The ugly truth

It horrified me to read a news story that the pop singer Charice received Botox treatments as preparation for her upcoming role on Glee.

But I was also a little impressed.

Charice Pempengco, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a budding Filipina pop star who polished her performance chops on various TV talent contests before gaining global attention on YouTube and later via appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The singer is a 5-foot-tall dynamo, with a huge voice to rival the likes of Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera; she’s performed at presidential inaugurations (both in the United States and the Philippines), and when her self-titled debut landed at No. 8 on the Billboard album charts, Charice became the first Filipino artist to crack the Billboard Top 10 album chart.

She’s also only 18 years old and has a face as smooth as butter.

And yet, according to a highly publicized report from her cosmetic surgeon, Charice felt compelled to undergo a 30-minute Thermage procedure designed to “tighten” the skin (read: nonsurgical face-lift). She also received Botox injections to “narrow” her “naturally round face.”

Charice confirmed the news in an interview:

“All people will be anticipating how will Charice look? Is she good enough to pit against [Glee star] Rachel Berry? So of course there is tremendous pressure.”

Charice’s decision to get Botox may have less to do with the pressure to eradicate nonexistent wrinkles on her baby face and more about the pressures of meeting what she saw as Western interpretations of beauty. Such “face narrowing” is reportedly common in Korea, where Charice performed as a contestant on the Star King talent show.

The singer’s PR rep quickly denied that Charice received injections to alter her appearance but rather “to relieve a jaw problem similar to TMJ.” The denial is not only unconvincing—it’s very revealing.

We live in a culture that defines beauty by very strict standards. In the United States, a woman’s attractiveness is most often—at least commercially speaking—based on smooth skin, a perfectly proportioned and geometrically symmetrical facial structure and the complete absence of body fat. There is no room for age lines, big noses or soft, fleshy bodies.

I know, not necessarily a news flash, just an unfortunate reality.

What I find more disturbing, however, is that this ideal standard of what is pretty is also based on the unspoken idea that while a woman may admit she feels pressure to conform to such criteria, she must also never confess to nipping and tucking and tightening and contouring her face and body to actually achieve it.

Talk about a paradox.

It’s the kind of paradox that forces me to admit a sort of grudging respect for someone like Heidi Montag, who not only underwent 10 plastic-surgery procedures in a day, but wasn’t afraid to admit it, much less market the hell out of it.

The kind of paradox that makes me sad yet also appreciative of a young woman such as Charice.

Here is someone who is candid enough—or naive, take your pick—to not just observe and absorb our culture’s beauty standard but then reflect the mirror back on our expectations by saying, “This is what I need to do to meet your expectations.”

Disturbing, yes, but it’s also the truth—a very ugly truth that most women refuse to admit.