America addicted to self-improvement

What if we allowed those breasts to sag, waists to expand or tans to fade?

Kate Nelson

Stronger. Faster. Bigger. Tighter. Thinner. Better.

In a country of citizens trained to be egotistic, it is only appropriate our nation’s constant desire to progress toward perfection has so permeated our mindsets it causes us to attempt to morph ourselves at the most basic level: our bodies.

Whether we’re too short, too large, too pale or too freckled, there are myriad means of “correcting” our biological selves. From creams and kits to workout regimens and surgeries, they span the spectrum from do-it-yourself to don’t-attempt-without-a-net.

Our culture and its corporations have capitalized on Americans’ insecurities with an industry that both kindles and feeds on the ever-present anxiety in each of us about our external self.

While the precise definition of this perfect body and how it performs is never explicitly articulated, we’re aware of its antithesis. Its teeth are not yellow, crooked

or chipped. Its skin shows no signs of blemishes, age or the need for sleep. And its gut does not hang over its belt. We are left to chase an unachievable, undefined goal; our stresses eased only by these “tools” provided to us.

Our culture simultaneously encourages us to be ourselves and to reinvent who we are. We’re told to craft our minds and bodies and, since we’re on the path to self-discovery anyhow, find our way toward this elusive ideal set forth.

In a culture fraught with tanning lotions, protein powder, push-up bras, and low- and no-fat foods, how are we to know what our bodies are meant to be – let alone appreciate their eccentricities and amazing basic abilities?

The lofty ideal of this period leaves little room for individualism as it erases the very aspects that make our bodies unique: our curves, our scars and the distinctive ways our bodies are genetically mapped out to be.

Let me take something as simple as hair and lay out the multitude of methods used to manipulate this extraneous aspect of the body.

You can force its growth or add to its length. You can straighten it if it’s unwieldy or subject it to a curling iron if it’s too limp. You can shave it, wax it, bleach it or laser it away. If it’s too dark, you can highlight it; too light, you can dye it a darker color.

Conclusion? Whether you’ve too much hair, not enough or just not what you want, the means of morphing are easily accessible – and highly encouraged.

I’m as much a product of the system as any member of our society and am in no way suggesting otherwise. I doubt anyone is able to fully escape the urge to improve instilled in us, though I recognize it affects each of us to differing degrees.

I commend any who think they have been able to resist – to any extent – this embodied struggle for physical perfection.

I’m not suggesting an all-out deodorant-chucking, bra-burning, gym-boycotting revolt; rather, I encourage each of us to examine the extent to which our body-improving practices have infiltrated our everyday existence and, in some cases, impeded our ability to live fully.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]