As a kid, you know how often I'd look at the chiseled jawline of my action figures and wish I was better looking? Well, probably not that often, but that didn't stop me from visiting a plastic surgeon when I was 17 years old.
I wanted a nose job. I had a big nose. A real schnozzeroni. (Schnozzberg?) My parents tried to dissuade me, with my mom telling me I was perfect and my dad looking at me with a combination of pity and disdain.
Anyway, I was insistent. So my mom made me an appointment. I can't remember the doc's name, but for some reason I remember he was Iranian. Handsome. Well-groomed mustache. Chiseled jawline.
So he meets with me. Takes some measurements. And then destroys me by holding a piece of paper vertically down my face, the tip of my nose touching the paper. I thought he was demonstrating was how far out my nose went from my face.
He wasn't. He was showing how puny and tiny and un-G.I. Joe-like my chin was.
“Your nose is fine,” he said. “You just need a bigger chin. That's a much easier operation anyway.”
In short: I went in feeling crappy about by nose, left feeling crappy about my nose and my chin.
I never had plastic surgery. I sort-of grew into my nose and I grew a beard to help bulk up my chin.
What I didn't do, however, was spend my life railing against the impossible bodies portrayed by action figures. Nor, for the record, do I actively loathe advertising executives who see fit to splash ripped, sinewy, finely tuned and muscled young men in the pages of magazines in an effort to sell me underpants.
And so this is why I truly don't understand the perspective of people who spend their lives railing against Barbie, and who spend their lives railing against the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and whose heads are in a current state of explosion over the merging of the two.
Quick recap: Barbie is getting a four-page advertising spread in the annual swimsuit issue, out Tuesday. Limited edition doll sold at Target. And the pitch from Mattel is this: “Shut up your face, people who rail against this sort of stuff.” Their Twitter hashtag for the ad push is #unapologetic.
Listen, I get it. Barbie is too thin. The swimsuit models are too thin. (And sexy. And buxom. And butt-i-ful.). It sends a lousy message to women and girls. Blah blah blah. And ...
I don't buy it. I really, truly don't. And you know why? Because men and boys are faced with the same realities. Societal norms of what is, and what is not, considered hot and sexy and gorgeous. Everyone deals with it. And has been dealing with it since forever.
You think I wanted a nose job for my inner self? To feel beautiful on the inside? To celebrate me? Hell no. I wanted a nose job because I wanted girls at Parsippany High School to throw themselves at me. I wanted them to hop in the backseat of my Pontiac 6000 STE. I wanted them to want to — to use the parlance of the late '80s — boink me.
It just so happened big noses were not considered boinkable in the late 80s. Neither were small chins. (Or mullets, acne-ridden faces, large eyeglasses, concave chests, and skinny legs, for those keeping score at home.)
Was there ever a time those things were considered sexy? Well, probably not, but there was plenty of times in our culture when being a thin woman was considered unsexy, most recently in the 1950s, the times of Marilyn Monroe. An ad for “Wate-On” read, “If you want to be popular, you can't afford to be skinny!”
Can you imagine a company touting that today? They'd be out of business before the paint on their .com was dry.
So a question: Where was the outrage in the 1950s, when Madison Avenue was telling our nation's women and girls to get chubby? It wasn't there.
Now I'm not going to say what we see doesn't impact how we perceive ourselves (see: job, nose above.) Of course it does. Today, it's thin and lithe. A few decades ago, chunky was in.
But I think an equally fair — and more important — question is that of chicken or the egg. Do the images we see influence who we want to be, or does who we want to be influence the image?
I side with the latter. Nature over nurture. Billions of years of human evolution has geared our species to recognize sexy — in whatever form that takes — wherever it appears. We're tuned to it. There's no escaping it. Barbie and Sports Illustrated models and G.I. Joe and male underwear models are all mirrors to our base desires. There's a reason there's not Obese Barbie and skin-diseased swimsuit models and Flabby Sit on the Couch action figures and your Uncle Lou, with the old-time heart bypass scar on this chest, selling underwear: It's because we don't want to see that.
And so to rail against Barbie and swimsuit models — and G.I. Joe and underwear models — is, in short, railing against human desires.
Good luck with that.
Jeff Edelstein writes for the Trentonian (N.J.) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/jeffreyedelstein and @jeffedelstein on Twitter.