Over the summer I watched the documentary “Youth Knows No Pain” on HBO. The movie follows Mitch McCabe, the daughter of a plastic surgeon, as she travels the country talking to people about their attitudes towards cosmetic surgery and contemplating the results, both physical and emotional, of such procedures. McCabe has a unique perspective on the whole subject of cosmetic surgery because of her father’s chosen career. Tragically, her father was killed in a car accident, and so the movie also becomes a quest for a daughter to understand her father’s life, career choice, and ultimately to see his legacy.
McCabe is herself obsessed with stopping the aging process anyway that she can. Some of the country’s leading dermatologists and plastic surgeons make appearances in the film to both explain some of the newest advances in the anti-aging industry and to explain cosmetic procedures and options. It is interesting that McCabe is able to address this subject without judging the participants in the film or really herself. Some of the people who appear in the film almost break your heart with the amount of self-loathing that they have. No matter how many procedures they undergo, they aren’t happy.
I enjoyed the film a great deal though I really would have liked if McCabe had interviewed other members of her family, her mother or siblings or ideally both, about how they perceive the whole cosmetic surgery profession or the subject of aging. Additionally, McCabe’s own obsessive anti-aging stance made me uncomfortable. I wondered if she couldn’t use a few good years of therapy instead of spending her money on all the latest anti-aging creams.
I think the film also exposed the “dark side” of the anti-aging industry and cosmetic surgery profession. Instead of helping people feel better about themselves so that they are more empowered to lead their lives to the fullest, many of the people in the film just continue blindly on a path of so-called self-improvement. Though the interviews with the experts are straight forward I think they also expose the fact that much of the anti-aging industry is motivated by money and prestige and not by pure scientific fact. The film also makes clear how much of the industry is subjective. Perhaps ultimately that may be the underlying message of the film – beauty and happiness is purely subjective.
Bottom Line: If the topics of anti-aging and cosmetic surgery interest you see this movie. Some people may be turned off by some of the people in the movie, but ultimately the movie succeeds in telling these people’s story without judging or demeaning them. I saw that the movie has yet to be released on DVD. Hopefully it will be soon.