THE LAST WORD
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?