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Marjorie Cortez: Is Salt Lake vainest city? Maybe we're just insecure

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

We're so vain

We probably think that (Forbes) article's about us

We're so vain

We probably think that piece is about us

Don't we? Don't we?

If you don't know what I'm crooning about this morning, go to and read the article about America's vainest city. It isn't Miami or Los Angeles. It isn't New York City. It's us — Salt Lake City.

When you think of Salt Lake City, do you think bee-sting lips, flat abs and face-lifts? Do you think Boxtox or Restylane?

I don't. Perhaps it has something to do with the women I work with, attend church with, or haunt the recreational soccer sidelines with every fall and spring. They're all fabulous women. I wouldn't suspect any of them are frequent fliers in the plastic surgery sense, but that could also mean the surgeries and procedures have improved to the point that they're not so "Michael Jackson" obvious. Who knows.

The simple fact is plastic surgery and noninvasive procedures are becoming more mainstream. Some 11 million procedures were performed in 2006, up 48 percent from the previous year, according to the Forbes article.

But Salt Lake City? We earned this distinction, in part, because there are at least 45 plastic surgeons practicing in Salt Lake City, or six per 100,000 people, according to Forbes. Part of our bounty could be attributed to the University of Utah's School of Medicine, which offers residencies in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

The other part of the ranking had to do with our at-home beauty regimens. In the last year, locals spent more than $2.2 million on hair coloring, $116,478 on hair growth products, more than $2.5 million on facial cosmetics and more than $4.4 million on skin-care products. Our spending exceeded that of similar-size cities.

Oklahoma City, for instance, spent only $172,080 on hair coloring, $9,323 on hair growth products, $190,820 on facial cosmetics and more than $400,000 on skin-care products, according to Information Resources, a research company that tracks cosmetic and toiletries sales.

What does this say about us? That we care a million (or two) more times about what we look like than the people in Oklahoma City? Or, as the article suggests, are we vain? Or do we just place a premium on looking good?

As a mother, I have deep concerns about the message "mainstreamed" cosmetic surgery/procedure sends to teenage girls. Most teenage girls I know are gorgeous. Few need the cosmetics they so fastidiously apply. But they've been fed the perfection ideal so much by the magazines they read and the television shows they watch that they can't be convinced they're natural beauties.

Perhaps that's the greatest danger, society's perverted sense of "normal." A few years ago, I attended a weeklong training session at the American Press Institute. One of my classmates was an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times. She remarked on how refreshing it was to be among "normal"-size women. In trendy Los Angeles, she explained, a size 0 or 2 may be the norm. Everywhere there are billboards to "help" women size 8 or 10 to become 2s or 0s.

Personally, I'm grateful we have so many wonderful plastic surgeons in town. When my toddler daughter sliced open her head on a file cabinet drawer several years ago, a plastic surgeon put her back together. Although our pediatrician could have probably stitched her up, he advised us to go to a plastic surgeon.

My concern is for people so embattled on the inside that they believe "fixing" the outside will somehow fix their emotional pain, too.

Could it be that Forbes magazine has it all wrong? Perhaps we're not vain. Perhaps we're just profoundly insecure. As people in a small American city, we want very much for the world to take us seriously. We want very much to put our best foot forward. But not until it has been waxed, tanned, manicured, the unsightly veins removed and the extra fat purged through liposuction.

Come to think of it, we may very well be vain.

Marjorie Cortez, who understands the concept of vanity but can ill afford it, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer.