This programme was quite shocking and revelatory for me; shocking because of the hideous surgical procedures we saw and revelatory because it seems no matter what your race, skin colour or genetics, we all want to change ourselves, or at least some part of ourselves.
It’s quite a leveller really to know that the majority of us would change something about ourselves if we could miraculously wish it so, but this film dealt with those who had gone past just hoping they’d wake up one day and look different. Many of the people featured last night had something done about it, such was their unhappiness with themselves.
And though this documentary dealt with the ‘cosmetic’ concerns of primarily ethnic minorities – in this country that is – it certainly did underscore the fact that as a race, we humans always want what we can’t have and few of us are entirely happy with how we look.
Much was made of how the image of being white is often held up as being ‘perfection’ and we discovered that it’s an image many minority groups aspire to. Not necessarily to be actually white – not in this episode anyway – but to have features or body parts that are more comparable to Caucasians.
For instance, there was the very lovely Sy, a Malaysian man who, at 5ft 2 was desperately unhappy about his height, or lack thereof. So much so that he was contemplating the incredibly ugly and painful procedure of leg lengthening.
Cue witnessing the surgery and we saw how Docteur Jean-Marc Guichet bores through the thigh bone with a drill, hollowing it out as he does, in order to make room for a metallic rod. Once surgery is over, that rod is cranked one painful crank at a time in order to achieve an extra millimetre of height per 15 cranks. And yes, it looked every bit as painful as it sounds.
Fortunately, Sy decided against the surgery and instead opted for building his confidence around the issue of his height so that it didn’t bother him so much. And it really shouldn’t because he was clearly an extremely nice guy and I’d hate to have seen him go through so much agony.
We saw and heard about other painful looking procedures too, including penis lengthening, which is a mental image I’m going to have for quite some time to come…
Men who felt they were inadequate on that front can – and do, in their droves it would seem in some Asian regions – have their little man widened, lengthened and generally made to be analogous to a donkey’s nether regions.
And although all the subjects in this film were based around race and culture and the desire to be more like someone else – and in this instance, someone white – I felt there was far more attention given to the stomach churning surgeries than the issues around deracialisation. The show’s opening minutes featured footage of the changes that Michael Jackson had undergone over many years; from looking like a normal black person to ending up looking like he could well melt if you left him too near a radiator, but infinitely whiter than he’d been intended to look by nature. But in terms of changing skin colour, that was about it. Though of course, this issue may be addressed in more detail as the series goes on.
But other than the radical surgeries, one of the things that left me most uncomfortable about this film was epitomised by one surgeon explaining that he sees his work as, “diluting racial boundaries” in order to produce a “better race.” That sounded frighteningly like something a modern-day Hitler might say to me.
So is ‘the dream’ to become an Aryan race? Well if so, why do so many of those us with white skin spend a small fortune every year trying to make our skin darker with tanning products while women in Malaysia spend millions on skin whitening make-up?
The answer is, I suspect – and as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece – that we humans are self-destructively covetous of others. We always seem to want everything we either can’t have or can’t be, and it’s sad. It’s really sad. But I’m glad Sy isn’t as we speak having his thigh bone cranked to make him taller. He’s perfect the way he is. Not that he’d believe that.