Plastic Surgery: Voluntary Surgery of a Different Kind

So in light of Angelina Jolie’s radical decision and in light of the fact that other women who carry  high-risk genetic markers (like a member of my family) are opting to pre-empt the possible onset of cancer by undergoing elective surgery to remove parts of the body most susceptible to the disease, where does that leave our thinking on cosmetic plastic surgery outside of disease prevention or outside of reconstructive treatment in the aftermath of an accident?

I have always said that each adult woman should have the right to treat her body as she sees fit. If you want to tattoo your face, go for it. If you want to die your hair blue, why not? If you want to use plastic surgery to turn yourself into a real-life Barbie, it’s your right. But on the other hand, don’t we have an obligation as a society to recognize that extreme responses to social pressure to embody physical norms that aren’t norms are just that–extreme? Voluntarily having artificial substances implanted into your breasts–your body cut open– is an invasive and extreme response to aesthetic expectations, which a woman has internalized and maybe cannot even recognize as externally prompted. If we lived in a society that took for granted that women’s bodies, just like men’s, will change as we age, less women would even consider getting “work done.” What a euphemism! That’s the crux of it all, isn’t it? Women spend so much time compared to men on appearance–sometimes to the point of getting “work done”–that they don’t have time or energy for all the other things they could be doing, like going after a promotion at work, starting their own company, writing a novel, learning to play an instrument, or even just defining what work means for them.

As a society, we don’t consider cutting open our torso or injecting Botox into our faces as all that unusual. In fact, thanks to the rise in popularity of the Brazilian bikini wax and the visibility of the previously shy nether-regions of women, society now judges whether the vagina is up to snuff or not as well. Are your labia optimally shaped? If not, there is a surgery for you. . .

On some level, it just seems that we have lost sight of the fact that cosmetic surgery has something brutal about it. As a society, we play that aspect down, as if going under the knife is just another part of the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. What it means to be beautiful has been narrowly defined. Physical beauty has eclipsed all other types of beauty. And a plastic look has replaced natural beauty. When we hear that someone opts for a mastectomy or an oophorectomy, isn’t there a part of us that imagines the loss and maybe even stands or nods in awe of someone who has chosen that path? In light of that, isn’t it sad when someone elects breast augmentation–cuts into their body–just to be more attractive to an imagined or real audience? I see tragedy in the cougar who believes she is giving herself something she deserves, something that will make her competitive, attractive, and worth being with. Surgery should be a last resort always to a situation that requires the measure. Having bigger breasts just doesn’t measure up.

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1 Comment

  1. my3tots says:

    Yes, and it is as sad as other forms of violence against the self/ body, like eating disorders, self-injury, picking abusive mates, except this one has society’s stamp of approval. To anyone who puts all the others in a category reserved for mental illness or some bare minimum of psychological distress.
    There was a study conducted in Brazil to find out why women want cosmetic surgery. Although they reported that it was to look special or different, to boost self esteem, or to experience a change in looks, when asked to construct an image from picture pieces of a body, they chose features that were common to their own gene pool (meaning more similar to how they and their family members already look naturally). How to resolve the discrepancy between choice of pictures and surgical changes? : Their wanting to feel “different” actually meant their wish to conform to beauty ideals in that society. Individual choice, my butt!

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