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Okopny, Cara L.
Reconstructing women's identities
h [electronic resource] :
b the phenomenon of cosmetic surgery in the united states /
by Cara L. Okopny.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 66 pages.
ABSTRACT: The popularity of cosmetic surgery in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the last ten years particularly for women, who make up the largest group of cosmetic surgery consumers. Cosmetic surgery can include relatively simple procedures such as permanent hair removal or Botox to more complicated procedures like breast augmentations and face-lifts. The rise in popularity of cosmetic surgery exalts only one kind of beauty and excludes many women from ever attaining this ideal, so while women may feel empowered, surgery acts as a form of assimilation, because the act of cosmetic surgery reifies an exclusionary beauty norm. With cosmetic surgery, this hegemonic ideal is becoming more attainable, and in the process, some women modify their individual identities, which I argue are shaped by such things as ethnicity, age, body shape, wrinkles, etc., and instead tend to become one homogenized group.I also argue that cosmetic surgery is a form of colonization of the body because most people who do fit with what is perceived as normal and beautiful experience pressure to assimilate. The body becomes colonized (via surgery) much as a country does in the sense that the colonizing group otherizes the colonized, and deems their way of life, or culture, as abhorrent and in need of assimilation to the dominant groups way of life. The colonizers (creators of the beauty myth) seek to modify womens identities in order to suit the beauty ideal. The modification of identity is a possibility because some of the most common procedures such as rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, and Botox, seek to eliminate, or downplay, ethnic, or age associated traits in exchange for traits that adhere to the beauty ideal. External markers such as an ethnic nose, or even wrinkles, help define women and link them to their cultural origins or individual identity.
Adviser: Dr. Marilyn Myerson.
Beauty norm .
x Women's Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Reconstructing Wome n's Identities: The Phenomenon Of Cosmetic Surgery In The United States by Cara L. Okopny A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Women's Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Ma rilyn Myerson, Ph.D. Carolyn DiPalma, Ph.D. Cheryl Rodriguez, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 28, 2005 Keywords: beauty norm, body image, feminism, homogenization, patriarchy Copyright 2005, Cara L. Okopny
i Table of Contents Abstract....................................................................................................................... ........ ii Introduction: The Phenomenon of Cosmetic Surgery.........................................................1 Chapter One: Normative Beauty......................................................................................... 8 Deconstructing the Beauty Myth ..........................................................................10 The Normalization of Cosmetic Surgery...............................................................13 Cosmetic Surgery and Teens.................................................................................18 Chapter Two: Identity Markers and Assimilation.............................................................21 Colonization of the Body.......................................................................................25 Women of Color and Representation ....................................................................27 Chapter Three: Feminism and Cosmetic Surgery..............................................................35 Women as Social Agents.......................................................................................36 Reshaping Identities...............................................................................................37 Men and Cosmetic Surgery....................................................................................44 Chapter Four: Cosmetic Surgery: Another form of Maintenance and Control.................46 Naming Beauty......................................................................................................47 Bodies as Expression.............................................................................................49 Television and Plastic Surgery...............................................................................50 Conclusion: Cosmetic Surgery as the Inev itable Move Toward Monoculturalism...........53 References..................................................................................................................... .....56
ii Reconstructing Womens Identities: The Phenomenon of Cosmetic Surgery in the United States Cara L. Okopny ABSTRACT The popularity of cosmetic surgery in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the last ten yearsparticularly for women, w ho make up the largest group of cosmetic surgery consumers. Cosmetic surgery can in clude relatively simple procedures such as permanent hair removal or Botox to more complicated procedures like breast augmentations and face-lifts. The rise in popul arity of cosmetic surgery exalts only one kind of beauty and excludes many women from ever attaining this ideal, so while women may feel empowered, surgery acts as a form of assimilation, because the act of cosmetic surgery reifies an exclusionary beauty norm. With cosmetic surgery, this hegemonic ideal is becoming more attainable, and in the process, some women modify their individual identities, which I argue are shaped by such th ings as ethnicity, age, body shape, wrinkles, etc., and instead tend to become one homogenized group. I also argue that cosmetic surgery is a form of colonization of the body because most people who do fit with what is perc eived as normal and beautiful experience pressure to assimilate. The body becomes colonized (via surgery) much as a country does in the sense that the colonizing group otherizes the coloni zed, and deems their way of life, or culture, as abhorrent and in need of assimilation to the dominant groups
iii way of life. The colonizers (creators of the beauty myth) seek to modify womens identities in order to su it the beauty ideal. The modification of identity is a possibility because some of the most common procedures such as rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, and Botox, seek to eliminate, or downplay, ethnic, or age associated traits in exchange for traits that adhere to the beauty ideal. External markers such as an ethnic nose, or even wrinkles, help define women and link them to their cultural origins or indi vidual identity. Society has deemed such markers, particularly for women, as unacceptabl e because they are not in line with the U.S.s beauty ideal, therefore, cosmetic surgery, and the inevitable the move toward monoculturalism threatens women s identities.
1 Introduction: The Phenomenon of Cosmetic Surgery Feminist research involves situating oneself in the wo rk because feminism speaks to the personal; therefore, my work on cosmetic surgery1 is rooted in my own positionality. I came to the topic of cosmetic surgery through my concern with societys extreme focus on thinness and womens body image. I have always been concerned with the medias obsession with thinness and b eauty and what it does to women and young girls self-esteem, but the phenomenon of co smetic surgery alarms me because women now have a way to permanently modify thei r flawed bodies thr ough age, ethnicity or race to fit societys beauty ideal. My mother has always joked that if she could afford it she would get a face-lift. I always respond with the same clich answers, you are beautiful the way you are, aging is sign of wisdom, and so forth, but these words, coupled with my love and acceptance never se em to be enough. Why is it that I never hear my father, or other male family me mbers wishing for the means to reduce their wrinkles? Age is not the only target of cosmetic surg ery. Physical charac teristics associated with racial or ethnic identity markers2 are also targeted by cosme tic surgery. This is true particularly for women who are taught never to feel quite at home in their own bodies. Cosmetic surgery perpetuates ageism and r acism because the ideal it delivers is based upon a non-inclusive and non-representative beauty ideal. In recent years cosmetic surgery has become more popular and accepted in the United States, and according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS), the
2 total number of cosmetic procedures fr om 1997 to 2003 has increased 293 percent.3 It is nearly impossible to avoid the deluge of advertisements for cosmetic procedures on television, or reality shows based upon cosmetic surgery. For example, there are reality television shows based around extreme makeovers4 which take ugly ducklings and transform them into swans5 through the magic of cosmetic surgery. Even more presumably legitimate news programs such as those featured on CNN, and other national networks, have also jumped on the bandwagon, detailing the latest innovative procedures, and how to get the best surgeon for your mone y. Television, movi es, magazines and the internet have all seemingly embraced cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery is not entirely new (som e researchers date it back to ancient times), but up until the mid-twentieth century it had been used in the U.S. and Europe mainly to reconstruct bodies ravaged by war.6 There was no substantial critique of plastic surgery because it was reserved for soldiers injured during wartime.7 Over the last thirty years, however, American plastic surgery has become a booming commercial business, utilized mainly by women, who in 2003 had eighty-seven percent of the 8.3 million cosmetic procedures.8 As cosmetic surgerys popularity rises, the cost of surgery has fallen, making it more affordable to the middle class. For instance, a breast augmentation averages around $3,400, and a Botox injection is re latively cheap at around $380.9 Most surgeons now take credit cards, so even being unable to pay for surgery is no longer an impediment to sculpting a better body. Cosmetic surgery can include a variety of procedures ranging from laser hair removal10 and Botox (which paralyzes muscles to eliminate wrinkles), to more invasive
3 procedures such as breast augmentations, face-lifts, and so on.11 The most popular procedures for women are (in order): lipos uction, breast augmenta tion, eyelid surgery, breast reduction and rhinoplasty.12 For clarification purposes, I do not consider reconstructive surgeries such as those, wh ich repair breasts after a mastectomy, or the repair of a cleft palate as cosmetic surger y because these types of surgeries repair, and restore the body and are not sole ly for aesthetic purposes. Ra ther, this type of surgery, while voluntary, helps people acclimate to ev eryday society as well as heal from a traumatic event such as mastectomy.13 Technology has enabled people to turn back the clock, reshape their bodies and eliminate almost any perceived imperfections. As with other technologies, however ethical questions must also be addressed. In U.S. popular culture and in the media, women who adhere to the standard of beauty, which exalts features generally asso ciated with Caucasians because it is based upon a heterosexist and racist ideology, are celebrated and those who do not, are criticized. For example, numerous entertainment programs ( Entertainment Tonight, E Entertainment etc.) judge women for what they wear, and how they look at formal events. Although, the power of these shows may seem insignificant or trivial, these shows are widely broadcast and viewed as en tertainment (even at the expense of some women). Entertainment shows and commentator s ridicule women as the worst dressed when they make (at best) a fashion mistake in choosing an inappropriate dress, hairstyle and so forth. On these shows women are generally the ones cri ticizing other women, therefore, some women help to reify the beauty standard and exert power over other women who do not fit this standard. In the U.S., the media, via entertainment programs and other outlets, as well as popular culture, pl ay a significant role in the creation and
4 propagation of a heterosexist and racist beau ty ideal, because what the media considers attractive14 is featured and celebrated (e.g. best dressed) while women who do not fit this mold are admonished (worst dressed). Television networks, magazines and vari ous other media outlets devote the majority of their time and focus to critiquing womens appearance and encouraging women to dress fashionably, wear the right makeup and generally spend a large amount of their time and money improving their appearance.15 For instance, the February 2005 issue of the celebrity and fashion magazine, In Style cover features various ways women can improve their appearance, with headings such as: Getting Gorgeous: 45 Tricks and Tips from the Pros, Oscar Styles You Can Use and Spring Trends: How to Wear Them.16 This magazine touts ways for women to be sexier, skinnier, more fashionable, and so forth if women take their advice and buy the necessary products. I will give this magazine some credit because it deviates from the norm by featuring the African American plus size actress and rapper, Queen Latifah, on the cover; however, the magazine continues to advertise various pr oducts and methods women need in order to look better and be more attractive. Men are also beginning to enter this im age-conscious world with the emergence of the metro-sexual: a straight male concer ned with his dress and personal appearance, however, unlike women, most men do not feel the same amount of pressure, and are not rewarded solely for being attractive. The rate s of cosmetic surgery for men are indicative of the lack of pressure men feel to adhere (surgically or otherwise) to their own beauty myth. According to ASAPS, in 2003 men r eceived only thirteen pe rcent of the total number of cosmetic procedures (up from twelve percent of the total in 2002).17 If men
5 felt the same pressure as women to conform to the beauty myth then their own rates of surgery might be higher, but this is not the case.18 Cosmetic surgery results in a more permanent cultural assimilation than other traditional forms of female alteration. The popularity of surgery fuels a monoculture, or homogenized culture because su rgery often emulates one particular kind of beauty. In other words, people will begin to look alike. Often, cosmetic surgery alters a body in such a way that modifies identity markers associated with age, race and ethnicity. Women who undergo cosmetic surgery understand the power19 that comes with being attractive, as well as the cultural acceptance they receive by adhering to the heterosexist and racist standard of beauty in the United Stat es. The rise in popularity of cosmetic surgery exalts only one kind of beauty and excludes many women from ever attaining this ideal, so while women may f eel empowered, surgery acts as a form of assimilation, because the act of cosmetic surg ery reifies an exclusionary beauty norm. With cosmetic surgery, this hegemonic ideal is becoming more attainable, and in the process, women are losing thei r individual identities, which I argue are shaped by such things as ethnicity, body shape, wrinkles, etc., and instead tend to become one homogenized group. External markers such as an ethnic nose, or even wrinkles, help define women and link them to their cultural origins or individual identity. Societal institutions, however, has deemed such marker s, particularly for women, as unacceptable because they are not in line w ith the U.S.s beauty ideal. Cosmetic surgery has the potential to redesign American womens identities by creating new identities based upon a non-existent or mythic ideal. Here I will need to utilize the work of postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard on simulacra to address plastic
6 surgerys attainment of the beauty myth.20 A simulacrum is a copy or representation without an origin. A surgery-sculpted body is a copy of the beauty ideal, which has no origin because it is artificially created and it does not exist outside the operating room. The simulacrum perpetuates the homogenizati on of society because cosmetic surgery continues to copy Caucasian looks as sociated with the beauty myth. My biggest overall concern with cosmetic surgery is in its proliferation of a noninclusive or monocultural repr esentation of beauty. The propagation of one type of beauty ideal normalizes medica lly constructed features such as collagen-injected lips, overly large breasts, and other types of synthe tic beauty and devalues ethnic bodies, signs of aging, and other identity markers in excha nge for surgically created identity markers. Collagen-injected lips, and breast implants al so denote identity, but these markers come at the cost of a previous iden tity or body that did not fit with the beauty norm. Feminist theorists engage in much discu ssion regarding cosmetic surgery, but in my research, I found little discussion or at tention given to the effects of surgery, specifically monoculturalism. I contend that women who undergo surgery may end up erasing their individual identity in order to adhere to the beauty norm. The erasure of identity is a possibility because some of the most common procedures such as rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, and Botox, seek to eliminate, or downplay, ethnic, or age associated traits in exchange for traits that adhere to the present absence of the beauty ideal. One of the major discussions amongst fe minists is whether cosmetic surgery actually empowers women economically and soci ally, or, if it conti nues to keep women in a submissive state at the whim of the hegemonic ideal. For example, Naomi Wolf
7 contends that the use of cosmetic surgery re sults from pressure to adhere to the beauty ideal, and as a result of this, women have little or no agency.21 Kathy Davis, on the other hand, argues that womens decision to undergo cosmetic surgery demonstrates womens agency and power regarding assimilation to the ideal. Davis contends women exercise power when they change a physical characteri stic they may not like in order to possibly gain relief from this insecurity or increase th eir chances of economic success or societal acceptance. While these two arguments do not address the homogenization of people via cosmetic surgery, they help to provide a useful launch pad from which to begin examining the phenomenon of cosmetic surgery. I will utilize thes e two frameworks to illustrate my own argument on the effects of cosmetic surgery. These positions are both valuable for their assessment of the beauty myth (Wolf), and in the acknowledgement of the complexity of the decisi on to undergo cosmetic surg ery (Davis). My methodology for this paper is based on third party re search conducted by scholars who interviewed cosmetic surgery patients and conducted th eir own research on the topic. I also performed several of my own investigations of the media to ascertain statistical data and trends in cosmetic surgery. I will delve into the two feminist theories described above in Chapter One. Chapter Two will feature several examples of the expansion of a monoculture through the use of cosmetic surgery. In Chap ter Three I will focus on the specific pressures women face to look good, as well as the role women play in maintaining the beauty ideal. And finally, Ch apter Four will explor e the nature of the rhetoric society uses to constr uct bodies as attractive or una ttractive and how these ideals have helped to influence the popularity and gene ral acceptance of cosmetic surgery.
