"Whatever is in any way beautiful hath its source of beauty in itself, and is complete in itself; praise forms no part of it. So it is none the worse nor the better for being praised."

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, 121-180 A.D.

What but the hope of praise could cause a person to submit herself to the latest cosmetic procedure, the eyelash transplant?  Yes, you read correctly, for about $3,000 per eyelid, you too can have hair removed from the back of your head and sewn onto your eyelids. Originally designed to allow burn or cancer victims to recover their lost lashes, eyelash transplantation has now entered the elective surgery market.  Today Show correspondent Janice Lieberman reports that there has been a 300% increase in its use for cosmetic purposes this year alone. Due to the origins of the hair, transplanted eyelashes require regular trimming and perhaps a bit of dye, as they and you age. In the spirit of beauty, pain is just part of the game.              

In her book, Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery, Alex Kuczynski outlines America's worship of the mirror. From women traveling to third-world countries for vacation surgeries to the reality of heavy, sagging skin from massive weight loss, Kuczynski emphasizes what has become a common theme: nothing is free. In a chapter entitled, "What Is Beautiful?" we learn that there could be a mathematical formula for beauty. In an interview with Dr. Stephen J. Marquardt, Kuczynski questions Dr. Marquardt's idea that beauty can be captured in a computer program. Beauty in the form of mathematical proportions loses its mystery of "you know it when you see it" to become a quantifiable commodity. The allure of equal beauty for all, those with enough cash that is, has women and increasing numbers of men, racing to the cosmetic surgeons. In our information age, there is no shortage of knowledge on the topic; type cosmetic surgery and books into a search engine and voila, the titles fill the screen.  From the nitty-gritty how-to books, to the more academically inclined Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery, beauty is big business.

If Antonius is to be believed, beauty is, in and of itself, beautiful, regardless of the consideration of others. In reality, beginning in childhood with the queen's magic mirror zeroing in on Snow White, the ruthlessness of beauty as competitor is revealed. 

To be human is to want to belong.  The praise that Antonius spoke of pulls us into its orbit, and as we fill the space, it becomes crowded, bodies bumping into each other. From the desire of praise, competition is born. 

So are we surprised that strident on the front page of Sunday's New York Times, is the headline "For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too"?  The bottom line for girls, and increasingly boys, is that good is never enough. The young women chronicled here engage in what has become the typical upper-middle-class college path. Days filled with Advanced Placement courses, extracurriculars and, in some cases, jobs, yet one young woman worries that her resume will be overlooked due to her lack of athletic ability. A father comparing his less structured childhood faults himself, 2006 America, and the Northeast for the incessant activities.  An outgrowth of the competitive nature of America, laying blame is much less frightening than jumping ship.  S.A.T. prep courses, community service, athletics, employment, each a necessary building block in the pursuit of success; dare you take a chance that one less will still get you your heart's desire?

Competition by its very nature, is honed towards survival.  Love it, hate it, none of us are immune to its charms. Women seeking beauty in surgery and girls on the verge of womanhood learning it is not enough to be smartyou have to be "hot" as well.  The prizes are significant, an income large enough to give your children as good as you got, satisfying work, partnership with someone you desire. Remember that old cliché, "beauty is as beauty does?" Meant to comfort, it fools no one. Beauty does quite well, thank you very much. It continues, alive and well, one eyelash at a time.       

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