Editor’s Note: This month, that is July 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Body Image, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront, with respect to our bodies in private or public spaces, or both. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Priyanka Gulati
A few years back, when I took a selfie from the super-high-res camera of my upgraded One Plus 6, my slightly asymmetrical face was revealed to me. I was stunned to have never noticed this before! I immediately went back to some old photos and realized my face had been like that all along. And at the time, I was also a naivete swayed by ‘Bratz Dolls’ on Instagram labelled as ‘influencers’. I yearned to look perfect just like them—take perfect pictures and selfies.
Fortunately, I matured past that turmoil and accepted my negligibly lopsided nose, uneven lips, disproportionate ears and a food baby! And unfortunately, there are millions of people who get persuaded by the digitally or surgically photoshopped faces and bodies. Many young girls on both spectra of my age group, want to get their superficial flaws fixed just to look better in selfies! Cosmetic surgeries have escalated in the past few years because social media has been one of the rainmakers for the industry.
Before we move ahead, let’s decipher one distinction. Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is poles apart from plastic surgery. While plastic surgery is done to treat birth disorders, trauma, burns and disease, cosmetic surgery’s simple goal is to enhance the appearance to invoke an aesthetic appeal.
Butt implants, lip fillers, nose reshaping, boob jobs – this industry is based on the premise of superficial standards of beauty and thrives on human insecurities. Before forming a staunch opinion, I educated myself on various perspectives on cosmetic surgery. In a nutshell, most explanations said that if it made you feel more confident, then it was okay. Now, two problems lie at the nexus of this thinking.
First, women account for a whopping 86.4% of all the cosmetic procedures done worldwide. If this industry was not preying on the patriarchy’s concept of reducing a woman’s self-worth simply to her outer appearance, then the numbers wouldn’t be so tilted.
Second, it also ‘normalizes’ self-confidence/esteem being directly proportionate to one’s looks. The supposed rationale?—‘You are doing this for yourself and not the society’. But the cornerstone of this thinking that, ‘You will feel better if you look better,’ roots from patriarchy. It is conditioned, and our thinking has also gotten conditioned.
Just how we are trying to unlearn that body hair is ugly on women, why can’t we learn with the same vigour that fat noses, thin lips and flat breasts and butts aren’t unbecoming?
In South Korea, the hub of cosmetic surgeries, a survey among young men and women revealed that they saw cosmetic surgery as a means to a better future. From getting a mate to boosting your self-esteem, cosmetic surgery has become a cure for many. According to research, the majority of patients seeking cosmetic surgery suffer from psychiatric disorders like body dysmorphia, narcissistic personality disorder, or histrionic personality disorders.
As feminism lobbies for the body-positivity movement, what should be our stance on cosmetic surgery?
Many feminists justify cosmetic surgery by asserting their right to self-autonomy, i.e., my body, my right; maybe a caboodle of experiences made them feel inadequate or not good enough. If fixing that one thing, or a couple of things about their appearance would make them feel even a tad bit better, then it’s their right to do it. And while I am empathetic towards their affliction as I have experienced it first hand, this argument just seems individualistic to me.
For example, Kylie Jenner’s drastic makeover—filling the ditches of her insecurities—rocketed the trend for plumped lips. Kylie Jenner, a victim of the patriarchal idea of beauty became its perpetrator too. Impressionable young girls who idolize Kylie, sought to plump their lips with shot glasses to the point of bursting their blood vessels. Some even knocked the doors of surgeons wanting to mimic her features. Whether we’re in the public eye or not, if we mirror the claimed ideal notions of beauty, we are sending out some ripple messages. A chain reaction will be set by default.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for women in solidarity and girl power. But if a crusader for body-positivity says, ‘Fat is beautiful,’ then the next minute they might hail their friend for having a tummy tuck; well, you can decide for yourself how this might look!
One could argue that cosmetic surgery is just a form of self-expression and women empowerment. It’s a known fact that a good share of people who get ‘work’ done are fiercely tight-lipped about it. They don’t want the world to know. They want their apparent glitches fixed and want it to look natural, as if they didn’t get anything done. I don’t see how giving into beauty conventions is expressive or empowering.
Even with this view, an inexplicable hunch tells me that a movement to boycott cosmetic surgery would be unethical. So, what can be the middle ground here?
Browsing through the internet, I didn’t come across anything concrete proving a thorough pre-operative mental health assessment of a surgery candidate. While most countries require consultation with a general practitioner, the rules are lousy enough to make this a Billion-Dollar industry. The law around this needs to be stringent enough to not make any cosmetic procedure a cakewalk. At the least, not for a teen who is yet to discover themselves or someone with a disorder for whom this is a remedy in vain.
In my opinion, cosmetic surgery and weight-loss pills are cut from the same cloth. Both encumber the body positivity movement; yet only the latter is welcomed with demur.
A whole lot of us spend our time in front of cameras and mirrors nit-picking our flaws that we never saw before. As one decides to go under the scalpel, one strives to meet the superfluous expectations that they might have set for themselves through a societal lens. As feminists, we need to figure out where our loyalties lie, before cosmetic surgery is camouflaged as a tolerable loophole.
At the tender age of 17, I had set an unrealistic benchmark for my appearance. My struggle to set my benchmark as ‘me’ is still under way. So, I understand, that as women we are scrutinized for everything protruding out of or inside our bodies. It’s a struggle, a combat with the self, even. Sometimes a quick-fix seems like a tempting road in this effed-up world.
But I want to point out that the body positivity-movement in its purest form, stands for ‘self-acceptance’. We need to ask ourselves, where do the self-sabotaging thoughts come from?
What is the right way to deal with them?
Whatever you see as your imperfections, embrace them as perfect until you won’t see them anymore. As the cliché goes, if you accept yourself the world will eventually learn to accept you. At least, the nice ones will!
Priyanka’s morality is her strongest suit. She is a feminist, environmentalist and philanthropist—in progress.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India