PLASTIC SURGERY appalls and fascinates us. From new vaginal contouring procedures to speculations over whether a celebrity like Uma Thurman has had work done, we really can’t stop talking about it. And, at least for certain purposes, we shouldn’t. Plastic surgery is a feminist issue, and it isn’t going away.
Celeb gossip outlets reported earlier this month that the Kardashian clan staged an intervention for Kylie Jenner, who recently turned 18, in an attempt to convince her to avoid having major surgery; Jenner has already allegedly undergone microdermabrasion and lip injections. The public largely cheered for the family’s attempt to deter the teenager from going under the knife, although some called their intervention hypocritical, due to speculations about Kim and Kris’ penchants for nips and tucks.
More recently, Modern Family star Ariel Winter has been making headlines after revealing her choice to have a breast reduction in June. At the tender age of 15, the now-17-year-old Winter found her cleavage dubbed “out of control” by an E! Online article, which went on to note that the actress was “clearly growing up!” Winter has said that the hypersexualization of her body by the media, as exemplified by comments like these, has directly contributed to her decision to reduce the size of her breasts.
Although it is certainly not advisable to encourage very young women to make drastic changes to their appearances — due to both the physical health risks involved with having any surgery and the mental anguish caused by botched operations — we should support their decisions and ensure they are well-informed. Unfortunately, public support for cosmetic procedures skews in favor of those we — somewhat arbitrarily — deem medically “necessary.”
For example, we legitimize certain breast surgeries by reasoning that reducing the size of large breasts can alleviate back pain, and recrafting a breast lost to cancer is often seen as a psychological necessity. That same consideration does not often extend to small-breasted women who have enlargement procedures to increase their self-confidence, however.
But I feel it necessary to say that we should not have to argue that something is good for our mental health in order to get support for it. When a young woman had a simple eyebrow enhancement go wrong, suddenly everyone thought she was the victim of a self-esteem so low she would disfigure herself for a chance to feel pretty. Such a shame that she didn’t know how beautiful she was, the public clucked. Sorry, not sorry, but that’s absolute bullsh*t.
No one chides you for a bad dye job or an ear piercing debacle with admonitions about your sense of self-worth. Those are seen as unfortunate accidents, but they aren’t really your fault, right? We see fashion choices, such as hair dye and jewelry, as just that: choices. It is only when we choose to do something out of the ordinary — whether it’s a breast augmentation or having our eyebrows dyed — that we come under fire.
Plastic surgery is certainly arbitrary, but no more arbitrary than wearing contacts or a caftan. And, although surgical procedures come with the risk of dangerous complications, to say that the other aesthetic choices we make are without risk is absurd. I can pretty much guarantee that you own clothing with the potential to kill you, just as I do, but we aren’t nearly as critical of women who wear high heels as those who have had rhinoplasties.
Many will argue that there is a difference between women who have plastic surgery to please someone else and those who go under the knife for personal fulfillment. This is true, but painting broad generalizations about people who have plastic surgery — as abused, manipulated, or vain, for example — won’t prevent cosmetic procedures from happening. In fact, it does not do anything but make women with low self-esteems feel even lower. Even if a woman’s plastic surgery choices are fueled by patriarchal nonsense, telling her that she is worth more than her appearance and then using her decisions about her appearance against her is a vilely hypocritical tactic.
As feminists, we should support each other’s informed decisions. We cannot, in good conscience, allow women to enter operating rooms thinking that plastic surgery is risk-free. But we cannot also advocate for women’s rights to make choices about their lives without accepting those choices with which we do not agree. Making sure that women understand the risks involved in their decisions empowers them much more than any attempts to shame them into submission.
And more than policing women’s choices, we should combat narratives that exploit insecurities in order to make money. Rather than eviscerating women who adhere to — or deviate from — beauty “norms,” let us celebrate our choices. Of course, in the interest of more fully understanding ourselves, we should question our own motives, but we should also trust in our fellow women to make the right decisions for themselves.