Beauty is in the Eye of the Money Holder

by Cara on October 5, 2007

in beauty myths, class and economics, discrimination, fat-shaming, media, misogyny, objectification, patriarchy, sexism, women’s health, work

This article from AlterNet about whether the idea of natural beauty has been abandoned due to the rise in popularity of plastic surgery really got under my skin (pun not intended). It is apparently out of American Sexuality Magazine, which I have never read but certainly won’t be picking up anytime soon, based off of this piece.

The title question is obnoxious enough. Quite frankly, I would love to see the end of the concept of “natural beauty,” not because I support cosmetic surgery but because the ideas for “natural beauty” are extremely rigid and really not all that natural. They’re arbitrary, antiquated and close-minded. I’d love to see the day where “natural beauty” is about recognizing that real bodies are all beautiful and worthy of appreciation.

But I cannot in any way support ending the idea of “natural beauty” in order to replace it with a literally artificial standard. Cosmetic surgery pisses me off precisely because it ruins any small hope that we may have had of realizing my dream. And obviously, it pisses me off that women are constantly told how they should and should not look.

The article is just like all of the others — mildly concerned over whether we have gone “too far,” but ultimately celebrating the “choice” that women (it’s always women) now have to make themselves “better.” But this — this just fucking ridiculous:

“Once it was necessary to feel stigmatized, ugly, or abnormal to justify getting cosmetic surgery,” explained Pitts-Taylor. “Now in the United States there is a rhetoric of empowerment surrounding surgeries. One does it to ‘improve’ oneself, for example. People express an interest in using cosmetic surgery as a way to take care of themselves.”

Take *Amanda Scott, a sales rep from Houston. “I lost a lot of weight years ago and ended up with extremely droopy, small boobs,” said Scott, who despite earning less than $50K a year recently had her breasts done to “even out” her proportions.

Tall, fit, and perpetually bronze, Scott, twenty-eight, said her maintenance routine also includes regular mani/pedis, monthly waxes, hair cuts and color as needed, and frequent splurges at the cosmetic counter, a regimen she considers fundamental to her life and career. “As a single woman approaching thirty, I definitely feel a lot of pressure to look a certain way. But I’ve always known that being attractive helps out career wise as well as romantically.”

Whether cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery can actually level the playing field is hard to say. For years, only the wealthiest could afford the hefty costs and downtime demanded by pealing skin, draining tubes, and compression garments. Remarked Pitts-Taylor, “Plastic surgery stratifies our bodies in economic and class-based ways; those who can afford it will wear their financial resources on their bodies.” . . .

“I really don’t think there’s a danger of have and have-nots,” said Oliver.

“Cosmetic surgery has really been ‘democratized’ between classes as compared to say, twenty, thirty years ago, because it’s much easier to find a way to borrow money for it. The financing industry has gone heavy into cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and laser corrective vision surgery.

Oh. My. God.

You know, it doesn’t seem possible that I am actually reading an article that suggests that plastic surgery might (it’s hard to say!) increase women’s status in the world. But I am. And wow, it’s really, really sad.

Do I really, truly need to explain to people that the fact that women feel like they need to spend tens of thousands of dollars mutilating their bodies to get ahead is in fact a sign of just how oppressed we are? Have we gotten to a point where this is no longer self-evident? I thought that it was obvious that telling women how horribly unworthy their bodies are and then charging exorbitant amounts to “fix” them is misogyny. Where did all of the sane people go? Because it looks to me like they received an invitation to the Patriarchy Club and jumped at the opportunity.

And what the hell is wrong with these pro-cosmetic surgery types, anyway? What kind of crazy pills did they swallow? I’m constantly wondering if they actually believe their own shit or if they just think that the rest of us are so stupid that we will. Cosmetic surgery has been democratized among the classes? Since when? The only way that such a statement can possibly make sense is if your definition of “democratized among the classes” means “has extended into the realm of middle-class white women who take out loans and waste all kinds of money they don’t have so that they can be a little more like the rich people.”

Clearly, the actual working class (which is seemingly growing by the minute) has absolutely no chance in hell of affording cosmetic surgery. They have bills to pay. The middle class can’t afford it either, and it’s about damn time that someone deflated their egos and let them know.  Suggesting that they take out loans to cover the surgery they don’t need is not only ludicrous, it’s also outrageously irresponsible. I think it’s pretty clear that the last thing the working and middle classes need are more loans.

But hey, it’s a business, and the people at the top are making money, so who gives a shit? (Mmm, capitalism.) And that’s what pisses me off about these types of articles the most. Lots of quotes from women who are very, very happy with their cosmetic surgery (if I spent $50,000 to make myself look “better,” I’d make sure to convince myself that I was happy, too) and lots of quotes from the cosmetic surgery industry about how “empowering” their products are. And the quotes from women who aren’t happy with their surgery? The ones who feel like they were duped and wasted money? A feminist explaining why cosmetic surgery is harmful to women?  Or hey, just some fact checking and taking the time to point out that “actually, if you work a minimum or slightly above minimum wage job, you really can’t afford plastic surgery, no matter what the doctors like to say?” Seems like vetting statements that are easily disprovable would be pretty damn easy. But apparently not. At least, not when there’s money to be made and women’s bodies to exploit.

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{ 1 comment }

1 brandann October 7, 2007 at 3:26 am

i just read this article in US weekly (b/c i was in the check out line and bored) about this “celebrity” (i had never heard of her) who got “revenge plastic surgery”. it was really a sad thing…she blathered on and on about how she was teased for being “flat” by boys and how she hated the nose she inherited from her father (it was so big she could actually see it when she looked down…oh noes!!!), and how it was her way of getting back at everyone who teased her…hmmm…

how is that “getting back at” anyone? doesn’t that just fuel the fire that causes ass hats like the kids she went to school w/ to tease girls who don’t fit their fucked up ideals? i just don’t get it!

as a mother i have to ask (cuz in the article she said her mother and grandmother were supportive and “glad they didn’t have to do it”) where do we fail our daughters? (and apparently our sons, since they seem to think that women should look a certain way?) how in the fuck do we let our children get to a point where instead of learning to love themselves they live in self loathing until they can chop themselves up???

i don’t get it, and women like the ones in that article, and the one you quoted above, seem to be so deluded. i cry inside for them. i know it hurts to hate things about yourself, and to want to change…but this can’t be the best way. i think we are just as much at fault as parents as the media for this…i wish more parents could help their kids learn to love themselves, and teach them that they never need to resort to a butcher…

but this is just MHO.

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