8 Chapter 1: Normative Beauty In this chapter, I will explore two prominent feminist arguments regarding cosmetic surgery presented by Naomi Wolf and Kathy Davis. I will discuss how neither theory adequately addresses co smetic surgery as a prolifera tion of monoculture. I will also explore the cultural acceptance of cosme tic surgery in the U.S., and how a rising number of adolescents feel the same need as some women to alter their appearance. Social psychological rese arch included in the book Cosmetic Surgery: The Cutting Edge of Commercial Medicine in America by Deborah A. Sullivan concludes that attractive men and women reap more benefi ts in society than those who are deemed less attractive. Sullivan explains that: Attractive adults are less lonely, less socially anxious, more popular, more socially skilled, date more and are more sexually experienced than unattractive people.1 Sullivan argues that the benefits of being attractive transfer to economic gain, inasmuch as studies suggest that those that are considered more attractive are paid more, given higher raises, and perc eived as better teachers, workers and so forth.2 Sullivan goes on to assert that in racially diverse cultures where northern Europeans occupy positions of power, people tend to value lighter skin, and fat is valued in cultures where food is scarce.3 Sullivans logic, that th e powerful group values their own characteristics the most, can be applied to the United Stat es, where beauty in society usually favors Caucasian features. This beauty ideal is generally based upon what straight white men4 and our traditional inst itutions value; therefore, the arbiters deem
9 what is attractive. In other words, Sullivans cited research shows that people are rewarded for being attractive; however, in the U.S. idealized beauty is not representative of how the majority of women look, therefor e, they must work hard (through various means, including surgery) to adhere to this standard.5 A social construction is something that is created and maintained through cultural institutions and society. It is also a subjective interpreta tion of reality, or naming of a concept based upon the dominant groups perspe ctive. A socially constructed concept becomes naturalized by society because it beco mes engrained in social institutions and societyit becomes a normalized view or way of thinking. Gender is a social construction so much so that society belie ves women and mens roles are innate or biologically based, rather than a part of a socially constructed concept. Beauty is also a social construction because it varies between other cultures and sh ifts throughout time. In the U.S. beauty remains based upon a hege monic ideal, which excludes characteristics commonly associated with ethnicity and race. For example, the beauty standard of the 1940s and 50s America is no longer the societal ideal. During her time, Marilyn Monroe was one of the most beautiful women in Am erica with her blonde hair and large bosom and curvy figure. By todays standards, her curvy figure is considered fat, as evidenced by a comment made by a much thinner actress and model Elizabeth Hurley: I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I'd kill myself if I was that fat.6 In the U.S. today, society generally considers a woman attractive if she is young, thin (sometimes waif model-like thin), with an ample bust (often surgically derived), and white7--the Barbie doll best embodies this ideal The overwhelming majority of women
10 in the U.S. will never look like Barbie dolls but cosmetic surgery offers ways in which women can achieve some of the thin, white, buxomly assets of Barbie. Deconstructing the Beauty Myth Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women8 writes: Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern ag e in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance int act. In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves.9 Beauty does play a pivotal role in the overall acceptance and rejection of people, as the study previously noted suggests. Wolfs a ssessment, however, implies a one-dimensional approach to power because she attributes all the power to cr eate and sustain the beauty myth to men and societal institutions, and very little power or role in the beauty myth to women. According to Wolf, beauty is based on a white, heterosexual standard, however, she does not acknowledge that women also he lp to reify and support this standard through their own actions and notions of beau ty. Wolfs conception of power limits the agency women have in constructing their own images of beauty. Naomi Wolfs work on the beauty myth ha s been criticized for essentializing the experiences of women and me n. Critics argue that Wolf tends to generalize the experiences of women and men across many different socio-economic planes.10 For example, the above quote contends that women are assigned value along a vertical hierarchy and compete for resources men appr opriate for themselves, which assumes that all men are economically and socially privil eged such that they can exert power over women. Wolf refers to men and wome n without accounting for race and economic
11 positions which eliminate many men (low-income, men of color) from a position of power to create the beauty myth. Kathy Davi s agrees with Wolf that only the few (white, heterosexual men) construct the beauty ideal but she more thoroughly explains the power dynamic and who exactly has the societal power to create the beauty myth.11 Davis clarifies that subordi nate groups such as women and minorities, are defined by their bodies and are defined according to nor ms which diminish or degrade them.12 Davis highlights how the power dynamic is more comp lex than a vertical hierarchy where men have all the power and women have none, because, she argues, power and the beauty myth are institutionalized; therefore, the beauty myth is not always apparent, or vertically assigned. Cosmetic surgery offers a way for wome n to break out of a body that does not coincide with the beauty ideal. Both Wolf and Davis agree more or less that men and societal institutions create and reify the standard of b eauty; however, Wolf does not acknowledge that women also help to reify th e standard of beauty, which I argue negates womens agency. Although I disagree with Wo lfs linear assignment of power (men to women), I do believe the beauty myth is supported and reinforced by many elements in society, especially pop culture, which pressures many women to adhere to this unrealistic ideal. This standard is emphasized and displa yed via such institutions as the media, and through peoples interactions with one anothe r. The beauty myth is constantly being reinforced through social institutions. Davis and feminist author Susan Bordo promote the second prominent feminist analysis of the societal discourse on cosme tic surgery. Davis ar gues that when women reconstruct their bodies through cosmetic su rgery they are taki ng control over their
12 bodies and actually gain power in society. Su san Bordo believes that it is nave to paint women as passive victims lacking any agency or collaboration in our patriarchal society. Bordo cites the example of Sara Gilbert from the television program, Roseanne who decided to have her nose fixed as a t eenager because she felt it was too wide.13 Bordo explains Gilberts motivation: I think its im portant to be attractiv e to yourself. Your body just kind of gets in the way of what you try to do. So if youre concentrating that much energy on your body, then just change it so you can move on and deal with the intellectual.14 From this viewpoint, Gilbert saw he r nose, and most likely the insecurity that accompanied its shape, as something that needed to be remedied in order for her to live her life. She took control over her insecurity that she felt impeded her progress in life. Gilberts decision to undergo cosmetic surgery empowered her but as Davis and Bordo both argue Gilberts decision to undergo su rgery was rooted in her inability to fit the beauty ideal. Her flawed nose became the center of her focus because of her natural inability to conform to the beauty ideal; however, once she had rhinoplasty, Gilbert fit the ideal more and no longer felt he ld back by her nose. Despite feeling better about herself, we can also say that Gilberts action reified the beauty myth that held her nose to be ugly or unfithence, the complexity of the issues regarding womens agency. Wolfs perspective fails to recognize the power women, such as Gilbert, have in the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery, as well as the influen ce other women have on each othere.g. Gilbert had her nose done s hortly after her television mom, Roseanne Barr had hers done.15 Both arguments represente d by Wolf and Davis regarding womens lack of agency and the presence of agency, respectively--are relevant to understanding why women might feel pressure to adhere to a certain standard, and what it
13 means when they do abide by this standard. It is crucial to implement both theories when examining the phenomenon of cosmetic surgery because they each provide a platform to deconstruct cosmetic surgery. The theory of the beauty myth supports the idea that beauty is not inclusive or re presentative of various types of women. The beauty myth pressures women in America to assume charact eristics associated with the cultural norm of beauty, and because of this pressure wome n must make their appearance one of their top priorities. Meanwhile, Da vis theory does not go far enou gh in discussing the cultural ramifications, i.e. monoculturalism, that results from cosmetic surgery. I would also like to acknowledge that cosmetic surgery and the motivations behind it are complicated; therefore, it is near ly impossible to formulate or find theories that have clear answers on this issue. Fe minists have continually moved and challenged the old notions of what a feminist can a nd cannot embody. A femini st can wear make up and shaves her legs--but is she a feminist if she has cosmetic surgery? Kathy Davis explores this issue when noti ng that one of her feminist friends had plastic surgery. The issue of cosmetic surgery, particularly for feminists is hard to reconcile because the womens movement fought for womens control over their own bodies, but this control is couples with patriarchal institutions which routinely objectify womens bodies. In the end, there will probably never be a consensus on cosmetic surgery because it challenges the idea that women have the right to be au tonomous and do as they wish with their own bodies, however, it is crucial to conti nue the debate on cosmetic surgery. The Normalization of Cosmetic Surgery Cosmetic surgery has become widely accepted in our culture without an accompanying examination of why women mutila te themselves. Many feminists argue
14 that associating mutilation with cosmetic su rgery is too extreme and harsh, however, I assert that the process of cutting a nd reshaping the body based upon an aesthetic16 rationale is a form of mutilation. Cosmetic surgery is also a form of mutilation because many of the procedures performed mutilate or erase an original body part that in many cases, did not failbut was changed solely for aesthetic reasons. In other words, I argue that an aesthetic procedure, which elimin ates a body trait in exchange for a more culturally appropriate body part that is represen tative of the beauty ideal, is a form of mutilation of the body. Plastic surgery rates have increased in sp ite of the physical risks involved. I argue that the medias tendency to embrace and celeb rate cosmetic surgery has enabled people to distance themselves from the actual m echanics and risk involved in cosmetic procedures. An example of this disconnect can also be seen at the grocery store where meat sits packaged ready to be taken home. Consumers are not always familiar with the exact process meat (animals) must take to ge t to the grocery store because if people knew how animals were treated, or processed, in or der to make them into food, some might not want to eat the meat. In other words, people are often lured by the results of surgery but are not always aware of what actually happens behind the scen es. In general, societys overall acceptance of cosmetic surgery supports the idea that cutting or grinding of flesh and bone for strictly cosmetic reasons is not seen as a form of mutilation, because if it was, some might pass up surgery.17 And if shoppers really knew how their meat was processed, they might also be less apt to ea t it, or support the pract ice. In her article, Cosmetic Mutilation? Shameless Self-Confidence! Dr. Adrianne Fugh-Berman argues that each culture has a diffe rent set of cultural codes or rules that
15 guide societies and dictate appr opriate behavior. For example, in the U.S., large breasts are currently considered more attractive, and according to social scie nce research cited by the mens magazine, Playboy men prefer breasts that are larger than what women would want. The study also goes on to say that men prefer women with large breasts and a small frame which is not alwa ys achievable without surgery.18 Fugh-Berman notes that in contrast, women in France who have any co smetic surgery typically reduce their breast size, not enlarge it.19 Fugh-Berman notes differences in what people will accept and endure to achieve a certain look. For instance, in China tallness is valued, therefore, some people opt to have their legs lengthene d in order to be taller. The legs are surgically broken and attached to racks, whic h stretch the leg bones in order to create new bone growth. This process is painful becau se patients must endure numerous tightening of the racks in order to stimulate growth. This process can also end in deformity or disability for the patient.20 Fugh-Berman writes that Am ericans are shocked at the lengths Chinese will go in order to increase their height, but yet see no parallel between what the Chinese endure and what American women endure to be seen as attractive or more accepted.21 Virginia Blum in her book, Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery, offers a look into the operating room to unravel the mystery of the brow-lift. The doctor Blum observed cut two small incision s into the patients scalp so he could pry the skin apart. He then used a drill to make a tunnel that he could scope with his camera, and with this tunnel, the doctor is able to tighten the skin and lift the brows.22 Blum writes: At the end of this [separation of sk in from fascia], almost her whole face had been undermined [by] rearranging tissue, restor ing the substructure, in order to create a more youthful contour he pu lled the skin back and stap led it shut, marking the
