It is only very recently that elective cosmetic surgery has entered the mainstream as a routine and socially acceptable way to alter one's appearance. In the 1950s, for example, cosmetic plastic surgery was a largely marginal and unknown medical practice. Just a few decades later, today it is a recognized medical specialty, not to mention a highly profitable multi-billion dollar global industry. Although plastic surgery is regularly performed on men, it is generally a female practice. In 2016, for example, in the United States, 92% of surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures were performed on women and only 8% on men. (Interestingly, although women are, in general, the main recipients of plastic surgery, approximately eight out of nine plastic surgeons are men.) surgery recipients.
It is commonly argued that women who undergo cosmetic surgery are "cultural idiots", "misguided and deluded victims" who have been misled by patriarchal norms that run counter to their "authentic" or "autonomous" selves. The assumption of a widespread false consciousness that diverts women from a more authentic expression of identity and appearance operates in much of the liberal feminist discourse on the subject. Women's decisions to engage in extreme hygiene practices such as cosmetic surgery are devalued as 'inauthentic', driven by heteronormative hegemonic patriarchal social pressures rather than so-called 'authentic' personal preferences. In the context of plastic surgery, the issues of authenticity versus false consciousness are highly ambivalent, and the purpose of this short article is to explore some of these ambivalences. Indeed, plastic surgery is a field in which the question looms as to whether we can meaningfully separate an authentic expression of self and identity from an expression of self that is mediated and constructed by social and institutional expectations.
"For some, if not many, women, plastic surgery is not about becoming beautiful or exceptional, but simply 'surviving'."
In contrast to the prevailing idea that women who undergo cosmetic surgery are "cultural idiots" operating under a false conscience, it is widely reported in the academic literature on cosmetic surgery that women often view cosmetic surgery as a means of taking over control of their bodies and lives. , exercising their agency to alleviate psychological suffering, to return to a more "authentic" experience of themselves. As a result, despite the (obvious) focus on the physical body in cosmetic surgery practices and the promise of improving physical defects, a common justification by doctors and patients for The need for plastic surgery has nothing to do with the physical body, but with the relief of psychological suffering; Significantly, they argue that plastic surgery will alleviate the shame, anxiety, and distress that arise as a result of the perceived flaws in one's own body and the perceived threats to social standing that this can entail. In this context, cosmetic surgery is seen as a means of reconciling a troubled or alienated self with a more "authentic" experience of the self.
Therefore, it is clear from extensive empirical research and anecdotal evidence that, for women, plastic surgery is not simply an expression or manifestation of excessive vanity, nor a mere symptom of a false conscience deluded by patriarchy. Instead, surgical repairs are sometimes used as a means of achieving a "normal" appearance, in order to restore an "authentic" experience of oneself that is not perpetually plagued by shame and inadequacy. So it seems that for some, if not many, women, plastic surgery is not about becoming beautiful or exceptional, but simply about "surviving". Sought out in response to body shaming, which can range from mild to severe and even downright unbearable, these women hope that cosmetic surgery will help them become 'unnoticeable', 'invisible' and 'ordinary', to use some of the terms commonly used. used. the search. interviews. In these contexts, it can be said that plastic surgery can be seen as somethingbeneficialfor the subject where the exercise of the option for surgery can improve the quality of life, self-esteem and psychological functioning. a return to oneauthentictry yourself, so to speak.
However, plastic surgery is performed in a realm, viz.medicine– which is rife with norms, assumptions, and power relations that historically and even today have compromised women's agency, authority, and autonomy. Creating spaces for expressions of authenticity in the medical field is highly questionable, as objectification, standardization, and normalization are critical to its success. In fact, by offering a diagnostic language and a therapeutic narrative to ease the cycle of shame felt by many women in relation to their appearance concerns, where the advice and attention of a medical expert legitimizes what might otherwise seem like a embarrassing concern, clinicians are in a unique position to sculpt the parameters of what might be considered to correspond to an "authentic" sense of self in the first instance. A reassuring physician can alleviate your shame and distress, turning what you feel may be mere vanity or narcissism into a serious medical concern. A perceived physical defect is no longer an embarrassing secret or personal failing, but part of a legitimate medical problem.
