Face Value: The Truth About Beauty and a Guilt-Free Guide to Finding It

Face Value: The Truth About Beauty and a Guilt-Free Guide to Finding It

by Hema Sundaram


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781579547080
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 07/23/2003
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.56(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Hema Sundaram, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Cambridge in England, where she completed her honors degree in genetics and her medical degree. Former fellow at the National Institutes of Health and Board Certified in dermatology, Dr. Sundaram has private practices in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt


When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother, "What will I be?

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?"

Here's what she said to me:

"Que será será,

whatever will be, will be. . . . "

—as sung by Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much

My favorite song as a toddler—the one my mother had to sing to get me to eat my cereal—often rings in my ears these days when I'm talking to patients in my dermatology office. I think it's because Doris Day's 1950s anthem of equanimity neatly encapsulates the defeatist attitudes that many women have toward beauty even today. The entire mindset is there: our deepest desire, from early childhood, to be beautiful and our indoctrination with the fatalistic attitude that destiny alone determines whether or not we achieve beauty. After all, Doris suggests, there's little we can do about it except wait and see.

I've never had a patient yet who came in humming the strains of "Que Será Será," but I've met many whose refrains sounded remarkably similar. Take Beth, who is 39 and tells me, "I guess I just wasn't cut out to be anything more than cute." Or Andrea, in her fifties who sighs, "My sister was always the beautiful one."

How many women these days declare that they are simply not destined to be intelligent, or successful in their careers, or good mothers? We don't disenfranchise ourselves of control over any other aspect of our lives except beauty. And we don't denigrate those who aspire to any other attribute the way we do those who quest for beauty.

We position beauty and intelligence as polar opposites, as if by definition a woman's IQ must be inversely proportional to her looks. And we save our most strident condemnation for those who choose to enhance their beauty through cosmetic surgery, labeling them traitors to the cause of feminism, shallow and vain. In doing so, we ignore one simple fact: We are evolutionarily programmed to seek beauty because that's what keeps the human race going. Put a 5-year-old in a room with a fabric remnant and a wisp of netting, and she'll turn it into a dress-up outfit. Why, then, should we be surprised when a 50-year-old also wants to look her best?

Finding My Own Face Value

This book is about face value. Not just in the literal sense, the value we all place on superficial appearance whether we care to admit it or not. But also in another sense: the importance of understanding what truly gives your face its value. True beauty has both inner and outer aspects. You can attain your fullest face value only if you understand how to surface your inner beauty in your face and wed it harmoniously with your outer beauty. This book will show you how.

My path to discovering my own face value was part of what inspired me to write this book. My background straddles several cultures. I was born in America, the daughter of two Indian émigrés, but grew up and was educated in England. I'm now a cosmetic dermatologist living and working in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

As one of the few non-White students in my British school, I often felt different-looking and at odds with the prevailing standard of beauty. That's why I can readily empathize with anyone who feels the same way.

My path to discovering my own face value took almost two decades. It started in my pre-teen years. That's when I became acutely aware that how I looked didn't conform in any way, shape or form to how the media—the books and magazines I read, the tv programs I watched, the girl-talk swirling around me and so on—told me I "should" look. I was different. And that can be a devastating discovery at an age when your overwhelming pre-occupation is with "fitting in."

But I came to appreciate with time that being different, deviating from the norm, can actually be a plus point. It was a sudden realization that sparked this appreciation. I'd always loved wordplay; cryptic crosswords and literary brainteasers were my favorite amusement from childhood onwards. And, as I was studying a crossword one day in my mid twenties, it occurred to me that being "abnormal" and being "extraordinary" are really two sides of the same coin. After all, both mean that you are not normal, that you're out of the ordinary or different. But how much more uplifting and empowering it is to view oneself as extraordinary, rather than as abnormal!

My realization may have been momentary, but it was set against a more long term backdrop. Luckily for me, the Hindu culture within which I was raised helped me to transcend the dualities that characterize so many of the dilemmas women face about their physical appearance. Mind and body, male and female qualities, love and sex, science and spirituality, were always presented to me as integrated life forces, not warring factions. Specifically, inner and outer beauty were always understood to be a continuum, with beauty originating in your soul and finding expression in your body. The stages of life were also viewed as a continuum, and the body as an evolving mirror of your soul's spiritual development.