16 completion of the procedure.23 Highlighting the mechanics of such a procedure helps to show that what some Americans participate in to be beautiful, is no less shocking than what some Chinese endure to be taller. Women in the U.S. continue to unde rgo cosmetic surgery even though the procedures they experience are not necessarily any less graphic or painful than the risks Chinese patients face. People continue to have cosmetic surgery in part because they are able to continually distance themselves from the specifics of surg ery and possible risks and steps involved in looking good in the U.S. A chasm is created between people and cosmetic surgery, much like the divide at th e meat counter in th e grocery storethat allows cosmetic surgery to be normalized and not seen as a form of physical mutilation. Although cosmetic surgery is becoming normalized in this culture, other cultures beauty rituals are easily classified as mutilation be cause their ideals are not representative of what is valued in the U.S. It becomes eas y to criticize what othe rs do in the name of beauty. In the U.S. and China, people who have su rgery can choose to accept the risks and pain of surgery in order to achieve their end result. I ca nnot argue against all surgeries (as they all cut into flesh), because noncosmetic procedures are often medically necessary such as ones that reduce breast size to alleviate shoulder and back problems.24 Nonetheless, numerous cosmetic procedures can be very dangerous and potentially life threatening. In Debra Gimlins article, C osmetic Surgery: Paying for Your Beauty, she explores the various risks from su rgery such as: Pain, numbness, bruising, discoloration, and depigmentation freque ntly follow a liposuction Face-lifts can damage nerves, leaving the patients face permanently numb. More serious
17 complications include fat embolisms, blood clots, fluid depletion, and even death.25 Risks from a breast augmentation are also high (thirty to fifty per cent) and can include decreased sensitivity of the nipples, conge stion of the breast along with painful swelling.26 Encapsulation, according to Gimlin, is al so a serious side effect because this is when the bodys immune system actually attacks the foreign object (implant) by creating fibrous tissue, which can only be pa infully broken down manually by a doctor. If this does not work, the implant must be removed so that the fibrous tissue can be chiseled away from the chest wall.27 If society continues to ac cept major body modifications from cosmetic surgery, it is unclear what else society will be willing to accept and endorse in order to achieve the beauty ideal. It is important to examine exactly why it is that cosmetic surgery is becoming an acceptable beauty tool, and why it is that women are the largest consumers of plastic surgery? It helps to compare our notions of beau ty and what people will endure to achieve this look to the id eal and practices of other soci eties in order to make the familiar strange.28 In other words, people need to examine why plastic surgery is not always viewed as a form of mutilation, but yet it is seems easier to classify something such as leg lengthening as mutilation or at the very least, a drastic measure. Inevitably, normalization of a specific look, attained through cosmetic surgery furthers the homogenization of society. If plastic surger y continues to be accepted and the reality or specifics of cosmetic proce dures are ignored, then the m ove toward a homogenized or monoculture is unavoidable.
18 Cosmetic Surgery and Teens According to the ASAPS, in 2003, people age 19-34 had twenty-four percent of cosmetic procedures, while those eighteen a nd younger had less than three percent, and the most common procedures for teens (eighteen and under) are chemical peels, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, rhinoplast y and otoplasty (ear reshaping).29 The rate of teens who undergo plastic surgery may appear to be low compared to the rates of women ages 35-50 who have forty five percent of the total amount of plastic surgery, however, the number of teens seeking plastic surgery has increased over the years.30 Most surgeons would argue that is unethical or wrong to perform plastic surgery on teens, but there are many parents who want their children to be perceived as beautiful, who push doctors to perform these operations. Au thor Ann Gerhart highlights one such doctor/parent interaction: I [Dr. Steven Hopping] had a mother; she lost weight and had liposuction, and she had a short, heavy daughter, 15. Sh e had a bad complexion. She was under psychiatric care. The mother pleaded with me and my staff, and reluctantly, I did the lipo. And now, a year later, her wei ght is up. Shes not any happier. That was a mistake I made. You would love to help these people and be the one to save them. Im a surgeon; I love quick changes myself. But I didnt solve any problems. I just moved them around.31 Teens often suffer from low self-esteem and therefore are more apt to be unhappy with their appearance and to want to conform to what they perceive as beautiful. Research highlighted by authors Craig Winston LeCroy and Janice Daley, in their book, Empowering Adolescent Girls: Examining the Present and Buildin g Skills for the Future with the Go Grrrls Program has shown that girls, unlike boys, learn through society, the media, and other outlets that they are valued more for their outward
19 appearance rather than their accomplishments An example of the differences amongst girls and boys appears when asked a bout how they feel about their bodies: Not surprisingly, when asked to describe their physical forms, males identify themselves as being of normal weight or thin, while females are more likely to identify themselves as heavy or of nor mal weight even when their weight falls within normal standards.32 If young girls already possess a w eakened self-image, then th ey become susceptible to the lure of cosmetic surgery; seeing it as a quick fix to boost their self-esteem and personal appearance, especially if they have a parent pressuri ng them into plastic surgery. The beauty ideal, combined with low-self est eem in girls, can set the stage for further examination and rejection of gi rls bodies, which can lead some girls to seek plastic surgery to ameliorate insecuri ties later in life. I am not suggesting that all young girls with low self-esteem become women with low self-esteem; however, young girls and women have a negative or self-critical perspective of themselves based upon the messages they receive from the media and societ y. In other words, teens are susceptible to the same beauty ideal as adults, therefore, some might also seek cosmetic surgery as a way to conform to the ideal. Cosmetic surgery is presented by the me dia as an uncomplicated and empowering procedure that will leave women feeling younger, thinner, etc. and more confident, when in reality cosmetic surgery conforms to the r acist and heterosexist ideology of beauty. Cosmetic surgery may be empowering because women feel better a bout the elimination of saddlebags, or their big noses, but wome n are still assimilating to only one type of beauty that promotes the elimination of individu al identity in order to achieve this ideal. Although teens do not currently represent a large amount of the total cosmetic procedures done, they are cert ainly influenced and affected by the beauty ideal and
20 cosmetic surgery as a method of conforming to this ideal. Plastic surgery can be seen by some teens as a solution to their low self-est eem or issues with th eir bodies. Moreover, teens do not grow up in a bubble, therefore, their ideas of beauty are dramatically influenced by society, and these same teens might some day comprise the larger demographic of older women ages 35-50 who have forty five percent of the total amount of plastic surgery.33
21 Chapter 2: Identity Markers and Assimilation In this Chapter, I will explore what cosmetic surgery means for womens identities and the exaltation of only one type of body or look. I will also explore the effects of the beauty standard in the United States and how cosmetic surgery presents itself as a logical, safe and acceptable altern ative when a woman does not meet this high standard. Because the beauty standards in the United States are based upon a narrow set of standards (read Caucasian), they ultimately exclude the majority of women in the U.S. who do not fit this mold. In her article, Medicalization of Raci al Features: Asian-American Women and Cosmetic Surgery, Eugenia Kaw explores th e motivation behind cosmetic procedures by Asian-American women. The most common procedure Asian-Americans obtain (thirtytwo percent of the to tal of Asian-American procedures ) is the double-eyelid surgery, which creates a crease in a womans eye to make her eyes look bigger and more Caucasian-like.1 Other popular procedures include sc ulpting of the nose tip and/or bridge for a more prominent look.2 Kaw states that most women have these operations because they feel it will increase their opportunities of finding employment and overall acceptance by potential mates. They believe that by having the double eyelid surgery they will be more marketable by appearing more alert to their future employers. Opting for double-eyelid surgery or other such surgeries is a form of selfmutilation, according to Kaw. Not only are th ese types of surgeries representative of a
22 type of self-mutilation, but they also work to alienate one from ones racial or ethnic group. Having this type of procedure is pred icated upon conformity to a patriarchal idea of beauty, which excludes ethnicity in wo men and women of color. The women Kaw interviewed repeatedly said that they we re not trying to look white, or separate themselves from their cultural heritage; but rather that they sought economic and social acceptance by society. Even though women were assimilating to a standard of beauty that did not include them, they still argued th at they were not tryi ng to look white, Kaw explains: All of the women said they are proud to be Asian and that they do not want to look white.3 The women she interviewed thought about the procedures before they volunteered for them, and knew that if they had the operations they would be able to avoid the racist stereotypes a ssociated with their Asian looks, both by their Asian friends and family and society. Kaw quotes Elena,4 a 20-year-old Korean American: People in society, if they are attractive, are rewarded for their efforts especially girls. If they look pretty and neat, they are paid more attention to.5 Society rewards women for being attractive, or in this case, less Asian. The negative stereotypes associ ated with Asian facial feat ures also help to reify and sustain the beauty myth because Asians, as cited in this research do not want to be referred to as an oriental bookworm or less fun, as one woman noted.6 AsianAmerican women said without the double-eye lid surgery their eyes looked tired, sleepy, dull, and that having surgery would make their eyes look more alert and pretty. Therefore, in order to be more socially accepted, Asians are compelled to go under the knife and, in my analysis, modify their identity in order to fit the ideal. Asian womens looks do not fit under the umbrella of the beau ty myth; therefore, many are compelled to
23 undergo surgery to change their features to appear less ethn ic and more Caucasian-like. Even though many Asian-American women adam antly said they were not trying to look white, they were certainly trying to look le ss Asian in order to fit the racist and heterosexist beauty norm. The modificati on of Asian eyes, or noses fuels the move toward a monoculture where people no longer have a unique or non-hegemonic identity. Many of the surgeons Kaw interviewed mentioned some of the same reasons Asian-American women cited for having surg ery, although they frequently used much harsher language in promoting corrective surgery for Asian-American women. Kaw quotes one doctor: The social reasons [for Asian Americans to want double eyelids and nose bridges] are undoubtedly continued exposure to West ern culture and the realization that the upper eyelid without a fold tends to give a sleepy appearance, and therefore a more dull look to the patient. Likewise the flat nasal bridge and lack of projection can signify weakness in ones personality and by lack of force in ones character.7 Clearly, the doctors remarks are based upon raci st ideals, and not anything to do with the actual performance of an Asian eye or nose. Some doctors may reinforce and normalize Asian-Americans insecurities about their features, making them more apt to go ahead with the surgery regardless of reserv ations. Elena explaine d to Kaw that while sitting in her doctors office she felt sure she needed the eyelid surgery8 and explained her experience: [Dr. Smith] made quite an impression on me. I thought he was more than qualifiedthat he knew what he was talking about.9 Kaw also notes the weight which doctors opinions carry because they represent a Western, scientific perspective that is most often exalted over any other perspective. In the U.S. the medical profession tends to pres ent itself as above cu ltural influences and, therefore, society tends to think doctors can give unbiased and unprejudiced answers,
