C/o Sydney Morning Herald/The Age
March 23, 2005
HEARD of sphincter bleaching? Beauticians are billing it as the new Brazilian wax.
"In the last couple of months I've had a lot of requests, so I've started some experiments," says Sydney beautician Anna Marsiano from The Bees' Knees salon.
"I've got one client who's a divorced woman with a couple of kids. She was looking at a Playboy magazine with her new boyfriend and he was making some comments about how clean and light the women looked. My client started to get a little paranoid."
Marsiano says she uses a herbal brand popular in the Philippines as a facial whitener. It is applied to the dark pigmentation around women's rectums as well as to their vaginal areas. Marsiano says the product does not damage the skin and has "rejuvenating" properties.
But another Sydney beautician, asked about her anal lightening equipment, produces a completely different product altogether. It's a cream that clearly states it is designed to be used on hair. This beautician has treated sex workers and strippers for years, but says mainstream demand has risen sharply over the past six months. She acknowledges that her long-term clients (many of whom come in for treatments every six weeks) suffer serious skin problems. "I explain that it will give them eczema and so on, but they want it anyway," she says.
Hard-line feminists will no doubt respond with an outraged "What will the misogynist patriarchy do to us next?" (possibly staging some sort of "reclaim the date" march). The cosmetic entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are bound to capitalise on the controversy by selling DIY backdoor bleaching kits (possibly along the lines of the personalised mouth moulds provided for teeth whitening).
As with all debates about society's relentless pursuit of beauty, however, the answer to "how much is too much?" is hard to ascertain.
Critics should not be so quick to write off glamour-seekers as witless victims. Beauty is currency, with studies showing that spunks of both sexes do better in jobs, schools, relationships and the courts. Devoting time and resources to keeping yourself nice could therefore be viewed as a worthwhile investment.
But making a rational decision about whether to undergo an extreme upgrade such as a labial reduction, a navel reconstruction or an arse implant requires consideration of a tricky cost and reward equation: in short, will X amount of pain, money and risk of disfigurement or death equal Y amount of increased happiness? If it was possible to come up with a definite "yes" to this question, signing up for surgery would make perfect sense.
Unfortunately it is impossible to get enough facts to make an informed decision. Experts describe cosmetic medicine in Australia as "cowboy country". There's no uniform system of accreditation and no easy way to track down the success rate of a particular procedure or practitioner. Financial interest also makes it hard to trust the advice of the scalpel and acid wielders.
The other big unknown is the amount of extra happiness you're likely to feel post procedure. How can you be sure when there are so many variables? And wouldn't it be safer to try a less risky course of action first? On the Insight program on SBS television next week, Victorian Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson says she's seen cosmetic surgery patients who've had "terrible scarring, numbness, palsy, where the face just hangs down" – an awful price to pay if the happiness gamble doesn't go your way.
The good news on sphincter bleaching is that it's safer than anything involving general anaesthetics or fat-vacuuming gizmos. The bad news is that you could be in for a lifetime of skid marks. The chairwoman of the Australian Medical Association's ethics committee, Rosanna Capolingua, says the use of harsh bleaching substances could cause anal burning and scarring. This, in turn, could lead to anal incontinence or an inability to pass stools at all.
Sound attractive? If the figures in the cost and reward equation don't add up, perhaps it's worth giving the bleach a miss and locating a lover who doesn't expect your bum to look like Barbie's.
The Insight episode dealing with cosmetic makeovers screens on SBS at 7.30pm next Tuesday.
etom @ bigpond.com
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