By Howard Buckley

I stumbled upon a newspaper article recently with the heading “Breast Wishes for the Holidays” which revealed that the months of November and December are the busiest months for cosmetic surgery, particularly Botox and dermal fillers. This, as I read, is so everyone can look great for Christmas and New Year! According to the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australia, “Australia was the second biggest user of Botox and Queensland was the Botox state of Australia” Now before the men rant about women and plastic surgery the CPSA reports that up to 12% of clients are now men (City News, 19th November, p.6). Last year this figure was 10% so men are well and truly ‘coming to the party’ we might say.

At the same time I was reading with interest the Mission Australia National Survey of Young Australians 2008 which surveyed over 45,000 young people aged 10 – 24 across Australia. The survey revealed that the top four issues of concern were body image (26.3%), drugs (26%), family conflict (25.9%) and suicide (24.6%). Interestingly body image has been in the top 3 for the past three years. Hmm, I wonder why our young people are so concerned with body image…

The trend towards body altering amongst adults is growing and the youth survey, despite being only a glimpse of what young people think, does provide some food for thought about how societal trends impact on the concerns of young people.

For me the paradox lies in that whilst we are pursuing with vigour (and lots of money) the holy grail of outward appearance there is obviously some inner pain gnawing away in our collective midst.

The obsession with body image is just like Narcissus, who according to the Greek myth, fell in love with the reflection of his own image as he looked into a pool of water, but was deeply disturbed by his inability to actually have the image he sought.

Narcissus has much to teach us about obsession and love? When observing the concerns about drugs, family conflict and suicide amongst young people surely we are seeing some of the pain that young people are feeling, and no doubt some of this pain is felt because of their perception that the society-ordained body image is just not quite attainable? Could this be, just like Narcissus, turning our young people to inwardly despair as they seek an image that is not really them? Psycho-therapists will tell us that self- love is not narcissism; in fact, it is quite the opposite as narcissism is precisely the result of not loving ourselves for who we are, what we are and what we’ve got to offer. It is being obsessed with an image of what we want to be. Social analysts will suggest that the illusion in our case has been manipulated by careful marketing that has no interest in people’s well-being, only on propagating a dogma of consumption to feed the market economy.

In 2006 when the Australia Institute released a research paper called “Letting Children be Children: Stopping the sexualisation of children in Australia” (E. Rush and A. La Nauze) they were threatened with lawsuits by at least one large clothing store. Surely, this is an indicator of what’s at the heart of our obsession with body image.

The other paradox occurring as we gaze into the pool is that whilst we have a huge obsession with body image, we also have a looming “health crisis” due to an increasing number of children, young people and adults who are obese.

So here we have it – a growing obesity problem that will cause a national health crisis, a growing body alterations industry that makes people feel good at Christmas, and growing concerns by young people who must be a tad confused with what is happening around them and to them. No wonder depression is on the rise and psychotherapy is a thriving industry in our modern times!

In the Narcissus myth his healing occurred when he realised that “what I long for I have”. The realisation that we are “okay” and can therefore shift our gaze away from our image towards a focus on others may well be the healing needed in our times.

Narcissus finally became a flower, firmly planted in the earth and providing beauty and joy for others. Perhaps there’s some wisdom here, become grounded and bring some joy and beauty to others around you this Christmas.