24 when in reality they are also highly suscep tible to the same institutionalized ideas of beauty as the rest of society. Kaw argue s that the medical community (i.e. doctors) benefit from the culture that in stills in women that it should be their goal to be beautiful, and in this case, less ethnic looking because they are the producers of norm.10 The doctors profiled by Kaw focused on the same stereotypes cited by Asian-American women. The doctors were not necessarily any more objective or free from cultural influence than the women who came to see them. There are, however, differences between the medical community (doctors) and patients, because while doctors may also believe in some of the same stereotypes as fe male patients, they ha ve the power to erase flaws associated with Asians (or other et hnicities) with their scalpels. This power enables doctors, particularly those who want to recreate th e beauty myth by eliminating features that do not coincide with it, to reify the beauty myth through their patients bodies. In other words, doctors invoke thei r own stereotypes and ideas of beauty upon the bodies of their female patients.11 Doctors reinforce and disseminate the beauty myth. Plastic surgeons interviewed by various researchers cited he re generally want to help women even though their own notions of beau ty are based upon a beauty ideal. Of course, there are many surgeons mainly seeki ng profit, but the majority of the surgeons interviewed claimed they wanted to ma ke women happier, by making them more attractivewhich perpetuates the beauty myth. Plastic surgery to reduce racial and et hnic identity markers such as Jewish noses, or Asian eyes is an act of cultural conformity be cause modifying characteristics associated with ones ethnicity implies that th ere is something wrong with that ethnicity. The doctors Kaw interviewed based their j udgements upon stereotypical views of Asians
25 eyes as being lazy-looking rather than indi cative of Asian cultura l heritage. This assimilation is dangerous because if each As ian or any other minority group feels it is necessary to change their looks to conform to the norm, then society will begin to homogenize, and lose any indivi dual or cultural ch aracteristics, other than those of the Caucasian hegemonic standard. What is even more frightening is that those who decide what is beautiful and normal can have an effect on societal notions of beauty. This power is not only limited to doctors, but also soci etal institutions, making the beauty myth the norm. Given this state of affairs, and th e increasing numbers of plastic surgeries, homogenization is a real threat to the diversity of society. Colonization of the Body Kathryn Pauly Morgan argues that cosmetic surgery is a form of colonization of womens bodies because they are, viewed as a primitive entity that is seen only as potential, as a kind of raw mate rial to be exploited in term s of appearance, eroticism, nurturance, and fertility as defined by the colonizing culture.12 Plastic surgery is a form of colonization of the body, however, some postcolonial scholars13 might not agree with this usage because they might argue the co lonization of white, middle class American womens bodies does not approach the sever ity of struggle women have endured from more traditional forms of territorial and cultural colonization. I will, however, continue to use the term colonization as a metaphor, but understand that I am in no way equating the experience of a mainstream American woman with that of a more traditionally colonized woman. From this perspective, cosmetic surger y is a form of colonization of the body because most people who do not fit with what is perceived as normal and beautiful
26 experience pressure to assimilate. The body b ecomes colonized (via surgery) much as a country does in the sense that the colonizi ng group otherizes the colonized, and deems their way of life, or culture, as abhorrent and in need of assimilation to the dominant groups way of life. The col onizers (creators of the beau ty myth) seek to modify womens identities in order to suit the beauty ideal. Performing eyelid surgery on Asian women is a form of colonization because Asian women are conforming to the dominant ideal of beauty that does not include their type of eyes. Debra Gimlin interviewed women who chos e cosmetic surgery to reduce features normally associated with race and ethnicity. The women who reduced their ethnic traits claimed they just wanted to look more norma l. Women in Gimlins study claimed that they were not trying to distance themselves fr om their ethnicity, but rather trying to look more attractive, or, as in the case of As ian womenmore alert. Gimlin writes: Seemingly indifferent to this loss [of their ethni city as part of their identity], they accept the notion that normalized (i.e. Anglo-Saxon features) are more attractive than ethnic ones.14 In their effort to look more normal these women separate themselves from their cultural identity, or in other wo rds, these women feel abnormal. Bordo points out that we never hear patie nts ask for a more African American or Jewish-looking nose. Women usually seek to reduce the size of their nose, not increase it. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Survey (AAFPRS), in 2003, forty two percent of all Af rican American plastic surgery patients were most likely to have rhinoplasty.15 The aesthetic industry and society both exalt and universalize Caucasian features, therefore, it is no coincidence that the most common surgery for African Americ an women is rhinoplasty.16 The reason that we never hear
27 about women trying to look more ethnic is be cause within the framework of the beauty myth, these sorts of characteris tics are not seen as beautiful or even normal. It is becoming normal in U.S. to create a less e thnic looking body with plastic surgery. One of my biggest concerns with plastic surger y is its tendency to reproduce a body or image based upon Caucasian features because the rep lication of bodies th rough surgery based upon a white ideal (beauty myth) which modifies the identity of those that do not possess Caucasian features. The result is a hom ogenization of womens bodies and modification of identities to fit the hegemonic norm--at the expense of the racial and ethnic identities as well as markers associated with age. Women of Color and Representation A perception exists that African Amer ican and Latina women experience fewer body image issues because their cultural norms consist of curvier, fuller-figure women, and not the waif-like model of white girls. A 1999 study cited in Empowering Adolescent Girls shows, however, that of 1,500 African American wome n, the incidence of eating disorders, and emotional issues surrounding weig ht, were similar to that of white women. In Empowering Adolescent Girls, the authors comment: Sadly, the old notion that Anglo American values of beauty and thinness ar e impacting only Angl o girls may be giving way to a new cultural order of thinness th at is spreading ac ross ethnic groups.17 While it is still too presumptuous to assume that al l African American girls feel pressure to assimilate, the study may highlight a shift to conform to a thinner female ideal, which may represent the homogenization of a b eauty ideal even amongst minority groups. In my own informal survey of teen magazines I was shocked by the lack of magazines geared toward African American teenage girls. Caucasian girls can read
28 CosmoGirl, Seventeen, ElleGirl, TeenVogue, and TeenPeople just to name a few, most of which feature young white girls on their covers. Magazines such as Jet, Ebony and Essence appeal to adult black women, but ther e are no magazines specifically for young African American girls. If young African American girls can only choose from magazines for adult women in order to see them selves represented within the pages, then they are likely to turn to magazines geared toward Caucasian girls, which do not feature girls of color prominently. Magazines aime d at adult African Americans, such as Essence and Ebony, do feature women of color but the majority of the women featured are thin women. For example, when I review ed a small sample of these magazines I was surprised that the women used in advertisem ents, and fashion layouts generally, featured thin womennot curvy ones. In one recent issue of Ebony there was a section on swimsuits, which featured only thin women. On ly when a feature discusses what is the best bathing suit for various womens sizes do they show more than just thin women. These magazines seemed to only feature curv ier women when the women are celebrities such as Queen Latifah or MoNique. If young black girls do not see themselves represented in magazines for th eir age group, then one can assume that girls will begin to internalize and assimilate to the exalted Caucasian look with in these teen magazines. Nadine, a fifteen-year-old Haitian immigrant was introduced in Rebecca Carrolls book Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America Until moving to Florida, she never took much notice of her black skin because in Haiti she was just another girl. Nadine writes th at after she moved to Florida she knew she was black. Nadine is also conscious of the lack of representation of girls and women like her, particularly within fashi on magazines. She writes:
29 I can flip through page after page of a ny major fashion magazine and not once see myself. What I do see is women who look nothing like me. After I have bought the magazine and flipped through it, I f eel cheated and humiliated for paying the money and for believing that I might see an image I could relate to. And why do I have to buy Essence and Ebony in order to see an image of celebrated blackness?18 Nadine is proud of her Haitian heritage a nd her black skin. Her father encouraged her to learn about her heritage, but despite this embrace of her own culture and that of others with similar pasts, she still noti ces societys inability to embrace other representations of people. Because girls of color like Nadine do not see women like themselves in the media, they might have to resort to magazines and other media outlets that do not feature girls who look like Nadine. The inability to find oneself reflected back in the media might suggest to a young girl that she is not attr active, or worthy of being featured in the media because she doe s not look like Barbie, or the white girls featured on Seventeen or TeenCosmo In fact, rates of cosmetic procedures fo r African Americans show that blacks are influenced by the dominant norm. In 2002, there were 375,025 black cosmetic surgery patients, and that number in 2004 jumped to 487,887about a thirty percent increase.19 An article in Ebony magazine notes this increase and attributes much of cosmetic surgerys popularity amongst people of co lor because surgery is becoming less stigmatized. People were initially afraid they would look too white, but several of the doctors interviewed contend that people, rega rdless of race and ethni city, want to look good. Dr. Emily Pollard commented: our patients want what other people want, a refreshed look of vitality and vi gor. I think its also a myth that plastic surgery robs you of your ethnicity. I dont know whats ethnic about bags [under your eyes].20 The doctors comment belies the issue because ba ggy eyes may not indicate ethnicity, but
30 they do still portray identity, and the er asure of such markers propagates the homogenization of society. Another doctor s comments reflect Pollards: There are ways to make changes that preserve ethnic identity.21 But how does one preserve ethnic identity when the purpose of the surgery is to conform to the hegemonic standard? If African American girls are becoming mo re susceptible to eating disorders, as research above noted, then it is entirely possible that these girls, will also feel pressure to see cosmetic surgery as an option to modify their bodily features to fit the hegemonic ideal propagated by white America. Even though African Amer icans and Latinos generally value curvier women, th e dominant norm in the U.S. is modeled after the white ideal, which does not include various cultural markers generally associated with African American or Latina women. For instance, Jennifer Lopez, a Latina entertainer and Beyonce Knowles, an African American ente rtainer are both curvier than other white entertainers and yet they are considered at tractive within their own communities and by society in general. They are, in part widely accepted, and considered beautiful by society because they are still thin compared to the average woman. 22 They also possess facial features, which tend to conf orm to the beauty norm.23 Women and girls of color do not live in a vacuum; therefore, their ideas on beauty are also shaped by societys ideals. Women and girls of color may still only be prominently featured in magazines specifica lly geared toward African Americans, but oftentimes when they are featured, womens bodies tend to resemble the thin ideal. The rise in cosmetic surgery also represent the encu lturation of people of co lor, particularly to opt for procedures to reduce signs of ethnicitymuch like Asian Americans who
31 undergo their own cultural reduc tion. Women of color do no t escape the hegemonic ideal simply because they are not wholly represented in society.