I think it's vital for every woman to achieve this realization. Because we're all different—maybe not as dramatically as I was with my dark hair and skin amid a sea of rosy schoolgirl complexions, but different nonetheless. And there is one difference we're all destined to acquire with time. To age is to be quintessentially different in a society which pushes youth as the norm and as the ultimate hallmark of beauty. I believe that we can only cope successfully with the changes of aging if we've already accepted being different as a positive attribute. This means redefining our concept of beauty, to make it more individual, inclusive and holistic.

I don't preach to my patients, and I'm certainly not promoting Hinduism. What I am advocating is a woman's right and ability to follow whatever path to beauty she chooses, without guilt, shame, or judgment.

My Relationship with My Patients

At my British medical school, I was taught that there is a unique and special bond between physician and patient: When a patient permits a doctor to lay hands on her, it is the greatest honor that the doctor can receive. I am still mindful of this today, every time I enter an exam room and meet a patient, whether for the first or the 50th time. I've always considered my patients to be equal partners in whatever treatment plans we formulate.

Much of this book is based on what I have learned from my patients over the years. My relationships with my patients extend beyond cold, clinical confines to encompass a level of trust and intimacy that I believe has few parallels in other medical fields. The nature of my work is part science and part art, but I am frequently also confessor and psychologist to my patients. They confide in me regarding the daily events of their lives and often ask my advice.

I see and hear firsthand how women suffer as they age, and I am able to see vividly the integral connection between events of the soul and external events. This intimacy has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the psyches of women. I study faces and body language in my office every day and can often tell a lot from them: who is happy and who is not, who has inner peace and who does not, who has a desire for change and who does not. Most important, I've been able to learn which attitudes are most likely to achieve a positive result—that is, feeling as good as you look—and which are counterproductive or downright destructive.

I would not have chosen the field of cosmetic dermatology and remained in it if I were not utterly convinced of the positive effects of cosmetic surgery performed for the right reasons. One of the joys of my profession is seeing on a daily basis how restoring the balance between a woman's inner and outer selves can transform her life. I'll never forget treating the lines around one patient's mouth with fat injections. Ann, a retired teacher, had noticed her face aging much more rapidly since the stress of her husband's death a few years previously. But now as she gazed into the mirror with a look of wonder, she had tears of happiness streaming down her face. She whispered, "This was worth waiting 53 years for." I had tears in my eyes too.

My relationship with my patients is collaborative, and they have a high level of input into the treatment plans I devise for them. I have learned that no two patients have the same patterns of aging or the same objectives, and thus these treatment plans must be carefully individualized to achieve optimal results. This book is drawn from my experiences in trying to help all of these individuals, women of all ages and backgrounds, look and feel their best.

I've illustrated many of the points I want to make in this book with anecdotes based on my experiences with my own patients. In all of these anecdotes, the names of my patients have been changed to protect their privacy. And in some cases the illustrative stories are based on more than one patient.

My Program

During our initial consultations, my patients often pose the $6 million question of beauty: Can a woman slow her rate of aging?

Yes, you can retard your rate of aging, and I'll show you how in this book. But, more important, I'll offer you a holistic prescription for harmonizing your inner and outer beauty and, I believe, for finding authentic empowerment in midlife.

This book recognizes that your inner and outer beauty are inseparably linked and shows you how to develop them together. My step-by-step integrative beauty regimen includes lifestyle changes that will retard aging and enhance your beauty; an up-to-date and honest appraisal of at-home skin rejuvenation and in-office cosmetic procedures; meditations specifically designed to develop and project your inner, spiritual beauty; and much more. I'll also show you how you can enhance your external beauty by whatever means you decide are right for you, including cosmetic surgery.

This book is for every woman who has ever looked in the mirror and felt betrayed by the passage of time—or by what she thinks time will inevitably take away. It's a guilt-free guide for any woman who's contemplated cosmetic surgery and been tormented—or puzzled—by her own conflicted feelings or by conflicting messages from others. It's for every woman who wants to find a sane middle ground between a relentless youth culture and her natural desire to slow the aging process. And it's written for, and dedicated to, every woman who recognizes that her desire to be beautiful and to stay beautiful is perfectly natural.

I'm going to give you the same information, trust, encouragement, and freedom to choose that I offer all my patients. And I hope that this program will help you to recognize and achieve your own face value.

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