Louise O’Neill

THE LAST WORD

Irish Examiner - Magazine - - Contents - Louise O’ Neill is the au­thor of Only Ever Yours and Ask­ing For It @oneil­llo

Af­ter my first few in­ter­views on tele­vi­sion, I quickly learned that it was for the best if I didn’t watch them back af­ter­wards. And when I say ‘for the best’, I mean I de­cided to do so in an at­tempt to re­main a semi-sane hu­man be­ing. “Wait,” I kept say­ing to any­one who would lis­ten. “Is that what my face ac­tu­ally looks like?” and then I promptly re­solved to ei­ther a) model my fa­cial ex­pres­sions on Mona Lisa for the du­ra­tion of my life or b) in­vest in ex­ten­sive plas­tic surgery. When I had to watch the

Ask­ing For It doc­u­men­tary, I sat a dis­tance from the tele­vi­sion and re­fused to wear my glasses. Oh, how beau­ti­ful I looked at my blurry, un­fo­cused best.

Sub­se­quently, I have felt great sym­pa­thy for peo­ple whose jobs re­quire them to be in front of the cam­era on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. It must be al­most im­pos­si­ble not to be­come self-con­scious of your phys­i­cal­ity, par­tic­u­larly if you are a woman. A lot of crit­i­cism has been lev­elled at the Kar­dashian fam­ily for their al­leged fond­ness for cos­metic surgery (in­deed, the dif­fer­ences be­tween pho­tos from sea­son one of Keep­ing Up With The

Kar­dashi­ans and present day are star­tling, to say the least) but I won­der how many of us would fol­low suit if we had sim­i­lar fi­nan­cial means? Would we feel the need for nose jobs and im­plants if we were con­stantly watch­ing our­selves on screen, scan­ning close-ups for ev­ery minute ‘flaw’? And then, to add in­sult to in­jury, if we had trolls on so­cial me­dia con­firm­ing said flaws for us? How would we feel about our bod­ies if we were in their po­si­tion?

The con­ver­sa­tion around cos­metic surgery and how it in­ter­acts with fem­i­nism is an in­ter­est­ing one. While the num­ber of men seek­ing surgery in Ire­land is on the rise, it is still pre­dom­i­nantly women who are un­der­go­ing pro­ce­dures here. Many would ar­gue that such surgery is in­her­ently an­tifem­i­nist, that these women are mu­ti­lat­ing their own bod­ies in a des­per­ate at­tempt to pan­der to the male gaze. While there is def­i­nitely an ar­gu­ment to be made that cos­metic surgery re­in­forces the ten­ants of the Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf’s the­ory that “the more le­gal and ma­te­rial hin­drances women

It seems dou­bly cruel how we laugh at plas­tic surgery that has gone wrong

have bro­ken through, the more strictly and heav­ily and cru­elly im­ages of fe­male beauty have come to weigh upon us”), it seems sim­plis­tic to de­ride all women who have ‘work’ done as vain, men-ob­sessed traitors to the fe­male cause. If you be­lieve in a woman’s right to have au­ton­omy over her own body — and I hope you do be­lieve that — then surely it is their right to do with their bod­ies as they see fit. If some­one feels that fix­ing a crooked nose that was bro­ken in child­hood or get­ting their ears pinned back or pay­ing for a sprin­kling of Bo­tox so the re­flec­tion in the mir­ror bet­ter rep­re­sents the per­son they feel like on the in­side, is it re­ally up to you to crit­i­cise them for their de­ci­sion?

Of course, there are is­sues that need to be ad­dressed. An Amer­i­can-Korean friend of mine in­tro­duced me to the idea of ‘ethic’ plas­tic surgery, where women of Asian de­scent pay to make their fea­tures more West­ern­ised; high­light­ing how prob­lem­atic Euro­cen­tric stan­dards of beauty are and the over­whelm­ing need for di­verse rep­re­sen­ta­tion in our me­dia and pop­u­lar cul­ture. The pop­u­lar­ity of lip fillers raises eth­i­cal ques­tions around cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, and how white women are cel­e­brated for fea­tures (such as full lips and big asses) that his­tor­i­cally, black women have been ridiculed for. The rise in young women seek­ing ‘vagi­nal face-lifts’ and the ob­vi­ous shame these women feel about their gen­i­tals also strikes me as in­trin­si­cally misog­y­nis­tic.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, I’m not in­ter­ested in cri­tiquing the women who de­cide to get plas­tic surgery. I’m more con­cerned with ex­am­in­ing a cul­ture which en­cour­ages women to be­lieve that their sense of worth is de­pen­dent on their at­trac­tive­ness. Why are we so ob­sessed with the cos­metic work that celebri­ties are get­ting done and our de­mands that they tell us about it in great de­tail? It seems dou­bly cruel how we laugh at plas­tic surgery that has gone wrong — the botched lip im­plants, the overly frozen fore­head, the per­ma­nently sur­prised ex­pres­sion — when we si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­mand fa­mous women main­tain a youth­ful ap­pear­ance at all costs. (I’m not im­mune to this my­self. WHO is do­ing JLo’s work and HOW does she look younger now than she did 15 years ago?!) Why do we be­lieve men look more dis­tin­guished as they age but that women lose their sex­ual value?

This dou­ble stan­dard seems even more dev­as­tat­ing when women have been taught from such an early age that our sex­ual value is our cur­rency for suc­cess, hap­pi­ness, and love. Is it any won­der that more women do re­sort to sur­gi­cal help than their male peers when faced with the ap­par­ent loss of that cur­rency?

I be­lieve that when it comes to cos­metic surgery, like many other things in life, it comes down to in­ten­tion. What is your in­ten­tion for choos­ing to un­dergo surgery? If it’s be­cause of deep-rooted is­sues around self-es­teem and wor­thi­ness, I would rec­om­mend wait­ing and see­ing a ther­a­pist first. If it’s be­cause your hus­band told you he prefers a more ‘buxom’ fig­ure, then I would rec­om­mend a good di­vorce lawyer. If you want to un­dergo the sort of plas­tic surgery that would leave you ut­terly un­recog­nis­able in the end, I sin­cerely hope you won’t find a sur­geon un­eth­i­cal enough to help you in your aims and that you will find the peace you de­serve. But if it’s for you and you alone — and I know how dif­fi­cult it can be to un­pick whether such a de­sire truly comes from you or stems from so­ci­etal pres­sure — then who am I to tell you that it’s not fem­i­nist to do so?

Women are made to feel guilty about so much. Can we not just give each other a break?

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