KnowURbody: The problem of plastic surgery

Yuliia Vashchenko – absolwentka stosunków międzynarodowych, podróżniczka, uważna obserwatorka relacji geopolitycznych i tych zwykłych, ludzkich. Pierwsza wolontariuszka Laboratorium Zmiany z Europejskiego Korpusu Solidarności. Kreatywna dusza, która dbała o nasze social media, tłumaczyła nasze raporty i podręczniczki na język angielski, a przede wszystkim wspierała w codziennych żmudnych zadaniach projektowych. Niejednokrotnie tworzyła z nami nieszablonowe rozwiązania z zakresu wspierania równości oraz zabierała głos w ważnych dla niej kwestiach podczas naszych szkoleń, warsztatów i wydarzeń. Dziś prezentujemy pierwszy z czterech jej esejów, które poświęciła obrazowi ciała w społeczeństwie i kulturze. Zapraszamy do lektury.

This is my project “KnowURbody”, where I try to understand how the image of the woman’s body is influenced by society  and how we can deal with it without harmful effects on our mental health. The topic we’re going to discuss today is why plastic surgery is considered to be the empowerment tool for women and is it really true?

While looking for information on that topic, suddenly I found the sites of plastic surgery clinics where I read that plastic surgery appeared to be an empowerfull tool for women.

For instance, “More often than not, a patient’s primary goal with plastic surgery is to simply feel more like themselves, and it’s actually a decision that empowers them to live as they wish and makes them happier” or “We want every single woman who walks through our doors to feel empowered, educated, and, most of all, happy. Always remember that we value and support your choices. It’s your body and it will always be your decision”. And after reading all of these statements I couldn’t help but wonder: is loving myself the way I am empowering me or all I need to do is to finally change the way my nose looks to accept my appearance? Why should I learn how to love myself if I can do one procedure and forget about all of my problems?

First of all, yes, I really need to admit that plastic surgery has positive outcomes for some people, especially for those whose appearance has changed because of some accidents, military actions, health problems or some sort of abuse. Those changes can harmfully affect the quality of life, because many people can feel insecure, shy, and less confident. In such cases plastic surgery can help patients to become more comfortable and content with themselves. This often makes them more confident, outgoing and increasingly willing to try new things and take advantage of new opportunities. As these individuals take full advantage of looking and feeling their best, they generally become happier people.

But can we consider plastic surgery to be an empowering tool when it comes to people, who just want to be accepted by society and look the way it’s in fashion right now with the help of plastic procedures? And can we blame social media for thinking like that?

Now the tendency of doing some cosmetic procedures scares me a little bit, because almost everyone around me wants to enhance their appearance somehow. Lip fillers, facial contouring, brow lifting and Brazilian butt lifts have become so common for us, that we even don’t pay attention to them. 5 years ago I didn’t even know the meaning of all of those terms and now they are almost everywhere: from TV shows to articles on VOGUE or ELLE. And I don’t even mention Instagram. There is even a new notion called “The Instagram Face” which has appeared after the rise in fashion of different instagram and snapchat masks. I highly recommend reading the article The Age of Instagram Face by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker to find out more about it. Celebrities and influencers admit their cosmetic procedures name them as empowering or feminist. Their reasoning goes like this:

“Since the feminist movement centers around choice, women have the right to do whatever they wish with their bodies. It is an act of independence, free will, and body positivity.”

Of course, social media is one of the reasons for the rise in the fashion of plastic surgery. In the article called Is Teenage Plastic Surgery a Feminist Act? by  Kathleen Hale published in Harper’s Bazaar, I found such statistics released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons,that more people than ever before are getting plastic surgery. Many are doing so to look better in selfies (“our patients are indeed blaming their weird appearance in selfies as a reason to consult a plastic surgeon and seek minor or major cosmetic procedures,” according to an article from the National Institutes of Health).

Such a tendency we can see not only among the older women who have some age changes in their appearance, but especially among teenagers and young women. In the same article from Harper Bazaar Dr. Simon Ourian mentioned that “his younger patients bring in photos and announce unselfconsciously, “I want to look like this,” whereas older patients—“and by older, I mean 30s and 40s,”—can’t find the words for what they want. They arrive at his office clutching timeworn photos, wanting to look like themselves, only younger. But 18 to 19 year olds come to him wanting to look “different”—like “someone else,” Ourian said. “They bring pictures of themselves that they’ve done on Facetune, or another app.”

Sounds scary. But I found something which sounds even scarier. According to Nancy Jo Sales, an author and journalist who spent years interviewing girls ages 13-18 about their relationships with social media, one of the barriers to having a productive discussion about the unhealthy nature of such relationships is the relatively modern notion that selfies, nude pictures, and lip enhancements are an expression of personal empowerment, or feminism. Now many people believe that sexualization equals feminism. And plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures help you to become this sexy version of yourself and finally start feeling confident.

Is it true? Or do those women just have to fit the criteria of what our culture considers beautiful? It’s absolutely normal to do cosmetic procedures or plastic surgery and no one has the right to shame you or make fun of you because of it. If you understand that the rhinoplasty or breast implants can help you fully accept and love yourself – go and do it, but don’t call it the act of empowering and act of feminist.

Trendy talking points like body positivity and feminism have become at once fashionable and meaningless and now almost everything connected with female body can be considered as empowerfull tool. Change the way your nose looks, because your body is your choice. Become the sexy version of yourself because sexy body is the way you can express your feminist views without telling them out loud. Bigger lips – bigger self-confidence. And I can continue more and more. Sometimes I even start doubting myself: is it ok not to want any cosmetic procedures or I just don’t want to work to become the better version of myself?

Some people who seek out surgery have body dysmorphic disorder. These people may obsess with a particular body part for hours a day and mistakenly believe they are ugly. They may feel this way even after they have surgery and continue to look for different procedures. Fortunately, body dysmorphic disorder can be treated with therapy and medications–not plastic surgery. Maybe, it’s better to spend all of the money on a good specialist and try to find why and for what you want to change your appearance, rather than go under the knife.

Everyone has the right to do whatever they please with their body but it is delusional to associate cosmetic surgery with female empowerment. Female empowerment is accepting your body the way it is, with all its flaws.

This isn’t about „I choose my choice” feminism so much as it’s the idea that real liberation for women must include the possibility that not every individual decision should be weighed against what it means for the collective. Because, sometimes, a face lift really is just a face lift.