What is beauty, anyway?

There are a few reasons why the Twilight Zone is one of my favorite shows. The biggest one – its habit of foreseeing things to come. I know that seems impossible considering that the show is raveled in science fiction themes. Despite the Twilight Zone’s heavy fascination with other worldly creatures, it does give us little glimpses of what yesterday’s future looked like, as today’s present.

As far as I’m concerned, Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, is a genius. I say this, not just because he made a peculiar and weird show that the average thinker would not quite understand, but because he paid attention. He was attentive to the world around him, notwithstanding his predilection for extraterrestrial life.

The original series ran from 1959-1964 and intrigued the general public.

It was scary at times, thrilling, funny, and suspenseful.

Of the 156 episodes the world was fortunate to witness, my favorites pertained to future dilemma and revealed a moral lesson, like this one: Number 12 Looks Just Like You.

In a nutshell, a young teenage girl named Marilyn Cuberle is convinced by loved ones – her best friend, uncle, doctors, and her mother in particularly, to undergo a medical procedure to change her appearance.

Marilyn (center) with her mother, a Number 12 (right) and an attendant who is identical to her mother (left).
Marilyn (center) with her mother, a Number 12 (right) and an attendant who is identical to her mother (left).

In this strange dystopian society, women and men must choose from one of two prototypes for their new and improved looks. For women, it is either Number 8 or Number 12.

Prototypes of beauty
Prototypes of beauty

Throughout the episode, I am constantly yelling at my television screen “what the…….? There’s nothing wrong with her!” And there isn’t. Young Marilyn is played by the amazing and “beautiful” actress Collin Wilcox.

Within the many themes about beauty that are played out on the episode, there are also insecurities that are exposed about this superficial method of “preserving” said beauty.

Though at times, it borderlines sheer stupidity, it is all still painfully interesting. For instance, in one of Marilyn’s temper-fueled crusades to keep her appearance, she screams out that she wants to “stay ugly” so that she can remain an individual.

Marilyn and her uncle Rick, a Number 17
Marilyn and her uncle Rick, a Number 17

Then there remains the fact that every man that appears to Marilyn looks the same – her doctor, her uncle, some guy, another guy, and her other doctor. Apparently, Number 17 was a popular prototype among men. Not to mention, that they also looked like her dearly departed father who committed suicide. Not difficult to imagine why!

She reveals that before her father passed away, they spoke about finding beauty in ugliness, that she is perfect just the way she is, and more Dostoyevsky-like grandiloquence that no one wanted to hear.

About 4 minutes into every episode of the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling would give a few lines of gab into “what we’re about to see”. What I found interesting in his spiel was that he made reference to this particular episode taking place in the year: 2000.

Today's battle with beauty
Today’s battle with beauty

Rod was right on the money! We are so obsessed with beauty and appearance and plastic surgery and everything fake and dumb. Who knew that what he saw back in 1964 would manifest itself into a much greater societal problem.

We can look at different places in the United States and countries around the world that have become excessively occupied with altering the body to suit unattainable standards.

Plastic surgery is big business in the United States, Brazil, and other countries around the world
Plastic surgery is big business in the United States, Brazil, and other countries around the world

If beauty is what we are truly seeking, why is that we do not embrace all beauty? It is illogical to have a few faces that serve as the accepted model of resplendency. Let alone, the insistency to achieve these looks, regardless of one’s anatomical structure.

Nobody is listening to young Marilyn. Her message on true beauty being about accepting differences is falling on deaf ears.

Best friend Valerie (No. 8); Uncle Rick (No. 17); her mother Lana (No. 12)
Best friend Valerie (No. 8); Dr. Rex (No. 17); her mother Lana (No. 12)

So her doctors lock her in a room to “help” her come to the decision on her own to undergo plastic surgery – something you would see in a Russian communist POW movie.

You are rooting for Marilyn!!!
She is the hero among all these “ugly” beautiful people that are ramming their harmful theories down her throat.

In her last ditch effort to escape her prison, she opens the wrong door. It leads to the surgical room, where she is met by her doctor and nurse who pull her in.

Then moments later, her doctor is speaking with her mother (Number 12) and her best friend, Val (Number 8) about the fact that “it was hard at first”. I suppose hard to get Marilyn on board with the standard norms.

Then around the hallway corner of the hospital, emerged Marilyn.

I found myself yelling at the television screen once more. This time, in a long and echoing “Nooooooooooooo”.

She asks her mother how she looks, to which she responds: beautiful. Marilyn walks towards a large mirror and begins to admire herself.

She then turns around to her best friend and says, “and the nicest part of all, Val – I look just like you”.

The "new and improved" Marilyn, who now looks identical to Val
The “new and improved” Marilyn, who now looks identical to Val

I found it disturbingly sad because this “fiction” is not so far from today’s reality. There is pressure to always look like something or someone else.

In the episode, people actually walked around with name tags plastered across their chest because they looked like one of two people. Before Marilyn’s transformation, everyone at least knew who she was.

Uniqueness was the real beauty, but sadly, it did not prevail.

We are individuals that are all different and beautiful, but somewhere along the way, we decided that that is not enough.

Who knew that this “affinity for cosmetics” that Mr. Serling saw as a problem back in the 1960s, would continue to rear its “ugly” head. Now, in the 21st century, people pick up magazines and highlight with post-its who and what they wish to look like, as if scrolling through a Rolodex to find someone’s number.

Nip and Tuck

There are so many Marilyn Cuberles today – young girls who are at a crossroads, trying to decide if they should keep their individuality or get rid of their face. What seemed like a science fiction nightmare, just turned into reality.

I think this would even give Mr. Serling the belief that we have now become “residents of the Twilight Zone”.



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