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 August 23, 2011

The last couple of weeks saw the media have a field day over Jennifer Hawkins’ face. Has our Miss Universe had work done?

Rachel Finch has thrown in her two cents with the 2009 Miss Universe Australia winner saying that Jen’s face looked different from when she won in 2004.  Scherri Biggs, our current Miss Universe hopeful allegedly mentioned to a gossip columnist that Jen has gone too far with her plastic surgery.

So the question du jour is, has she, or hasn’t she?

Plastic surgery goes hand in hand with beauty pageants.  Beauty queens are known to have gone under the knife to improve their chances.  South Americans, especially the Venezuelans are notorious for cosmetic overhauls.

Many South American delegates, especially the Venezuelans, as part of their preparation will get rhinoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation, dental cosmetic surgery and skin grafting to be physically “perfect” for the Miss Universe stage. 

For the Latinas, the investment is worth it.  Winning the crown can mean millions of dollars of endorsements, promotional and sponsorship deals, instant celebrity status and, in the case of one Miss Colombia who took the coveted Miss Universe crown, tax exemption for life.

A small price to pay for a chance to be set for life.

But with the changing face of beauty and with their contemporaries gung ho about going under the knife, do our own beauty queens feel the pressure to alter their appearance to feel like they are ready to compete against these glamazons?

Tegan Martin, the 18 year old Newcastle beauty who came second in the 2011 Miss Universe Australia pageant admits that the temptation to get work done to have a competitive advantage is present and palpable.

“No one is ever going to pressure you that you have to do it to win, but sometimes it’s the environment and being surrounded by so many attractive girls making you think to yourself ‘what could I do to improve myself to get a better chance over her?’”

However, for the reigning Miss Earth Australia 2010 and Miss World Australia 2011 favorite Kelly Louise Maguire, it’s a catch 22.

“It’s a highly personal thing,” says Kelly. “It’s their body, their life and therefore their choice.”

With the all the attention on Jennifer however, Kelly is more wary about getting anything done, especially being a public figure.

“If I wanted to get something done I may consider it down the track but I would be aware of the ramifications of the self righteous bigots that tend to dominate our media.  If I were in the public eye more I would naturally hesitate (getting work done). “

She feels that all this attention is unwarranted and unfair: “It’s just a damn shame that the more you manage to achieve things and the higher you climb the more people will try to do all they can to cut you down”.

Matty Samaei, Beauty Advisor to Miss Universe Australia and Beauty Expert for Channel 7 believes that there is a certain amount of pressure put on women today to get something about them changed.

“I think there has always been a certain amount of cultural pressure on women to change their looks to conform to society’s current perceptions of beauty.  Unfortunately I believe these days we tend to have an unrealistic image and expectation of beauty, partly contributed to the media with airbrushing and other digital manipulation so that imperfections and blemishes are removed.”

She also believes that accessibility and affordability of procedures these days makes getting something done that much more attractive and achievable.

“These days if you don’t like something about your appearance it is much easier to do something about it and change it” says Matty.

Interestingly enough I had dinner with Scherri Biggs a few nights before she flew off and we spoke about this very topic as we were chowing down on our steaks. 

When asked about plastic surgery Scherri told me that while she did not have a problem with it, “people need to take a good long hard look at themselves and ask why they feel like they need to have it done as some people can take it a little too far.”

I remember watching one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias.  There is a scene where Dolly Parton takes Darryl Hanna aside to explain her beauty philosophy: “There is no such thing, as natural beauty”.

And come to think of it, she’s right.

If we all championed natural beauty we would all be walking around with no make up, sporting hairy legs, armpits and a moustache.  And yes, I’m just talking about the ladies.

“In general, people everywhere change and enhance their appearance, and I must admit I don’t know of any pageant contestant who doesn’t style and or/ color their hair, exercise, get treatments done to improve their complexion and so on – just like the rest of us” says Matty.

There seems to be a sense of inequality where girls who can afford to have surgery seem to then have an unfair advantage over those who can’t.  But Matty also believes that as a judge in the Miss Universe Australia pageant, a pretty girl can only go so far with her looks.

“The critical thing to understand is that in most pageants – and certainly in the case of Miss Universe – appearance is obviously important but is not the only criteria and unless the girl also has substance in her personality and the ability to communicate well then they will not win”.

I don’t know if Jen has had anything done.  Who cares?  Will it change the way we think of her and if so, why?

Admittedly, Jen does look different from when I last saw her in 2004.  Then again, so do I. 

I have seen the woman without make up.  I have seen her tired and exhausted. If I looked like that when I’m tired I’d die a happy person.

Jen is a girl many of us would love to hate.  She is one of those women who are genetically blessed with great skin and fabulous bone structure.  She is physically stunning.  She would not have won Miss Universe otherwise.

This was seven years ago.  People change. The difference is, seven years down the track she looks better and I just look…weathered. 

Unlike Jen, and like the rest of you normal people, I don’t have access to the best dieticians, beauticians or celebrity personal trainers.  I don’t have a big enough bank account to purchase expensive skin care products or treat myself to luxurious spa retreats.

But I, like the general public also don’t rely on my body and face to make a living nor am I subjected to the superficial pressures a model or a beauty queen has to face daily.

Nothing wrong with someone protecting and investing in their money-maker.

According to Tegan, the pressure on women to look perfect is amplified for those who are in the public eye. “I think women have an image to live up to of being beautiful creatures and sometimes it’s a lot of pressure! Ageing is not acceptable and it is hard to live up to the perfection of models,” says Tegan.

I think the question here is, whether or not she has had work done, if it warrants as much attention as it has received. 

If anything, it forces us to look at our attitudes towards issues like surgery, body image, fame and success.

I know it has forced me to take a good long hard look at myself and I have come to the realization that if I had as much money as Jennifer Hawkins, I’d get an upgraded model of my face.

Just sayin’.