How beautiful do you need to be in the XXI century?

Do you live in 2015? So you need to start behaving like you do.

Start off  by finding the answer to the question in the title of this post and setting your goals with precision and determination.  Start acting, time is not on your side.  Do you need to look (more) beautiful to keep your job,  to find a new job, for your spouse, for yourself, because of the pressure of  the society to look eternally young and fresh, or maybe do you need a correction for a bodily defect? Take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, go through your thousands of selfies, talk to your therapist and make a decision. Examine every section of your body, it’s not only about faces anymore. Everyone seems to be doing this. You will be feeling isolated and disconnected if you don’t start soon.

Just take a look at the profile  pictures of the list of  your friends on Facebook or dating sites you may use: if you don’t use dating sites or apps,  sign up today, you won’t stand a chance of meeting anybody in the real world anymore.  It won’t take you long  to realize that everyone is scraping off a couple of years from their details, if not decades.  If you are 55 – apparently the end of life to date someone online or get a job –  photoshop yourself and pretend you are 45 or younger.

I watched a program on E!  the other day (“Botched”)  in which,  apparently,  these two renowned plastic surgeons fix botches  or errors made by some of their peers. People, especially  in Los Angeles, the Mecca averyone in our culture seems to be looking up to for the new standards of beauty, fashion, lifestyle and voyerism, will not accept the body they were born with any longer. They treat it  as discardable pieces of clothing to be changed and replaced by a new one every now and then as they wish. Wa have started finding it more and more common to expose as much as we can about our private lives through social media, dating sites and reality shows. Therefore,  we need to fit the bill, make the grade. Look beautiful. In the 90s and before, only giant billboards over Times Square could do that kind of magic, launching careers for the likes of Marky Mark  (Mark Wahlberg, who posed for an explosive Calvin Klein underwear campaign). Now the potential to project yourself internationally and become a celebrity is within everyone’s reach, or at least, we think so.

Mark Wahlberg in CK underwear.

Mark Wahlberg in CK underwear.

I watched the doctors’s show on E! in a state of trance and disbelief, and I’m trying very hard not to sound judgmental and self-righteous here. I  struggled to understand how these people feel, what they suffer, the source of their eternal dissatisfaction  with themselves, which makes them undertake the risk of hundreds of painful surgical procedures to add, cut, move, reposition, enlarge, narrow and change body parts as if they were playing with cartoon characters on a drawing software. Worse: they all looked weird and doll-like in the end, far from beautiful, in the classical sense, but maybe these will be the new standards in the upcoming years. My perspective on beauty may be getting dangerously outdated.

One of the patients on the show had gone through a number of operations to make his face look like Justin Bieber’s, his idol. He looked nothing like the original in the end, but he was happy and kept trying. There were certain things he wanted done – such as shrinking his jaws –  that the doctors would refused to do, though. He said he would consult other doctors instead. A woman  with size DDD cups, who could hardly keep her breasts inside the blouse, was angry because the doctors wouldn’t make them even bigger. Nothing will stop her. If she needs to go to Tijuana to have them enlarged by the local doctors who use ice bars for anesthetics, as told by another patient who was trying to reposition her navel and had this nightmarish experience in Mexico- she will not hesitate. There was also the case of a gay man who will not stop at anything to make himself have Barbie’s or Ken’s looks. At first I thought he meant Ken’s, but then, as the program progressed, I was under the impression he wanted something more radical: an amalgamation of Ken’s and Barbie’s looks in his own body.  He looked totally plastic and robot-like to the naive and unsophisticated eyes of someone like me, who grew up by the beach in Recife, in the northeast of Brazil, where people could not be more natural in the way they looked physically.

Human Ken/Barbie

Human Ken/Barbie

A gay friend showed me a matchmaking app named Grindr, which operates as a virtual shopping catalog, showing parts of the body of strangers – usually toned or heavily worked-out headless torsos of young men –  they may contact and meet at the touch of a button. The people will show up on your device screen if they are geographically near you, which, supposedly, adds to the immediacy of the satisfaction and completely eliminates the concept of delayed  gratification. The guys on the app seem to be all the same: if you don’t look like a porn star (they immediately exchange more explicit photos after the first contact is made, so all the physical info is made known), your chances of having someone continue your attempts at making  conversation are meager. And even if you look like a Greek god, I was told, the real contacts rarely happen, as the parts keep canceling and postponing the actual meetings forever. The fear of the real is palpable and insurmountable.