32 Chapter 3: Feminism and Cosmetic Surgery In the first part of this chapter I will detail the way in which the beauty myth is reinforced through cultural channels such as work, dress and gender norms, and through the representation in the media. In the s econd half I will introduce the notion of women as social agents in both the creation of the beauty myth and the construction of personal identities. In particular, I will examine how many women view and consequently link their external and internal identities through the use of plastic surgery. Finally, I will briefly discuss men cosmetic surgery and how unless the beauty myth changes, men will most likely never feel the same pressure or be as rewarded as wo men who adhere to the beauty ideal. First I would like to address womens entrance into the workplace during the 1980s. Both Wolf and Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women discuss the backlash that ensued after women made significant social and economic advances. Faludi notes in her work, that during 1980s, after economic development and the second wave of femini sm brought women into the workforce in record numbers, middle-class and professional womens wardrobes and overall appearance in the workplace began to be heav ily scrutinized. Even though women were making strides toward equality, they were being advised to reexamine how they presented themselves at work. In 1977, best selling fashion author John T. Molloy came to womens rescue when he wrote The Womans Dress for Success Book which gave women simple and affordable ways to dress pr ofessionally in the wor kplace. Of course,
33 the fashion industry balked at the idea of ha ving a type of affordable, no-frill dress code similar to the suit and tie that middle-cl ass and professional men wore to work.1 Faludi observed the headlines from fashion magazine s, which exclaimed: The Death of the Dumb Blue Suit and A Uniform for Submissi on Is Finally Put to Rest. As the later headline (from the Chicago Tribune) suggests, these articles were now proposing that business suits, not unequal business status posed the greatest threat to womens opportunities.2 Designers replaced the blue suit w ith sexier versions--like much of womens previous fashion, which relied heav ily upon the changing trends. As Faludi explains, women were no longer supposed to wear the same suits year after year but needed to follow the trends that re-emphasized their sexuality. Just as women were making some significant steps toward economic equality and independence, their appearance came under fire. One does not have to look into the past to see examples of this, take for example, Hillary Clinton. When Clinton assumed the role of First Lady, her appearan ce became the focus for much of the media. She adhered to the feminine ideal by wearing conservative business suits, and had longer hair at the time, but because she did not embody the image of other First Ladies, her physical appearance was criticized. H illary Clinton was not a typical First Lady because she took on leadership roles in the creation of nationa l healthcare and othe r prominent agendas, and because she was an assertive woman (which particularly contradicted the role as a First Lady), such things as her make-up or weight were used to dismiss her work. President Clintons appearance was rarely cri ticized when people did not agree with his politics or assertiveness.3
34 Women are more often criticized for thei r appearance when people (politicians or otherwise) seek to rebuff their politics or behavior.4 In contrast, the current First Lady, Laura Bush has not come under the same inte nse focus by the media because as a First Lady she is not confrontational or aggressive and appears to leave politics to her husband. Women today are given to understand that they are judged by thei r appearance and if they get out of line by challenging traditiona l gender norms, then even more critical attention will be paid to their appearance. The extreme focus on womens appearances pressures many women to reshape their bodies so that they fit with the beauty ideal, and cosmetic surgery offers a permanent way in which to fit with this ideal. The media also plays a critical role in th e creation and reinforcement of the beauty myth because many women feel pressure to subscribe to the myth via magazines, television, and movies that feature flawlessl y attractive women. Virginia Blum reports that Jenny McCarthy, who is famous for her many Playboy magazine covers, said that in her bestselling poster she, had huge zits a huge cold sore on my lip stretch marks all over my butt birthmarks, bruises. You name it. Its airbrushed.5 Women in the media are generally constructed in such a way to ma ke them appear even more like the beauty myth than they normally arefurthering the illu sion that this ideal is attainable. Even those we may already consider beautiful are not able to attain the beauty ideal unless their imperfections are airbrushed. The ideal woman who exists in magazines and in movies is often a product of special effects. How can women outside of medias lens measure up to the women they see in the media, if the idealized images of the media do not actually exist? What women see in the media becomes perceived as the norm, or beauty ideal and this ideal often becomes perceived as achievable. In other words, wh at society strives to
35 become is fabricated. So, despite knowing that many women are airbrushed in photos, and probably do not always look gorgeous, pe ople are influenced to emulate their look in order to attain something unreal. The media, through th e exaltation of false imagery helps reinforce the beauty myth. Cosmetic surgery is a simulacrum. Baudrillards ideas about simulacra are instructive here because plastic surgery upholds an ideal which is not an original and women are exhorted to perpetuate the value of this non-existent ideal. Cosmetic surgery is a simulation of simulacrum. The beauty ideal is not attain able without medical intervention. The procedures sought by women are generally based upon the beauty myth and the surgically enhan ced body is a reproduction of a copy, or beauty myth. For instance, the beauty ideal in the U.S. is an ideal because while some women may possess some characteristics, they do not embody all of them, unless they are surgically provided, or digitally enhanced on a magazine cover. When women seek slimmer thighs or smaller noses they are striving to achieve an ideal, wh ich varies per person and within cultures. The end result is not based upon an original, but a copy, or representation of an ideal. Baudrillard writes: It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real, that is to say of an operation of deterring every real pr ocess via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descrip tive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short-circ uits all its vicissitudes.6 The facial and body features at tained through cosmetic surgery resemble the attributes naturally found in others, however, they are still based upon a simulacrum. Surgically enhanced faces and bodies are becoming the norm and are able to blend in with society and normalized even t hough they are copies of a representation.
36 The problem with a simulacrum via cosmetic surgery is its proliferation of only one kind of copy, a copy based upon a hetero sexist and racist ideal that exalts Caucasian features over all others. So if cosmetic surgery continues to copy the beauty ideal based upon these racist ideals, then people wi ll continue to be copies of an ideal because this ideal is not wholly representative of all people. In ot her words, this image (via cosmetic surgery) will continue to celebrate only a few types of facial features, generally associated with Caucasian looks. Baudrillard contends that a simulacrum image might start off mostly resembling the unoriginal, or beauty ideal but that after c ontinued copying the image begins to deteriorate, or become less and less representative of the ideal.7 If cosmetic surgerys popularity continues to rise, mo st likely the characteristics modeled after the ideal image will continue to stray further and further from the ideal. So it is possible that the beauty ideal people seek will begin to mutate and be come less and less like the original ideal which means a continuation of a homogenized look. Baudrillards work proves that the beauty ideal is just that, an ideal, and th at cosmetic surgery can never embody the ideal because the embodiment is already a simulati on of a simulacrum. Cosmetic surgery can never be original. Women as Social Agents It is crucial to note that my analysis does not suggest that women who undergo cosmetic surgery have been duped; indeed many are intelligent women who observe the pragmatic connection between beauty and economic/social success. Other women state that by having cosmetic surgery they hope to feel more in control of their bodies by eliminating insecurities associated with their bodies. In her study, Debra L. Gimlin
37 interviewed one surgeon8 and twenty of his female pati ents, and confirmed that women who chose cosmetic surgery are savvy c onsumers. The women she spoke with had carefully researched their chosen procedure, doctors, and possible side effects before deciding whether to proceed. Gimlin also spoke to many (exact number not noted) who saw a connection between beau ty and career advancement: Ann Marie [age 50] explains that she n eeded the face-lifede spite its financial costs and physical risksnot merely because she is concerned with her appearance, but because of pressures in t he workfield. She says, Despite the fact that we have laws against age di scrimination, employers do find ways of getting around it. I know women my age who do not get jobs or are relieved of jobs because of age [The face-lift] will ensure my work ability.9 Many of the women Gimlin interviewed claime d that they had plastic surgery not to make themselves beautiful or more attractive to men, but to get rid of a feature that they perceived to be dragging them down. Fo r instance, Gimlin spoke to Marcy who was having her hooknose (as she described it) smoothe d out so she would f eel more confident about her appearance. Gimlin writes: They alter their bodies for their own satisfaction, in effect utilizing such procedures to create what they consider a normal appearance, one that reflects a normal self (emphasis added).10 The idea of normal is based upon what society has constructed as the norm, which is a thin, white, attractive woman. When women do not fit completely into this norm, some feel it neces sary to change their bodies so that they will approximate iteven if this means eliminating their individual physical identity in order to conform. Reshaping Identities Many women report that after having a cosm etic procedure, they feel better about themselves and that their outward appearance better reflects who they are in the inside. The women Kathy Davis intervie wed confirmed that before surgery they did not feel
38 comfortable in their own bodies because thei r outward appearance did not coincide with their inward identity.11 Davis writes: Cosmetic surg ery was an intervention in identity.12 For these women cosmetic surgery was a way of regaining control and proactively constructing a physical identity th at represented how they felt on the inside. Women saw surgery as empowering because they said it as an act for themselves only.13 In the effort to recreate their outward appear ance in the shape of their inward appearance, the women Davis spoke to created an appearan ce based upon a hegemonic beauty ideal. Here the beauty myth has constructed the s cenario in such a way to make women feel empowered because they take control of thei r bodies and insecurities associated with their bodies with the use of surgery; howeve r, we can still raise the issue that their notions of beauty are most often linked with the hegemonic ideal. Author Kathryn Pauly Morgan says tr ansforming ones body through surgery, is often associated with lived experiences of self-creation, self -fulfillment, selftranscendence, and being cared for. The power of these experiences must not be underestimated.14 Women do feel empowered and in control when they improve their appearance because they are taking control over something they feel is harmful to their self-esteem and/or success in life. For purposes of clarification, I will defi ne some of the ways female plastic surgery patients characterize control. For example, women who undergo surgery generally have an increase in self-esteem because they ar e realistic about results and understand surgery cannot correct every f law, however; this realism is deeply engrained in patients by doctors who do not want their patients to be disappointed when their new body does not look the way they had hoped. It is also interest ing to note that in
39 many of the advertisements by cosmetic surgeons perfection is presented as attainable for everyone.15 Even though some adverting by cosm etic surgeons claims to create perfection, many of the interv iewed women cited throughout th is thesis, were warned by their doctors not to have unreal istic expectations. Some advertising may claim to make women perfect, but once in the doctors offi ce, they are told otherwise. Womens increase in self-esteem or overall pleasure with the results of surgery serves as a way for women to take control over a distressing flaw. For instance between 1997 and 1998, researchers Patricia Gagne and Deanna McGaughey interviewed fifteen women who underwent breast augmentations before the in terviews, and almost every woman reported positive results.16 They also discussed cosmetic su rgery, as a solution to a problem, one that opens new opportunities and has a liberating effect on them.17 Gagne and McGaughey noted that most of the women th ey surveyed (only two had complications requiring the removal of implants), felt more self-confident in thei r bodies because they had either returned their bodi es to their pre-pregnancy look or had assumed a more feminine shape with breast implants. There is less research on womens happiness with less permanent procedures such as Botox a nd face-lifts, but I would argue that most women who undergo surgery have realistic e xpectations, therefor e, even with less permanent procedures, flaws are minimized or erased entire lyif only for a few months or years. Women in Gagne and McGaugheys research articulated various measures of control besides the boost in se lf-esteem. The researchers spoke with one woman, Jane, who felt that because her breasts were so small people treated her like a child.18 Through the enlargement of her breasts, she believed pe ople would see her as an adult and treat
40 her accordingly. Her control came from belie ving people would treat her as she saw herselfa twenty-one year old woman. Jane took control of her insecurity by reducing it through the use of cosm etic surgery. Women also utilize cosmetic surgery to create new identities based upon how they feel on the inside, but this new identi ty may be marred by the loss of the original identity which they embody. In other words, women sacrifice their original bodies in exchange for a newer body via breast a ugmentations, liposuction, or face-lifts, for example. This sacrifice facilitates the divorce of their outward identity from their inward identity. So, while women claim that through the use of plastic surgery they are simply recreating their bodies in the shape that they feel inwardly, it appears as if they are actually recreating their bodies in such a way that adopts a standard devoid of identity because it is based upon a hegemonic ideal created with medical intervention. The identities created by surgeons a nd their scalpels are not real or original because they are surgically created. Surgeons manufacture womens bodies acco rding to the beauty ideal. In doing so, surgeons19 continue to reify the heterosexi st and racist st andard, which does not allow women to have an ethnicity (other than Caucasian) or other negative attributes associated with fat or aging. Plastic surg ery has begun to normalize surgical features such as larger lips from fat injections, bi gger breasts, and cheek implants, for example If cosmetic surgery continues to spread then people will begin to look like one another, devoid of individuality. Cosmetic surgery is a phenomenon utili zed mostly by women to re-inscribe or achieve a certain form of beauty. The women interviewed by the authors cited here often saw their bodies separately from their inner selves, but still saw it as important to shape
41 and mold their outward appear ance (body) in order to align it with how they felt on the inside. The U.S. experience of the body and mind as separate identities is not a new topic; however, I find it extremely relevant as to why people undergo cosmetic surgery and how they are able to compartmentalize identities in order to reconstruct them. The body is a vehicle for expression and people have always used their bodies to demarcate their culture, wealth, look more attractive, a nd so forth, but cosmetic surgery is different from previous forms of body constructi on because it physically and most often permanently, alters a persons body often in a wa y to adhere to the dominant white ideal. This dominant ideal is surgic ally appropriated and propagates a monocultural norm. This disconnect also allows people who undergo su rgery to separate themselves from, or justify the possible risks because somehow their body20 is separate from them. As mentioned earlier in this section, cosmetic surgeons help to reify the body/mind disconnect by informing women th at even if they were born with unattractive features their bodies can still be reshaped. Virginia Blum explores cosmetic surgery and offers a different perspective because as a young girl she was convinced by her mother and her surgeon to have her Jewish nose al tered. Blum writes that she was sold a bill of goods by her surg eon (who botched her nose so badly she had to have another operation to correct it), who to ld her she could look beautiful, as beautiful as the model in the picture he showed hernot a realistic image. Blum and her mother had trusted the surgeon and trusted in his opi nion. Initially, Blum did not want to go through with the surgery because she saw nothi ng wrong with her nose, but after talking to the doctor, she realized that there was something wrong that could be made beautiful.