"A perceived physical defect is no longer an embarrassing secret or personal failing, but part of a legitimate medical issue."
The diagnostic language is powerful. As critics writing about gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability, among other embedded states that carry shame and stigma, have noted, a medical diagnosis can ease distress, empower, and empower an individual or group. As opposed to feeling different, ashamed and alone, belonging to a medically classified group can be a positive and even transformative experience, producing a sense of authenticity about one's identity through the validation of a previously politically or socially marginalized, invisible subjectivity. and ignored. only the shame is alleviated, but often the medical model offers treatment pathways and options, and perhaps even a "cure."
However, once these diagnoses or classifications are accepted and perceived as reality, it is difficult to resist the dictates of biomedicine and the normalizing ideology that sustains it. As a result, while doctors are key to alleviating the anguish, shame and embarrassment one may feel about one's body, they are also in a unique position to incite them.
There are numerous reports in the feminist plastic surgery literature of doctors who, in consultations, routinely make women “see” that parts of their bodies, for which they have not even considered surgery, are in fact also defective and in need of intervention. This has profound consequences for self-perception and self-esteem. Feminist theorist Susan Bordo cites this example:
"Write toNew Yorkmagazine, Lily Burana, 28.5-foot-6, 118 pounds, describes how a series of interviews with plastic surgeons, most of whom recommended rhinoplasty, lip augmentation, implants, liposuction and eyelid work, changed her perception of herself from 'a tough young seedling that would need a bit of pruning... to a gnarled thing that begs to be plucked up to the roots and rebuilt limb by limb."
"There are numerous reports in the feminist cosmetic surgery literature of doctors who, in consultations, routinely make women "see" that parts of their bodies, for which they have not even considered surgery, are in fact also defective and in need of intervention. . ".
In this way, plastic surgeons can use the common formula of consumer culture: they cultivate deep anxieties about the body and then present themselves and their services as the only means of removing or alleviating the shame and guilt they themselves have helped to bring about. to produce.
Due to the inherent discrepancy in power relations between doctors and patients, aggravated by the strongly gendered landscape in which cosmetic surgery practices are inserted, it is an endless field for the invention of new defects and, consequently, new interventions to correct them. existing customers while expanding its markets to younger women, teens, men and various ethnic groups.
What is interesting, therefore, is that despite numerous testimonials that cosmetic surgery is sought after as a means of authenticity, alleviating psychological distress caused by perceived flaws in appearance, there is mixed evidence about the overall positive social and psychological impact of cosmetic surgery. cosmetic surgery, nor clear evidence of how long the reported positive impacts will last. Evidence suggests that cosmetic surgery may offer a superficial solution that targets a specific instance of body shame, while ultimately exacerbating overall body dissatisfaction.
In fact, the argument that plastic surgery is psychologically beneficial is extremely problematic and full of contradictions. Surgeons are regularly advised not to operate on those suffering from mental health problems, especially body dysmorphia disorder (BDD), a psychopathology in which the experience of one's body is extremely negative and necessarily 'inauthentic', contrary to what, for 'normal'. ' standards, would be considered 'ordinary' or even 'attractive'. It is unlikely that these people will be satisfied with the results of their surgeries, nor that they will experience relief from their psychological suffering. However, while rejecting people with BDD as potential candidates for surgery, some surgeons at the same time encourage BDD-like behavior in their "healthy" and "fit" patients who come for surgery as a result of their dissatisfaction with minor defects or even inconspicuous in its normal appearance. . As a more honest surgeon comments: "Plastic surgery sharpens your eyesight... You do something to yourself, suddenly you see yourself in the mirror every five minutes, the blemishes no one else can see."In fact, a common mantra for women undergoing these types of procedures is, “You might not notice…youDoes."
Maple, "Twenty Years in the Twilight Zone", 28.
Quoted in: Maple, "Twenty Years in the Twilight Zone", 26-27.
Eva Wiseman, "Would you like a nose job with your sandwich?"The Observer's Magazine2010, 56. Emphasis added.