A User’s Guide to Cheating Death is a documentary series that casts light on increasingly controversial procedures, diets and revived ancient therapies that are being sought by people desperate to dramatically alter their bodies or radically improve their health, and the booming industries that are more than happy to accept their business.
In this series, Health law professor, writer and debunker-extraordinaire Timothy Caulfield dives deep into the science, and the social issues behind today’s cutting-edge health trends in order to separate the truly good advice from the excess of high-priced placebos.
Youth may be wasted on the young, but luckily, you can buy it back. People are using everything from face-lifts to second skin tech to keep their youthful advantage. However, with the many unproven therapies on the market, how many actually work? The second episode in the series examines our evolutionary leanings toward finding youth appealing and pop-cultural portrayals of youth, before diving head-on into the strange, fascinating and unregulated world of the anti-aging industry. A User’s Guide to Cheating Death is in search of the truth for those who try to defy aging.
Tim Caulfield talked with us about the lengths people will go to achieve optimal beauty, as well as the professionals who hope to help them out.
Q: What made the exploration of society’s fascination with cosmetic surgery, aging and endless beauty such an interesting topic to tackle?
Tim: “Like it or not, our society is obsessed with beauty and youth! What is driving this phenomenon? Biology? Popular culture? For sure, it is a complex combination of many factors, but it is having an incredible impact. The popularity of the cosmetic surgery industry, for example, continues to grow. In some countries, like South Korea, getting surgically ‘touched up’ is almost the norm!”
Q: In this episode, you spoke with a number of individuals who have had various types of cosmetic surgery. What’s the one common thread that links them all? Furthermore, how do you feel about said thread?
Tim: “The common thread is that there really no common thread. People get this done for different reasons. What I did find very compelling, however, is how people clearly felt this procedure was right for them. One of my absolutely favourite interviews was in Hollywood. We talked to a woman who got a butt implant. Her explanation was thoughtful, rational and, believe it or not, kind of touching. And, yep, also a bit funny.”
Q: Of course, we live in a world of supply and demand. Thus, becoming a cosmetic surgeon can be a smart career choice. That said, how did you come to view those who perform such procedures on those who may not need them?
Tim: “This is an interesting question. The key here is the definition of ‘need.’ For many of these providers, I believe they sincerely feel they are providing a service that helps people feel better about themselves. On a case-by-case basis, this may make sense. On a broader societal level, the issues become more complex. As I note in the show, is this all part of a bizarre beauty arms race? By constantly tweaking our looks, are we changing or definition of beauty and our social expectations regarding aging?”
Q: Here, you’ve touched on the influence celebrities and social media have on an individual’s sense of beauty. How dangerous is it for people to take medical/surgical cues from such outlets?
Tim: “Bottom line: celebrities are the worst people to compare ourselves to! Just don’t do it. They have won the genetic lottery. It is their job to look good. And almost every image is perfectly curated, including world-class photography, lighting and makeup. And, of course, the images are often photo shopped. The impulse to social compare might be hardwired. In today’s world, we are comparing ourselves to an illusion. These images don’t really exist. We need to remind ourselves of that often.”
Q: What did you learn about your own sense of vanity and/or what you consider beautiful while making this episode?
Tim: “Gotta admit, I’m a pretty vain guy! So I get the impulse to look to extreme strategies. But, this deep dive into the world of beauty emphasized the fact that we all need to relax. Don’t let the beauty industry trick us into thinking we need to constantly strive for an unattainable goal!”