42 Author Kathy Davis in her article, My Body is My Art: Cosmetic Surgery as Feminist Utopia?, introduces a female artist who claims her version of plastic surgery is a feminist act because she constructs her ow n idea of beauty. Orlan is a performance artists who has had eight plasti c surgeries as part of her performance art. She asks cosmetic surgeons to modify her body based upon women in famous paintings, such as Mona Lisas forehead, and the chin of Botticellis Venus.21 Davis writes: Instead of having her body rejuvenated or beautiful, she turns the tables and uses surgery as a medium for a different proj ect. For example, when Orlans male plastic surgeons balked at having to make her too ugly (they wanted to keep me cute), she turned to a female feminist plastic surgeon who was prepared to carry out her wishes.22 Orlan is able to challenge the dominant b eauty ideology because her surgeries do not always coincide with what is considered beautiful. She constructs an unpopular and abnormal standard of beauty and takes contro l of the surgery by in sisting that doctors give her exactly what she wants even if they deem it unattractive. She also takes power away from surgeons who do not usually strive to make their patients look ugly or abnormal because she has them recreate an abnormal body. By doing so, Orlan redefines what is beautiful and illustrates how cosmetic surgery does not include inclusive or multicultural representations. In order for Orlans art to be thought provoking, she feels the need to make her audience uncomfortable. She apologizes for any future pain she may cause her audience, but knows that the audience must feel pa in. Despite this warning many audience members have been known to walk out from disgust.23 Orlans art brings up an important point that people often forget aboutpain. There is pain i nvolved in plastic surgery, and viewing someone elses surgery can be uncomfortable at best. People have been able to
43 separate themselves from the pain and actual process of cosm etic surgery. Davis remarks that, Orlans performances require a strong stomach and he r audiences have been known to walk out midway through the video. The conf rontation of watching the artist direct the cutting up of her own body is just too much for many people to bear.24 Part of the decision to undergo cosmetic su rgery lies in the acceptance of the pain and hospitalization that accompany the procedure. If doctors could eliminate the pain and discomfort of surgery, would cosmetic su rgery then escape public debate? In other words, there are many other things women do in order to look good that do not involve pain (make up for example), so is make up more acceptable because of its lack of pain, or because it does not permanently modify a wo mans body? Cosmetic surgery is another, if not more severe (because of its permanence) type of body modification that some feminists find unjustified. Nevertheless, getting back to other fe minist arguments, Blum suggests that feminists cannot assume to be above cosme tic surgery or blame women who decided to undergo such procedures. She argues that feminists should not play the blame game, which can end up shaming the woman just as much as the shaming of physical imperfections that drove us [her] to beautify in the first place. 25 The blame game also exalts feminists who choose not to have cosmetic surgery over those who do choose surgery. I cannot assume a superior role simply because I cannot see myself having surgery strictly for aesthetic reasons. Feminists cannot vic timize or villanize women who undergo surgery because the decision to underg o cosmetic surgery can provide societal benefits to women. The soci al and economic benefits felt by women after surgery can
44 often cloud the institutional structures in pla ce which pressure many to obtain surgery in the first place. Men and Cosmetic Surgery Men are not immune to the pressures of looking good. In fact, the rates of men who undergo cosmetic procedures have also increased. According to ASAPS, men had nearly 1.1 million cosmetic procedures in 2003, and the total number of cosmetic procedures for men has increased thirty one percent from 2002. Men now make up thirteen percent of th e total amount of cosmetic procedures in 2003.26 According to ASAPS: The top five surgical procedures for men are liposuction, rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast reduction to treat enlarged male breasts, and hair transplantation27 Men are also clearly concerned with looking good, just as women, but the similarities stop there. The pressure felt by men to look good is different from the pressure felt by women. In fact, there has been a recent tre nd by the media to say that because there is increasing attention put on mens bodies and images that men and women now suffer the same type of pressure and consequential oppression, to look good. Both Susan Faludi and Susan Bordo wrote about masculinity and the ever-increasing pressure felt by men to adhere to their own beauty ideal, whic h often emphasizes power and masculinity.28 Kathy Davis contends, in her recent essa y, A Dubious Equality: Men, Women and Cosmetic Surgery, that regardless of mens ri sing rates of cosmetic procedures, cosmetic surgery will continue to be a female phenom enon because men are not judged solely for their appearance. Davis goes on to say th at, the tendency to group women and mens oppression together ignores wome ns history of altering their bodies in order to conform to particular norms. It also fails to ac knowledge the relationship of mens beauty norm
45 with masculinity and power.29 In other words, when men adhere to their own beauty norm it generally includes a move toward more masculine features such as muscles, therefore emphasizing their pow er and strength in societ y. Whereas, womens beauty norm emphasizes more feminine traits wh ich tend to downplay their power, unlike muscles in men. Unlike men, women also f ace much more direct oppression if their looks do not meet the standard.
46 Chapter 4: Cosmetic Surgery: Anot her Form of Maintenance and Control In Chapter four I plan to discuss how cosmetic surgery is often sold under the guise of body maintenanceor retooling. I will also deconstruct the way in which language constructs beauty and value of womens bodies. I will also expound upon the way in which womens bodies are seen as forms of expression and how surgery can control this form of expression. Finally, I will touch on the role that the media, specifically television, has in shaping and influencing the beauty norm. While compiling the research for her book, Blum interviewed thirty-nine plastic surgeons and experienced the same feelings of insecurity, she first experienced as a young girl in her surgeons office. Even as an older woman, she felt self-conscious in front of the surgeons she inte rviewed--as if they were di ssecting her every feature and possible solution. Blum concedes that surg eons, by virtue of their profession hold a significant role in the creation of womens id entities. Their perception of beauty is invoked upon their patients bodies, creating a new, better identity for their female clients. She contends that it is extremely difficult for women to refuse cosmetic surgery because the rewards and pressure to be perfect (beautiful) are so great. Many surgeons sell cosmetic surgery unde r the guise of body maintenance, often comparing womens bodies to in animate objects such as cars or houses. One doctor told Blum that women should get early facelifts (as early as twenty-five) in order to maintain their look, much as people ma intain the paint on a house.1 Women also noted in the
47 various interviews cited here, that their desire to have surgery is no different than updating the look of a house, or even a car. Su rgeons and society in general have helped to detach women from their bodies so it becomes easier to compare them to houses or cars simply in need of retooling. Using su ch logic in order to update womens looks makes cosmetic surgery a much easier proposit ion because women are no longer innately tied to their bodies. Seeing womens bodies as objects supports the move toward monoculturalism because if women do not see a link between th eir physical body and their identity then it becomes easier to shape and mold it according to the dominant norm. Naming Beauty One of the most cited reasons for obtain ing cosmetic surgery for women has been to make their outside appearance reflect how they feel on the inside. For example, some women report that their saggy eyes do not e voke the youthful spirit they possess (on the inside); therefore, it becomes necessary to unite the mind and bodythrough surgery. What I find most troubling about this argumen t is not that these women want to see themselves reflected in a way that better suits them, but rather in the rhetoric people utilize to describe themselves. For exam ple, people use words such as baggy, tiredlooking, flabby, and many other negative terms to describe body and facial features that are not necessarily bad. Is excess skin unde r eyes, or cellulite a bad thing? Take cellulite for example. Almost every single woman has cellulite because of how womens bodies store fat, but regardless of how ubiqu itous it is--women are still not allowed to have cellulite without judgement. There are countless creams (and now liposuction) professing to rid womens bodies of this natu rally occurring entity that is not at all detrimental (in the non-aesthetic sense) to a womans body.2 This same sort of rhetoric
48 can also be found in the way surgeons classi fy procedures on Asian eyes as necessary. The way in which people perceive Asian eyes as sleepy or less alert is no different from how society defines non-Asian eyes when they ag e. This can also be applied to how we see other parts of our bodies when we determ ine that having saddle bags, small breasts or large noses is a bad thing. The way in which society constructs a nd identifies bodies is harmful to the acceptance of bodies. What I mean is that bodies are not usually in themselves detrimental, meaning that they serve a purpos e, therefore, they should not be deemed unacceptable or unattractive. A body is considered normal when it is young, slim, attractive and deviant when it ages or doe s not look like the ideal. Fat on womens bodies (including legs) serves a purpose, among other reasons, because women need a threshold amount of fat in order to menstr uate and potentially carry a child. When women become anorexic or bulimic, they can become amenorrheic because they significantly reduce their body fat. However, society constructs fa t in such a way to make it wholly undesirable, even when some fat is a biological necessity for women. Fat may be an extreme example, but ther e are numerous other body characteristics that are classified as undesirable because they mark the passing of time. In todays society people do not want to accept aging as a necessary end. Part of this unwillingness to accept aging fuels the cosmetic surgery industr y. Aging is seen as a disease that must be combated, and signs of aging such as wrinkles or saggy skin is perceived as a weaknessparticularly for women. Other women declare they are ready for a new identity through the use of surgery. Their new identity will most likely encapsu late a younger, thinner body that is deemed
49 more acceptable by society. Searching for a ne w identity, either through surgery or other cosmetic means, negates the processes of agi ng (for example) that actually provide a new identityone that is not generally embraced or sought out. The identities brought forth through surgery seem more exciting and drama tic because they bring about quick change, whereas an aging body seems much less revitalizing or significan t as it continues to wane from the ideal. For example, Blum presents the example of a mother who wants to erase the signs of childbirth. She writes: Yet, when they decide to have surgery to correct the results of childbirth, how will they alter the story their bodies tells?3 Our bodies, through various wrinkles, scars and overall body shape represent stories and growth as we move through life. Erasing or reshaping su ch cues detaches us from our bodies even as we try to make a better link to our bodies (think here of women wanting to outwardly represent who they are on the inside). The way society names body traits, particularly for women, leads some women to alte r the story their body tells in order to assimilate to the dominant, youthful norm. In order to alter womens identities to the hegemonic ideal, cosmetic surgery capitalizes upon the way in which society categorizes beauty. Bodies as Expression We express ourselves through our bodies: th e clothes we wear, the hairstyles we choose, and so forth, which all say a lot about our personalities. Cosmetic surgery is becoming another method for women and men to express a socially desirable sense of themselves, by appearing more youthful, or more normal. However, some people do not seem to acknowledge that ou r bodies are ourselves. In other words, people often see their bodies as disconnected from themselves, as something that needs to be controlled and watched over in case our bodies falter. Aging in our culture assumes we are losing
