Plastic Surgery in America

An HBO documentary examines anti-aging procedures
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Photograph by Brad Walsh

When CNN.com trumpets “Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon dies in Malibu crash,” and that story becomes one of the most popular articles of the week, you know we’re living in plastic-surgery obsessed times.

As the daughter of a plastic surgeon, Grosse Pointe Shores native Mitch McCabe has understood that topic from an early age. Now a filmmaker based in New York and Los Angeles, McCabe is working to shed light on plastic surgery.

In addition to her HBO documentary, Youth Knows No Pain, and subsequent DVD release, McCabe is working on projects that will address women’s confidence in the face of social pressures to be young and beautiful.

McCabe spoke with Hour Detroit about her documentary and what she learned about the $60-billion-a-year world of anti-aging during the two years she spent traveling across the country interviewing doctors, experts, and people trying to defy time.

Why did you make the movie?

My dad was a plastic surgeon, so that was a big impetus. As I got older (and even though he passed away about 12 years ago) I became increasingly curious about his field.

What was the most alarming thing you noticed while researching?

The range of attitudes toward plastic surgery, and often the mixed feelings about it. People are a little bit polarized in their views [and] generally have a strong reaction one way or the other.

Are the views different around the county?

[About four years ago], I went through the South and Texas, and I found that, especially in the Deep South, [they talked] much more about their religious feelings and pride about getting older and their gratitude toward old age. The most shocking thing, and most unfortunate thing to me is … how misinformed a lot of people are toward what they might be getting done. One woman I caught going into the back of a carpet store to get Botox advertised on Craigslist.

Do Europeans feel differently about aging and plastic surgery?

I just focused on America. That said, in Argentina and Brazil, plastic surgery is more popular. Even people’s healthcare insurance covers breast augmentations. As for Europe, it’s growing in popularity in France.

What did you hope to achieve through the film?

To say, this is absurd and look where we’re headed … wouldn’t it be great to live in a world that isn’t ageist? But [also] for now, let’s not judge the people who are having plastic surgery and are really concerned about it.

How did you find the people?

It was a lot of Craigslist and e-mailings. The first phase of research was putting an ad up and saying, ‘Are you concerned about aging? Do you have opinions? Are you for or against plastic surgery?’ Then bringing people into my friend’s living room and filming them against a wall.

Why are we obsessed with aging?

The desire to look young and the search for eternal youth [far predates] the advent of Botox. As one professional said, ‘We just happen to be living in a time where technology has caught up with that desire.’

Have you gotten work done or would you ever?

I have not gotten plastic surgery. I was fairly against it for myself going into the film, but I understood other people. I really came around to being fairly positive to it and now I am back to being fairly skeptical. Essentially, your body doesn’t like foreign things.

What was your family’s response to Youth Knows No Pain?

They loved it.

If your father were alive, would he have embraced the film?

What he lobbied for was ethics in the field. [He wanted] emphasis on real certification and not just going to Vegas for a weekend and being certified on Botox, which is what happens all the time now. The film is not judgmental. He would think it really had a purpose.

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