I don’t mean to be nostalgic about the old ways of flirting and dating. They did not work that well either. And there is no way they can compete with the optimization provided by these new dating apps in some respects.  If you are lucky enough to meet the person you contacted through the app outside the virtual world,  you’ll already be armed with a load of information about him/her (most of it fake or distorted, just like in real life, when people talk about themselves). It saves a lot of time. It’s just the new way of doing things. We will have to get used to it.

People have also always worried about how good they looked. It may be only my impression that things may have gotten a bit out of hand now. I wonder how historians will analyze this period we are living now and how all these changes – which actually started back in the sixties – will reshape the human race and its values and behaviours.

Good luck with your bodily alterations.

Jorge Sette.




Modern times or the girl who almost got run over by my bike

It’s no news that most people, including me, spend 90% of their waking hours staring idiotically at the various device screens we carry around wherever we go – or, more likely – wherever we stay, motionless. My eyes keep shifting from my iPhone to the iPad to the laptop, and back to the iPhone again for hours on end.

We all check our social media news feed and timeline hundreds of times a day, count the likes and shares on the latest clever joke or quotation we posted, watch carefully the pictures of what our friends are eating, the problems they are having with traffic jams or with their kids.  I didn’t use to care at all what my friends’ kids did over the weekend or the costume they wore for the latest school function: now I follow these events with the attention and interest I used to devote to facts such as  the beginning of the Iraq War or the the inaugural speech of Queen Dilma. We won’t stop answering our messages about nothing on whatsapp or looking for our next prospective date on Tinder. The date will never happen in the real world, as one of the parties will cancel 5 min before the scheduled coffee, but this does not stop us from keeping trying and hoping for the best. Do married people do the same? Is that how they have lovers and affairs today?

I can’t cook well, but the Internet emboldens me to pass on tips on the kinds of seasoning and ingredients my relatives should use on their pasta for their next Sunday lunch – by the way, I will not be taking part in it, as they live in Recife, some 3,000 km from where I live –  and offer expert advice and consolation to my cousin who broke up a 10-month-old relationship  with her boyfriend, with the authority of a marriage councellor.

The current times are no doubt different from how we behaved only ten years ago, when our lives were more real than virtual. But what worries me is not to know if this is worse. I’m not complaining.

I have always been an avid reader and nothing in real life compares to the excitement I get from a well-written novel by Philip Roth  or an insightful factual book by Malcolm Gladwell, from whom I learned that, to excel in anything at world class level,  one needs to devote at least 10,000 hours to the practice of that skill: I counted nervously how much time I had left on Earth based on the average longevity of the members of my family – maybe I should have left the women out of the calculations, as they tend to outlive their men by many years – and was thrilled to find out that I still could pick a skill and try to become a Leonardo da Vinci at it.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.


So, if life as portrayed in fiction and non-fiction books is so much more enticing than reality, who are we to judge the validity of the virtual lives of today’s world – especially teenagers’ and kids’ – who have never known any other kind of life?  This is just a fact of human history, an unexpected turn taken by the course of our species,  and there is no way we will ever be the same again. Artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing  and genetic engineering are already on our doorstep, and the possibility of cloning yourself so you can have the ideal partner for life cannot be that distant in time.

Let’s embrace change. Disturbing? Definitely. But life is exciting for this very reason. Some people claim that it’s death that gives life meaning. We wouldn’t be able to love or appreciate anything if we did not know there would be an end to it. Soon.  Well, death is a kind of radical change, so the same goes for technology – we are living and appreciating a totally new life style, more and more isolated from the real (as opposed to virtual) contact with other human beings and nature, and getting used to it at an amazingly fast pace.  I foresee a time when the only opportunity we will have to be touching other people’s skins will be during the Carnival in Vila Madalena, when it’s impossible to avoid the barbaric crowds gathering around you, and I can’t refrain from flinching at the idea. Can’t we all do our own ALALAÔ from the comfort of the hammocks in the verandahs of our tiny apartments via Skype?

Physical contact with other people will be considered more and more dangerous and rare, as we immerse in our virtual worlds, moulded to our own tastes and specifications. Yesterday,  for example, I eagerly anticipated a time when, riding my bike,  I wouldn’t run the risk of running over a beautiful teenage girl who all of a sudden crossed my path at Parque Villa Lobos in Sao Paulo with her head down and eyes glued to the screen of her smartphone. As I yelled to warn her against the imminent catastrophe, she simply looked up at me with a defiant look in her face and carried on crossing the street as if I was just an annoying piece of Candy Crush Saga which wouldn’t align to her taste! I should have kept using the stationary bike at home.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.