Why Do We Shame Women Who Get Plastic Surgery?
The year 2018: Privacy does matter
At the beginning I was surprised to experience such a case in 2018 in Switzerland, the center of Europe. Then I started to accepted it and I respected it. I adjusted my consultation time so that patients don’t meet each other, I rented extra parking spots in the garage underneath the practice so that my patients come and go privately.
But still I cannot stop thinking: Why do we shame women who get aesthetic treatments or cosmetic surgery?
An eye opening interview
Some years ago, I happened to read an interview of Lisa Kudrow (some might know her better as Phoebe from the TV Series “Friends”), in which the reporter asked about her nose job. “That was life altering,” she said candidly. “I went from, in my mind, hideous, to not hideous. I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So, there were plenty of people who wouldn’t know how hideous I looked before. That was a good, good, good change.”
Said among friends, this statement might have been unremarkable; it’s how many of us talk to our inner circle about going under the knife. But when said in public, this casual acceptance of cosmetic surgery is radical.
I know what I am talking about, I had cosmetic surgery too
Lisa Kudrow is not a tragic victim of unfair beauty standards. Lisa Kudrow is not a beauty-obsessed woman on a one-way path to looking like a “real housewife.” Lisa Kudrow is not someone who believes her self-worth depends entirely on the way she looks. Instead, she’s just a woman who got a nose job years ago and feels as if it made her life a little better. Sometimes it’s really just that simple.
I know because I too had cosmetic surgery. When I tell people, I had a breast lift after pregnancy and a liposuction of my belly they often tell me that it doesn’t really count. “It’s not really cosmetic surgery. It’s for health reasons, right? You just wanted to feel more fit”.
Forgive me for I have sinned.
Sometimes I agree with them. Not because they are right, but because it’s not worth it. They’ve already decided that I have not committed the unforgivable sin of surgically altering my body for purely aesthetic reasons. That is for the vain. That is for the shallow. And I am not vain and shallow.
The truth is, it was for aesthetic reasons.
I didn’t like the proportions my body took after I gave birth to my daughter. My old clothes didn’t fit me right, my diet or sport activities couldn’t change my figure dramatically and there was no single sports bra that could adequately control the physically and psychologically uncomfortable falling breast when I jogged. Really, the feeling of physical lightness, and the ability to adequately conceal myself in clothes, made the surgery all so worth it that I never once tried to justify the procedure as something I did for my health.
Aesthetic surgery and psychology
Research shows that women like Kudrow and me are, in fact, the norm. One study found that only 12 percent of Cosmetic surgery recipients have unrealistic expectations. The majority who have gone under the knife did not expect that a little nip or tuck would solve all their problems or make them a new person.
As a result, they did experience a boost of happiness and confidence following their procedures. “Compared to those who had chosen not to have Cosmetic surgery, the patients felt healthier, were less anxious, had developed more self-esteem and found the operated body feature in particular, but also their body as a whole, more attractive,” the authors wrote. “No adverse effects were observed.”
Talking about body image is tricky. For all of us.
The pressures to look a certain way are real, and the stakes are only higher in this age of smartphone cameras, selfies and social media. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of procedures has gone up 5 percent since 2011, with minimally invasive services, like dermal fillers injections, fueling the growth. The physical transformations of celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Renée Zellweger, and Uma Thurman – courtesy of what is largely assumed to be cosmetic surgery – have also served as unwitting avatars of the save-women-from-themselves movement.
We have a long way ahead of us. But sometimes we just need a break.
Many argue that we should dismantle the system that makes women feel like they need to look a certain way in order to feel beautiful. I agree that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to make women of different ethnicities, ages, and body types feel like they can do however they please. We need more Mindy Kalings, Gina Rodriguezes and Helen Mirrens to show us what is what.
Still, while doing this important work, we need to also make room for the fact that, when it’s all said and done, many women will still opt for a little aesthetic surgery, and that’s okay, too.
Not every cosmetic surgery is a beacon of feminism
We can expand what it means to be beautiful without condemning such choices altogether. 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.
In addition to expanding beauty ideals and tolerance, we also need to fight the pernicious – not to mention very sexist – idea that our inner selves and our outer selves are at odds with one another. The way we talk about women who get aesthetic surgery assumes that caring about our looks and caring about our souls is a zero-sum game.
Beauty is a sign of intelligence
It’s a logic that suggests that external fakeness is a symptom of internal fakeness, even stupidity. And all we can do when we see a woman who has gone the surgery route is shake our heads in fear and repulsion (and just a smidge of self-righteousness).
But why? I know it is passé to say women can have it all. But, in this one way, I believe we really can. We are more than capable of searching for internal truths with lipstick on, being feminists with face lifts, or choosing something a little fake while also being very real.
And I strongly agree with Andy Warhol: Beauty is a sign of Intelligence.