Why We Love Bad Plastic Surgery

Some celebrities never stop working—on themselves. Their personal vanity has become our public fixation
When faced with a celebrated face, most people experience a mix of admiration, envy, and the compulsion to identify every flaw we see. “You think everyone’s had something done!” cried my husband when, during the Summer Olympics broadcast, I froze the picture to point out all the places on Bob Costas’s face where I felt there should be more contour. The fact that seemingly everyone has had something done is immaterial here. What’s puzzling is why the sight of a 60-year-old man who looks like he’s had his head made to resemble a shovel would be an image worth savoring. I think the reason is two- or perhaps threefold: We’ve been so conditioned to spot this stuff, it can be difficult to tell flawed work from natural flaws. But we delight in the shortcomings of the powerful—a pastime that has been well documented throughout history. The fact that our celebrities (and here I speak of both the traditional variety and those who become famous for cosmetic surgery) can be both imperfect from birth and subject to the cruelties of time is comforting. When we see them falter at their attempts to subvert their failings, we get an extra dose of gloat, a double dip of schadenfreude in a waffle cone. Then when we stop to consider the amount of time that a typical celebrity spends in miserable contemplation of his or her own face (or neck or knees), to which they are alerted daily through all 800 channels of old and new media, it becomes apparent that our icons are not just flawed, not just—despite all their resources—flawed at fixing their flaws, but, above all, hugely vain. With each unflattering play of light across the ever-plumping planes of Joan Rivers’s face, each repurposed cow part eased into Heidi Montag’s lips, and every crank of the wheel that tightens Bruce Jenner, we see that vanity (probably along with some Restylane) leaking out. Those are the moments when we, the poor and mortal, can face our own uncelebrated faces in the mirror and feel saggily superior.