot into your [whispers] genital bits to rejuvenate the tissue and [whispers again] sexual function. I don’t want injections in my nether regions.”
Literal snake oil
If there’s two things I always put together, it’s SNAKES and DELICATE UNDER EYES. Apart from spending her time in a very soft focus, this Suzy H character has seemingly devoted her life to finding terrifyingly dangerous sounding substances to save an aging face. My anaconda don’t want none.
Mum’s take: “What next? Lions… testicles?”
One tube to Rescue Town
Call in the Westpac chopper and send all the lifeguards home – this tube of gloop will do apparently do all the rescuing one needs.
Mum’s take: “So if your head’s [whispers] fucked, you can rub this on it and it will all be good? Who needs a psychiatrist? Just take some of this emotional rescue and rub it on your brain.”
Colon and goodnight
This was an ad for the Colon Care Centre in Morningside, providing services that I know for a fact my Mum would rather die than talk about.
Mum: “Now, I don’t like this at all. I think this is something to do with a bag?”
Me: “That’s a colostomy bag. This is colonic irrigation, like an enema.”
Mum: “NO. I don’t like that… nothing to do with [whispers] shit”
Me: “It’s fine, Princess Diana used to do them.”
Mum: “Well, she used to do a lot of… weird stuff.”
Thin Lizzy, the Swiss army knife of a bronzer that can be used as a powder, a blush, an eyeshadow, a lipstick, a wig, a GPS, a friend and an eternal confidante.
Mum: “I’m quite interested in this Thin Lizzy woman, yeah. I looked at the before and after and I thought maybe I could use that. Although if that’s the size of the concealer creme, she’s going to need a lot of tubes to cover all those tattoos everyday.”
Beez in the crap
Joining the snake in the scary skincare corner, this so-called Manuka Doctor (PhD in liquid honey) has some small vials of bee venom to peddle. I suppose you could say there’s a lot of… buzz.
Mum’s take: “I thought that might be a new special therapy where a bee stings you in the face”
What have you got to lose? What don’t you have to lose?! Chin? Get out of here! Flanks? Disgusting! Knees? Not worth it!
Mum’s take: “I loved this, you can get fat sucked out of anywhere. I’m mostly concerned with my fat fingers though, I’m disappointed that I can’t get them chopped down a bit. Look at his smug face.”
We quickly tired of The Beauty Book, and Mum characterised the entire experience as “very disappointing”. I asked if the magazine had inspired her in any way to try and live a more beautiful life. “I’m just longing for those granules and some snake serum,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stand in front of the mirror and think about all my deficiencies.”