50 control of our bodies, and control must be re gained, whether that is through cosmetic surgery or other means a person sees fit. Instead of acknowledging ag ing as an inevitable process, we seek to reel in and contain agi ng. This is particularly so for women because a womans worth and acceptance is tied to her appearance. For example, there has been a recent trend in magazines and television cel ebrity shows rewarding women for looking youthful or redefining what it means to be a certain age. Women like Goldie Hawn, Bo Derek, Tina Turner, Susan Sarandon and othe rs are rewarded for challenging what women in their forties and fifties look like, because they still appear thin and sexy--not matronly. In this case, female celebrities ar e rewarded with movie roles (beyond roles as mothers) and potential endorsement contracts. For instance, Susan Sarandon just signed on to Revlons 2005 ad campaign, which featur es women of different ages and various races. Sarandon is featured as the older woman defying her age with the help of Revlons makeup. The use of Susan Sarandon by Revlon is similar to the popularity of Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez because although Sarandon is an older woman, she is white, thin, and attractive; therefore, she fits with the beauty norm. Revlons campaign also perpetuates the beauty ideal be cause most women do not look like Sarandon, therefore, some women might f eel pressure to assimilate, or as Revlon says, defy your age. The point is, women are rewarded for looking good and even more so when they appear not to succumb to age. Television and Plastic Surgery The media has opened its arms to plastic surgeons and the transformations they provide to men and women. The popularity of reality television provi des a perfect forum for surgeons to show their work to millions of peoplea point not lost on the cosmetic
51 industry. In Deborah Caslov Covinos book, she focused on one reality show in particular on the cable ne twork The Learning Channel ( TLC). TLC operates under the guise of education with its parent networ k The Discovery Channel. TLC, along with numerous other networks jumped into th e reality television market with various makeover shows, including A Personal Story, which takes the audience through a womans (and a few men) decisi on to undergo a cosmetic proce dure. The viewer is able to meet the potential patient, her family and friends (who invariably support her 100%), and her doctor. Of course, the show strays from its reality, like most all other reality programs because of their ability to edit co ntent and whom they choose to document. Covino observes that the show is automatically geared toward its inevitable conclusion that of a cosmetic procedure. Even if the family members feel the surgery is unwarranted, they always support the woman and begin to see the flaws that she sees. Each episode ends, with patie nts celebrating their outcomes, declaring that the surgery has given them an utterly new lease on life, motivating them, to for instance, go back to school, or dance in public, according to Covino.4 The show acts as an infomercial endorsing the product and its crea tors without any hesitation or possible side effects. Covino elaborates on the function of the show: The duplication in each thirty-minute segmen t of a standard, easily digested plot sequence indicates that the show functi ons not to educate the viewer about aesthetic surgical processes, as we mi ght expect from the Learning Channel, but rather to normalize, rou tinize, and legitimate the indus try as a response to the personal desires of individuals.5 TLCs show is not the only reality program to show cosmetic surgery in a positive light. Other shows, such as FOXs The Swan where women compete, after going through plastic surgery, compete against other contestants in a beauty pageant, or ABCs
52 Extreme Makeover where men and women blossom following numerous cosmetic and wardrobe transformations. These shows do not give a fair and accu rate depiction of cosmetic surgery because complications are downplayed or very rarely shown.6 These shows glamorize plastic surgery and avoid why people choose surgery in the first place. I do not expect television designed for entertainment to deconstruct the societal pressure to undergo cosmetic procedures, however, I do ex pect reality programmi ng, that claims to show reality (pretty or not) to depict a more balanced view of cosmetic surgery. I find an important link to reality televi sions reluctance to show th e reality of surgery and the forces behind it, when C ovino notes that in filming A Personal Story, the audience is not privy to the prompts given by the crew in orde r to steer comments of friends, family, the patient or the doctor. The failure to disc lose the prompts (which helps to shape the shows premise) is like that of televisions refusal to explore the connections between the hegemony of beauty and womens desire to reshape themselves into a new identity. Reality television, as well as the numerous ta lk shows and investigative reports that focus on cosmetic surgery as innocuous help to normalize cosmetic surgery as an uncomplicated and safe procedure.7
53 Conclusion: Cosmetic Surgery as the In evitable Move Toward Monoculturalism Cosmetic surgery provides a means to alter and improve peoples appearances. Women can enlarge breasts, reduce wrinkles, and elim inate tired-looking eyes; however, because the technology is available, sh ould women sacrifice their identities in order to conform to the hegemonic ideal? The results of cosmetic surgery often come at the expense of womens i ndividual identities. Cosmetic surgery is a complicated issu e because it does make some women feel better by reducing a perceived flaw or insecu rity. Women sometimes feel empowered by taking control of something that makes them feel bad about themselves. If a woman spends all her time and energy focused on a perceived imperfection then it has become consuming. As Sara Gilbert noted, having cosm etic surgery allowed her to move on with her life because she stopped fixating over he r flawed nose after her rhinoplasty. The boost to womens self-esteem empowers them Such empowerment is not imaginary since some women may experience real economic or social benefits because of a younger or more attractive appearance. Cosmetic surgery is often lauded in th e media and within U.S. culture as a solution for almost any perceived imperfecti on. Magazines continually feature white, young, thin women and then tell readers how th ey too can achieve this lookdespite the fact that even the women featured on their c overs tend not to conform to the ideal. The lack of representation of women of color in the media has helped fuel a rise in eating disorders among young African American girls, and increase rates of cosmetic surgery
54 for African American women. Society a nd the media have al so alienated Asian Americans because their physical traits do not fit conform to the beauty norm and many feel pressure to alter their appe arance to fit the standard. In the end, plastic surgery eliminates a nd reduces cultural and age markers that help create womens stories, or identities. More significantly, some women are made to feel that certain appearances, as associated wi th ethnicity, age, and so on, are not socially acceptable. These women then feel pressure to change their appearance in order to fit the hegemonic standard. The exaltation of only one type of beauty creates a hierarchy where only one standard is valueda t the expense of others. Inevitably, womens decision to undergo cosmetic surgery reifies the beauty ideal and fuels the propagation of a homogenized culture devoid of indi vidual identity. Women are at a greater risk for homogenization than men because society is more critical of their appearance. Cosmetic surgeons validate and cash in on womens insecurities, playing a significant role in the loss of womens identities. Women like my mother have been made to feel uncomfortable in their aging bodies, and sometimes opt for a surgical cure. Society and the media need to challenge the hegemonic beauty norm by embracing various representations of beauty on the pages of magazines and throughout societal institut ions. If people do not learn to embrace and celebrate difference, then society will continue to move toward a monoculture. As individuals, women often derive emotional gratification from cosmetic surgery. Yet these procedures have potentia lly detrimental effects on the identity of women. In other words, cosmetic procedures are empowering in an individual sense, but only serve to reify a dominant ideal an id eal that alienates women from their bodies.
55 The hegemonic standard of beauty is based upon the notion that women should conform to a specific ideal. The majority of women, however, can never adhere to this norm; thus, they must exchange their individu al identities or cultural markers in order to assimilate. Despite the potentially positive effects of cosmetic procedures on the selfesteem of individual women, the propagation of these surgeries helps create a monoculture where women are no longer permitt ed to possess the unique markers which help establish their identities.
56 References American Academy of Facial Plastic and R econstructive Survey (AAFPRS). AAFPRS 2003 Statistics on Trends in Facial Plastic Surgery. 2005. www.facemd.org/index.asp. The American Society for Aesthetic Plasti c Surgery (ASPAS). Cosmetic Surgery National Databank: 2003 Statis tics. 2005. www.surgery.org Banvard, Kris. Meee-Ow! The Columbus Dispatch. 3 January 2000: 02C. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Shelia Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1994. Berman, M.D., Adriane Fugh. Cosmetic Mu tilation? Shameless Self-Confidence! The Womens Health Activist. July/August 2004: 11. ProQuest. Blum, Virginia L. Blum, Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, We stern Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1997. Covino, Deborah Caslav. Amending the Abject Body: Aesthetic Makeovers in Medicine and Culture. New York: State University Press. 2004. Davis, Kathy. My Body is My Art: Cosm etic Surgery As Feminist Utopia? Feminist Theory And the Body: A Reader. Janet Price, ed. 1999. ---. Dubious Equality: Men, Women and Cosmetic Surgery. Body & Society. Sage Publications: 2002. Vol. 8 (1) 49-65. ---. Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery. New York: Routledge. 1995. Davis, Kimberly. Why More Blacks are Choosing Plastic Surgery. Ebony. August 2004: 100-102, 104, 106.
57 Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. Gagne, Patricia and Deanna McGaughey. D esigning Women: Cultural Hegemony and The Exercise of Power Among Wome n Who Have Undergone Elective Mammoplasty. Gender and Society. Vol. 16 No. 6, December 2002. Gerhart, Ann. Nipped in the Bud; Mo re and More Young Women Choose Surgical Perfection. The Washington Post. June 23, 1999: C1. ProQuest. Gimlin, Debra L. Cosmetic Surgery: Paying for Your Beauty. Feminist Frontiers. Eds. Laurel Richardson, Verta Taylor a nd Nancy Whittier. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2004. 94-108. In Style Magazine February 2005. Kaw, Eugenia. The Medicalization of R acial Features: Asian-American Women and Cosmetic Surgery. The Politics of Womens Bo dies: Sexuality, Appearance & Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 184-200. LeCroy Craig Winston and Janice Daley. Empowering Adolescent Girls: Examining the Present and Building Skills for the Fu ture with the Go Grrrls Program. New York and London:W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. Women and the Knif e: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Womens Bodies. The Politics of Womens Bodi es: Sexuality, Appearance and Behavior. Rose Weitz, ed. 2003. Ness, Carol. Gays Find Wors hip of Beauty a Beast. The San Francisco Chronicle December 14, 1997. www.sfgate.com. No Comment. Ms. Magazine. Winter, 2004/2005: 96. Getting to Know Your Gi rlfriends Breasts. Playboy. February 2004: 104. Sullivan, Deborah A. Cosmetic Surgery: The Cutting Edge of Commercial Medicine in America. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2004. Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth : How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. Perennial: New York, 2002.
