Defining physical beauty is more like writing an essay exam than solving a math problem: There is no right or wrong answer. After all, which is more beautiful—a manscaped metrosexual or a hairy hunk o' burnin' love? Waifish hips or a little junk in the trunk? The girl next door in her Daisy Dukes or Pam Anderson in body paint?
Indeed, possessing healthy beauty means liking what you see in the mirror, including the mental mirror we all take a glimpse at now and then. That means trying to stay healthy and taking good care of ourselves when we do become ill. It means accepting the physical changes that accompany aging—even if we don't give in to them altogether. It means seeking trustworthy help for problems that often can be managed effectively, such as acne, discolored or missing teeth, and unwanted facial hair. It means not exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks, such as the UV radiation in tanning beds and the chemical toxins in tobacco. Most important, having healthy beauty means knowing what is beautiful to you and making the most of your unique physical, intellectual, and emotional endowments.
What to Avoid
For every beauty flaw, real or imagined, there are a dozen shysters eager to take advantage of those who feel insecure about it. Any product or service presented as a surefire way to turn back the clock, help you lose a large amount of weight quickly or permanently, melt away cellulite, or grow back a full head of hair, for instance, is almost certainly making a false claim.
But it's easy to fall for a slick product pitch. The deal may sound irresistible, and phrases like "risk free" and "money-back guarantee" are designed to lower your guard. Celebrity endorsements, some of which have simply been fabricated, are used to lend credibility to dubious products. Some advertisers post fake blogs in which fictitious people rave about their weight loss, complete with astounding before and after pics. Unfortunately, these impressive results have been achieved not by using the product in question, but by skillful image manipulation.
Any product that is "biologically active," meaning that it changes a physical structure or biochemical process within the body, is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a drug or device. Rogaine (minoxidil), for instance, is an over-the-counter product regulated as a drug because it actually does stimulate a modest amount of hair regrowth in some people. Products that are not biologically active are classified as either cosmetics (moisturizers, hair coloring, toothpaste, and deodorant, for instance) or as dietary supplements (vitamins, herbals, amino acids, enzymes, and extracts, for example). Because cosmetics and dietary supplements are not classified as drugs, manufacturers are not required to prove that the products are safe or effective, nor are they required to document their strength, purity, quality, or even their composition.
Like a suspect who's considered innocent until proven guilty, it's up to the FDA to evaluate the clinical studies put forth by a company or research group claiming that a product is safe and effective. If the product fails to meet these standards, it cannot be sold as a drug or biological device in the United States. Manufacturers of supplements and cosmetics are not required to substantiate health claims made on product labeling or in advertising, as long as the language they use is sufficiently slippery. A product may claim to grow hair, curb appetite, encourage collagen production, freshen bad breath, or perform astounding feats of "male enhancement"—a phrase that surely takes top honors for dodgy language.
The internet is making it easier for scammers to help themselves to your wallet or bank account. Often you're asked to sign up for a free trial. If you decide you don't wish to continue receiving monthly shipments of the product, however, you may find it difficult to cancel the recurring charges. The company's only published contact information may be for sales, not customer service. According to the not-for-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), schemes involving the Brazilian açai berry, a dietary supplement said to have a range of weight loss and health benefits, have been particularly successful at reeling people in.
How can you protect yourself? The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission offer the following advice:
- Use caution before authorizing an electronic funds transfer (EFT) from your bank account, especially if you've had no previous experience with the company. It's safer to use a check or a prepaid credit card to make a one-time payment.
- If you do choose to make an EFT, be sure you get a statement in writing from your financial institution explaining the limits of your liability if an unauthorized transfer were to be made. You should also find out whom to notify if such a transaction were to occur.
- Be sure to read the fine print about your purchase, including disclosures, payment agreements, privacy policies, refund and shipping policies, and other terms.
- Keep records of your transactions, and review your credit card statements promptly every month. Report any unauthorized charges immediately to the merchant and to your financial institution.