Why Do We Hate Cosmetic Surgery So Freaking Much?


Oh man, cosmetic surgery, right!?? Those people are so embarrassing. All consensually altering their bodies in an effort to feel beautiful and emotionally fortified after spending a lifetime in a grueling culture that hammers into them the message that physical perfection is all that matters and human worth has an expiration date and they must strive to emulate youth at all cost or else perish hollow and alone and shit. WHATTA BUNCHA BIMBOS.

Ugh, and check out that one over there, whose surgery maybe didn’t go so well, or who couldn’t afford a high-end Bev Hills doctor, or whose body dysmorphia has led them to pursue surgery after surgery until they have to wear their mental illness/emotional dysfunction permanently on their face for all to see, like a mask, or, more accurately, like the absence of one. Hey, lady, quit being such a dill-hole and HIDE IT DEEP INSIDE LIKE THE REST OF US.

Why do we hate cosmetic surgery so much?

Why do we scorn those who seek it so gleefully? Why do we treat “bad” cosmetic surgery as somehow more of a moral failing than “good” plastic surgery? Why do we teach women that staying young and beautiful is the most important thing, and then shame them for attempting to adhere to our mandate? Why do we invent these procedures if no one’s supposed to use them? Why do we claim to want women to “age gracefully,” when what we really mean is “SHAKE HELEN MIRREN OVER A MIRROR AND THEN SNORT HER FAIRY DUST”? Why do hardline feminist boundaries about body snarking and autonomy go out the window, for so many of us, when it comes to Lindsay Lohan’s lips or Heidi Montag’s boobs?

Well, we have a lot of excuses. It’s shallow. It’s dangerous. It’s a choice, therefore it’s fair game. It’s caving to the patriarchy. It’s lying, it’s cheating, it’s vanity unchecked—our beautiful people are supposed to be flawless naturally and without effort. They’re supposed to eat pork ribs conspicuously in public and jog Runyon Canyon “for the endorphins” and work hard at the gym but not too hard. A seemly amount. And they were actually really unpopular in high school because they were a total beanpole tomboy and no boys liked them and they wished they could gain weight, actually! And they just got off this great cleanse, you have to try this cleanse, but also they LOVE CHEESE. And they pay makeup artists to draw a better face on their regular face—not a surgeon to cut them up and build them a new one. Beauty is supposed to be magical and aspirational. Blood and swelling and piles of money spoil the fantasy. (Although, when you think about it, what’s more aspirational than that? It’s concrete and attainable. Being reborn into Karlie Kloss’s body isn’t. Does aspiration have to be hopeless?)

There’s nothing wrong with getting cosmetic surgery. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with pointing out celebrities’ cosmetic surgery. After all, an actress’s face is a pretty integral part of her job. But why on earth do we attach a value judgment to it?

Greg Stevens at the Daily Dot confronted a whole bunch of the most popular arguments against cosmetic surgery, and declared all of them “wrong”:

The problem is not the amount of money spent. At least, for an open-minded person it should not be. One can always make the argument that the same amount of money could be “better spent” on other things, certainly, but most progressive people realize that if you go down the road of dictating how people may or may not spend their spare cash you hit a moral sinkhole. The next thing you know, nobody is allowed to buy artwork because that same money could be “better spent” on feeding starving children.
Moreover, the cost alone can’t explain the emotionality of these reactions to cosmetic procedures. Plenty of people buy $500,000 cars when a $20,000 car would run just fine, and although there is a certain sect of Puritanical progressive who might angrily judge the owners of $500,000 cars, those people are very much in the minority. Most people might roll their eyes, imagine the person to be shallow, and move on.
People who choose to spend $100,000 on cosmetic procedures, on the other hand, are called pathetic, warped, mentally ill, “ugly on the inside and out,” and worse.

So it’s not cost, Stevens notes, and it’s also not risk: “If the surgery is done in the proper environment by degreed and skilled professionals, there is very little risk. The rate of serious complications is less than one half of one percent.” (As though taking personal risks was something worth shaming a person over anyway.)

So, what exactly is our problem? According to Stevens:

1) People who elect to have cosmetic procedures must be insecure.
2) People who elect to have cosmetic procedures must be shallow and care more about looks than who they are “inside” as a person.
3) People who elect to have cosmetic procedures are reinforcing the more systemic problem of looksism and narcissism in our culture, and are symptomatic of culture that constantly tells people that they aren’t attractive unless they look a certain way.

Real reasons why people might choose to get cosmetic surgery:

1. Because they want to.

2. Because they feel like it.

3. Because they think it would look nice.

4. Because it’s their body and they can do what they want with it.

5. Because they had an injury or illness that altered their physical appearance.

6. Because they were pressured into it by some dickhead.

7. Because they were pressured into it by the culture at large.

Things on that list that deserve scorn: ONLY THE CULTURE AND THE DICKHEADS.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, objectively, with autonomous adult humans choosing to make surgical modifications to their bodies. The problem is that we don’t live in a vacuum (or a liposuction cannula, as it were)—we live in the midst of a shitty, unrelenting cultural din that teaches women, particularly famous women, that they transform into disposable garbage as soon as they hit 37. So the sticking point is that a lot of women aren’t doing what they want to do with their bodies; they’re doing what Joan Rivers or Howard Stern or Cosmo wants them to do with their bodies. And that cruel, oppressive culture should absolutely be mocked, critiqued, and dismantled.

But you can critique the system without condemning people who are shaped by the system. Even women who profit from that framework, women who win the “natural beauty” lottery, are victimized by it. You can spread the word that “prescriptive Eurocentric beauty norms are harmful” without saying “women who get plastic surgery are stupid/gross/ugly/selfish/narcissistic/shallow/wasteful.”

And real life is much more subtle than that too. I know plenty of people who’ve had cosmetic surgery, and they weren’t wilting, passive drones of the patriarchy. They were just people who had always been bothered by this lump over here, or this sag over here, and yeah, in a perfect world we’d foster unconditional self-love in our girls instead of paralyzing self-doubt, and the idea of “correcting” a “flaw” would lose all meaning. But that’s not the world that those women presently have to live in.

Even if you do think that cosmetic surgery is a moral issue that ought to be abolished (which you shouldn’t, weirdo, but if you do), then the only thing you can do to diminish its prevalence is dismantle the system. Otherwise you’re just adding one more voice to the chorus that says that all women are broken. And that’s what got us here in the first place.

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