58 Introduction: The Phenomenon of Cosmetic Surgery 1 I will use the terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery interchangeably; although the names suggest there may be a difference, both terms are used interc hangeably in the literature and often defined as an aesthetic procedure and a corrective procedure. 2 I use the term racial and ethnic identity markers to signify a persons identity which is often, but not always, linked with physical characteristics such as sk in color, and facial features. Of course, these markers are not the only specific things that distinguis h identity or link one with their heritage, because if for example, a black woman has rhinoplasty, she is still an African American womanregardless of the size of her nose. However, I argue that the beauty id eal is based upon an ideal that does not include people of color, or women who do not fit the ideal, and in gene ral the physical traits that are associated with their appearance. 3 The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surg ery (ASAPS). Cosmetic Surgery National Databank: 2003 Statistics. 2005. www.surgery.org. 4 To borrow the title of ABCs hit reality show, Extreme Makeover 5 Which also serves as another premise of the popular FOX reality show, The Swan 6 Davis, Kathy. My Body is My Art: Cosmetic Surgery As Feminist Utopia? Feminist Theory And the Body: A Reader. Janet Price, ed. 1999. pg. 14. 7 Ibid. pg. 16. 8 ASAPS. 9 ASAPS. 10 Laser hair removal is not generally considered a cosme tic procedure, but is classi fied as such by ASAPS. 11 One of the newest procedures that is gaining popu larity is labiaplasty where women have the labias reshaped. Because of the narrow focus of this paper, I will not be able to address this procedure, but note that it greatly intertwined with womens sexuality and, therefore, could be discu ssed separately from this topic. 12 The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (ASAPS) www.surgery.org. 2003 13 I acknowledge that judging a surg ery for a mastectomy patient over another womans breast enlargement creates a value judgement as well as a slippery slope, but for the purposes of this paper I will consider breast enlargements, Botox, face-lifts, and so as aesthetic surgerie s which derive from the beauty myth. 14 The term attractive can mean various things to various people, however, for the purpose of this paper I will use the term attractive to mean those that fit the beauty ideal or beauty myth. 15 For example, television networks such as E.Entertainment, The Style Channel, TLC as well as programs featured on numerous other television networks. 16 In Style Magazine. February 2005. 17 ASAPS. 18 There is some debate whether straight or gay men have the most surgery. According to one article, Gays Find Worship of Beauty a Beast which highlight s the death of a gay man from an infection after a liposuction procedure, the rates of cosmetic procedures for straight men are climbing to that of gay men. There is little statistical data to prove this, however, th e article asserts that gay men often feel some of the same pressure as women to fit a beauty norm. This coupled with the trauma and possible rejection from coming out of the closet might explain the higher rates of cosmetic surgery for gay men. Ness, Carol. Gays Find Worship of Beauty a Beast. The San Francisco Chronicle. December 14, 1997. www.sfgate.com. 19 I will continue to explore the notion of power in re gard to cosmetic surgery and how many women feel empowered by plastic surgery and their new appearance, (while some may just feel prettier, as well as more socially accepted) but that this power is not an authentic power because women do not gain political power, or power within social institutions. 20 Baudrillard, Jean Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Shelia Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1994. 21 I contend that agency; in this context, is when a woman makes a choice to alter her bodymost often surgically. Davis notion of women and the beauty id eal most fits with my de finition of agency because she acknowledges that women have a choice in deciding whether to adhere to the beauty myth, and in this
59 choice women exercise power over their bodies. Wolf does not address womens ability, and ultimately their agency, to make choices to f it the beauty ideal because she paints women as objects forced to adhere to the beauty ideal. Chapter 1: Norm ative Beauty 1 Sullivan, Deborah A. Cosmetic Surgery: The Cutting Edge of Commercial Medicine in America. New Jersey: Rutgers. 2004. pg. 20. 2 Ibid. pg. 26-27. 3 Ibid. pg. 28. 4 Womens Studies graduate student Allison Brimmer offers a good description of this power in her pedagogy. She asks white, male students if when they wake up they feel like oppressors. Of course, the answer is no because they are not wholly conscious of their privilege or ability to create and maintain such things as the beauty ideal because power and social ideologies are diffused and institutionalized throughout society, therefore, those with privilege are not always aware of the power they do possess. 5 I do not mean to imply that all women strive for this ideal, but many feel pressure to adhere to it, whether or not they actually work toward attaining the ideal. 6 Banvard, Kris. Meee-Ow! The Columbus Dispatch 3 January 2000: 02C. 7 Of course there are exceptions to this rule for mi nority women who are considered beautiful, such as the Latina Jennifer LopezI argue that she has been able to achieve such mainstr eam popularity because she has embraced a more mainstream (beauty ideal) and le ss ethnic look, enabling her to be perceived as universally attractive. 8 I would like to note that feminists have criticized the work of both Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi for using a top-down approach to power and submission. While I agree that there are essentialist issues within both authors theories, for now I will not specifically address critics and I will reserve this discussion for later in the paper. 9 Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth : How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. Perennial: New York, 2002. pg. 12. 10 Davis, Kathy Reshaping the Female Body: Th e Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery. pg. 51. 11 Ibid. pg. 51. 12 Ibid. pg. 51. 13 Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. pg. 296. 14 Ibid. pg. 296. 15 Ibid. pg. 296. 16 I plan to explore why the motivation behind cosmetic surgery is beyond just aesthetics. 17 Of course, many do choose not to have cosmetic su rgery because they are awar e of the process, but in general, society and the media do not highlight the act ual process of cosmetic su rgery, or in the case of reality televisionthey do not generally depict the pain risks associated with surgery. 18 The findings cited in Playboy may be controversial but interviews conducted by Patricia Gagne and Deanna McGaughey for their article, Designing Women: Cultural Hegemony and The Exercise of Power Among Women Who Have Undergone Elective Mammoplasty, reveal that many women who had their breasts modified tended to get them enlarged, belie ving that their husbands and boyfriends preferred larger breasts. Getting to Know Your Girlfriends Breasts. Playboy. February 2004: 104. 19 Berman, M.D., Adriane Fugh. Cosmetic Mutilation? Shameless Self-Confidence! The Womens Health Activist. July/August 2004: pg. 11. ProQuest. 20 Ibid. pg. 11. 21 Again, I plan to argue that motivation to have plastic surgery goes beyond just wanting to look good. Ibid. pg. 11. 22 Blum, Virginia L. Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. pg. 70. 23 Ibid. pg. 70.
60 24 There are, of course side effects and risks associ ated with breast reductions, but the benefits might outweigh the physical pain endured by women with painfully large breasts. 25 Gimlin, Debra L. Cosmetic Surg ery: Paying for Your Beauty. Feminist Frontiers Eds. Laurel Richardson, Verta Taylor and Nancy Whittier. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2004. pg. 95. 26 Ibid. pg. 96 27 Ibid. pg. 96 28 To use Dr. Carolyn DiPalmas phrase. 29 ASAPS. 30 ASAPS. 31 Gerhart, Ann. Nipped in the Bud; More and More Young Women Choose Surgical Perfection. The Washington Post. June 23, 1999: C1 ProQuest pg. 4. 32LeCroy Craig Winston and Janice Daley. Empowering Adolescent Girls: Examining the Present and Building Skills for the Future with the Go Grrrls Program New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. pg. 21. 33 ASAPS. Chapter 2: Identity Markers and Assimilation 1 The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Re constructive Surgery (AAFPRS). AAFPRS 2003 Statistics on Trends in Facial Plastic Surgery. h ttp://www.facemd.org/media/stats_polls/m_stats.html. 2005. 2 Kaw, Eugenia. The Medicalizati on of Racial Features: Asian-Ameri can Women and Cosmetic Surgery. The Politics of Womens Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance & Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. pg. 185. 3 Ibid. pg. 189. 4 Not her real name 5 Ibid. pg. 189. 6 Ibid. pg. 189. 7 Ibid. pg. 192. 8 Ibid. pg. 194. 9 Ibid. pg. 194. 10 Ibid. pg. 185. 11 Of course, female patients also have a role in the recreation of the beauty myth (as cited by Kaws interviews); however, doctors hold significant power and influence over a patient and their own beauty ideals. 12 Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. pg. 173. 13 This term is contested by Dr. Gurleen Grewal. 14 Gimlin, Debra L. pg. 104. 15 American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstr uctive Survey (AAFPRS). AAFPRS 2003 Statistics on Trends in Facial Plastic Surgery. 2005. www.facemd.org/index.asp. 16 Covino, Deborah Caslav. Amending the Abject Body: Aesthetic Makeovers in Medicine and Culture New York: State University Press. 2004. pg. 47. 17 LeCroy Craig Winston and Janice Daley. pg. 25. 18 Ibid. pg. 121. 19 ASAPS quoted in, Davis, Kimberly. Why More Blacks are Choosing Plastic Surgery. Ebony. August 2004: 100-102, 104, 106. 20 Ibid. pg. 100. 21 Ibid. pg. 101. 22 Some suggest that the average size for a woman in th e U.S. ranges from a size 12-14. Regardless, most women do not have the bodies like Jennifer Lopez or Beyonce Knowles. 23 Of course, both of these women are still women of colo r, and because of that th ey do not necessarily fit with the beauty ideal, however, because of their light skin tone, thin bodies, and their facial features, they are considered attractive, despite not completely fitting with the beauty norm.
61 Chapter 3: Feminism and Cosmetic Surgery 1 Faludi, Susan Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. pg. 177. 2 Ibid. pg. 177. 3 Of course, there was plenty of cr iticism of President Clintons fast-foo d predilection but this is not the same as the extreme focus put on Hillary Clintons image and body. 4 Another example of this is the term femi-nazis co ined by Rush Limbaugh. It was easier for Limbaugh to call feminists derogatory names than to take on their argument. 5 Quoted in Blum, Virginia L. pg. 35. 6 Baudrillard, Jean. pg. 2. 7 Ibid. pg. 6. 8 Gimlin also consulted six other surgeons, but decided to focus exclusively on one specific doctor and his female patients. pg. 97. 9 Gimlin, Debra L. pg. 98. 10 Ibid. pg. 103. 11 Davis, Kathy. pg. 460. 12 Ibid. pg. 460. 13 This is considerably significant because women ofte n feel guilty for doing things just for themselves particularly in such a vain pursuit. 14 Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Womens Bodies. The Politics of Womens Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance and Behavior. Rose Weitz, ed. 2003. pg. 171. 15 For example, there is an advertisement featured in Virginia Blums book, Flesh Wounds that advertises liposuction. The copy reads: Live Your Dreams. To suggest that people can live their dreams by having liposuction ultimately portrays a false reality because it implies that w ith liposuction people can have the perfect body they always dreamed. Pair this with doctors repeatedly telling their patients to have realistic expectationsand the whole th ing becomes quite contradictory. 16 Gagne, Patricia and Deanna McGaughey. Designing Women: Cultural Hegemony and The Exercise of Power Among Women Who Have Undergone Elective Mammoplasty. Gender and Society. Vol. 16 No. 6, December 2002. pg. 820. 17 Ibid. pg. 820. 18 Ibid. pg. 822. 19 I do not mean to suggest that only surgeons help to reify the dominant norm but that women, and societal institutions also play crucial roles in the support and acceptan ce of this ideal. 20 Here I do not mean to imply that only those who ha ve surgery are separate from their bodies, but as a whole, society has enabled people to see their bodies as separate, or amendable through such things as various weight loss, and diet regimes, for example. 21 Davis, Kathy. My Body is My Art. pg. 457. 22 Ibid. pg. 459. 23 Ibid. pg. 458. 24 Ibid. pg. 458. 25 Blum, Virginia L. pg. 63. 26 ASAPS. 27 ASAPS. 28 I mention Faludi and Bordo (Davis agrees with mu ch of Bordos work on masculinity) not to criticize their assessment of masculinity, but rather to highlight the increasing focus on masculinity. 29 Davis, Kathy. Dubious Equality: Men, Women and Cosmetic Surgery. Body & Society. Sage Publications: 2002. Vol. 8 (1) pg. 51.
62 Chapter 4: Cosmetic Surgery: Another Form of Maintenance and Control 1 Blum, Virginia, pg. 76. 2 Which is not to say that baggy eyes or skin is detrimental either, but the media and surgeons tell us that these age markers should not be normal and can be eliminated through surgery. 3 Ibid. pg. 42. 4 Covino, Deborah Caslav. pg. 69. 5 Ibid. pg. 69. 6 I will say though that these shows do film the recovery and pain that is involved with having surgery, particularly the numerous procedures contestants unde rgo at the same time, but I do not believe that the pain and amount of recovery time is completely represented on television. 7 The fictitious drama Nip/Tuck centers around plastic surgeons, and often shows the gore associated with surgery. I am not very familiar with this program but do acknowledge that there are non-reality programs that feature the less glamorous side of cosmetic surgery.