Smug Plastic Surgery Obsessives Featured in "Youth Knows No Pain"

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 31 2009 9:53 AM

Smug Plastic Surgery Obsessives Featured in "Youth Knows No Pain"

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I'm not proud of my minor vanities: the way I examine my upper thighs or the horror I experience when I realize how coffee-stained my teeth have become. Not so with the subjects of Youth Knows No Pain , a documentary about plastic surgery that premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO. The people director Mitch McCabe interviews are positively delighted with their own superficiality. She shows a couple of twentysomethings who are thrilled at getting Botox because they are convinced that women have "expiration dates," along with a Dallas housewife who spent $35,000 in one year on a slew of surgeries and declares that she feels better than ever, not to mention the 45-year-old who gets his scalp basically ripped off on camera so that he can get a full head of hair implanted.

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Though this might sound like a group of grotesques, paraded in front of the viewer as a moral cautionary tale, McCabe is actually overly sympathetic to these souls. She intertwines her own story-McCabe's father was a plastic surgeon who died in a terrible car accident-with her subjects' lurid tales. McCabe is obsessed with her own wrinkles, but mostly because she fears her own mortality, and she implies that the people in her film are afraid of death as well, which is why they fixate on their appearance. She is giving her subjects entirely too much credit. In fact, when she asks the 45-year-old man why he is going in for the surgery, he says, simply, "because I'm vain." McCabe has a few voices of reason in the film to balance out the self-absorbed, including the always delightful Simon Doonan, and friend of Double X Erika Kawalek. But mostly the film presents the youth-obsessed with a far too uncritical eye.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.