Beauty’s Only Skin Deep

Ronald Regan was our first chief executive with Hollywood roots. I thought of this bit of trivia when I overheard someone comment that Washington, D.C., is just like Hollywood without the glamorous good-looking actors and actresses. But now I read in a recent New York Times article that Dr. Tina S. Alster is working tirelessly to change all that.

Dr. Alster has built a career in cosmetic dermatology by catering to the desires of the political elite. Upper crust clientele such as members of Congress and the White House, heads of state and royalty, ambassadors, and TV journalists underwrite her multimillion dollar medical enterprise. She is even treating two presidential candidates.

With the magic of the laser, Dr. Alster can treat wrinkles, facial telangiectasias, scars, warts on the nose, and a whole host of other blemishes to create the appearance of flawless skin. Many of her clients in Congress consult her regularly the week before scheduled appearances on “This Week” or “Meet the Press.”

Described as “an immaculate blond,” Dr. Alster maintains a professional demeanor herself, choosing to wear conservative but form-fitting Prada and Lanvin dresses. She is “a sought-after guest at cocktail parties, fund-raising events, dinner parties and embassy functions,” and appears regularly in local glossy magazines.

Although she used to treat patients with surgical scars and children with birthmarks, Dr. Alster no longer accepts such referrals; her practice now consists entirely of offering cosmetic treatments—“aesthetic services”—to the well-to-do.

I doubt that these services come cheap. (Dr. Alster recently spent several millions of dollars relocating her practice to an office condominium on K Street, not far from the Capitol.) But we can rest assured that our national leaders have top-of-the-line health insurance coverage—at the expense of the American taxpayer. (Of course, they could always choose to pay out of pocket. I’m certain that the IRS would allow them a business deduction, given their line of work as career spin doctors.)

In his book, Better Than Well, Carl Elliott addresses the role of “enhancement technologies” in what has become the business of modern American medical practice. Those that can afford to pay purchase whatever they choose, from performance-enhancing drugs to breast implants, sex-change surgery to nose jobs, growth hormone injections to Viagra—all in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Dr. Alster’s cosmetic practice merely serves as one example of this trend.

The old cliché, “beauty’s only skin deep,” says it all. In our superficial society, we’re hell-bent on the pursuit of shallow happiness—and power.

This is what modern American medicine has devolved into: a catering service to Hollywood.

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