A few months ago, I started interviewing women who elected to have cosmetic surgery. Today KSL.com published my compilation of (a little of) what I learned from them.
I knew it would certainly get people’s attention — as well as opinions and comments. As I’ve read the comments left on the article, I’ve wanted to respond to many of them. Since I can’t really do that there, I’ll take a couple of points here.
My first response is that this article is only a little piece of the story. The previous articles I’ve researched and published are also pieces that contribute to a whole picture, which is still only slowly forming, about what might be a trend of elective surgeries happening in Utah. So as people say, “Well, what about the influence of media?”, for instance, or “What about how men see and treat women (including the huge problem of pornography)?” I say, those are good points. I’d like to get to those in future articles or a book or just on this blog.
My second reaction to many commenters is that this issue is more complex than it may seem at first glance. Many either say, “Why worry about what people’s personal choices are? Let them do whatever they want” or “Those women are so vain! They should accept who they are.” It’s easy to just pick one of those two opinions. But in speaking to these individuals, I found myself empathizing and just enjoying our conversations. In addressing the second widely held opinion, for example, I would say, You know, I liked these gals. We’d probably hang out or be in a book club together. We could be sitting in a gym locker room or a mothers lounge or any number of places, commiserating about how giving birth has drastically altered our bodies, how we’re dissatisfied with our soft, squishy bellies or our stretch marks. I get it. I am not happy with how I look, and honestly, I’m having a slightly difficult time coming to terms with what aging is doing to my body.
I didn’t find these women to be shallow, vain, or self-centered in the 30 or 45 minutes I spent talking to each of them. One of them specifically told me how she’s tried very carefully not to wear revealing or tight clothing or act any differently since she had her mommy makeover. She doesn’t want to change how she acts or looks or puts herself across to others. She doesn’t want to become immodest, or, heaven forbid, immoral. She just wants to feel more comfortable in her own skin (now less saggy than it was).
Having spoken with them and empathized, I don’t want them to be seen as some kind of poster children for vain women who care only about their appearance. They’re not all that different from the rest of us who have complained about how we look. The big difference, however, between them and those of us who have merely complained is that they have gone far enough to invest a sizable amount of money in a change and to take the risk of subjecting themselves to surgery, which always carries the possibility of harm. Granted, in the hands of a certified plastic surgeon and with many procedures now “routine,” the risk of death or other serious harm is fairly low, but it is definitely a risk and something one must seriously take into account. This seems particularly of concern when the patient in question is a mother of children still at home, and if she does die on the table, she’d leave them without a mother. These women did consider those issues and still chose their course.
What I’d like to come of all this is a conversation. Our culture in America today encourages women to think of themselves as objects, to look first at how much we weigh, if we jiggle in good or bad ways, if we are sexually attractive, if we still look young and as fresh as we did before giving birth. Our society worships youth, there is no doubt about that. What started as a trend in Hollywood and among the rich and famous has now become commonplace among the masses: to fix any body issues with surgery and other procedures. We are awash in images of perfection, so much so that it’s impossible not to compare ourselves with those images, unreal as they may be.
Let’s look at the factors that contribute to this trend, such as pervasive media influence, our expectations of ourselves, our comparisons with each other, and the way men are socialized to respond to women, to name a few. Let’s admit that though we may not choose to do what some of these women chose to do, that we may have thought how nice it would be to magically look better.
This doesn’t have to be a trend that continues to go the same direction. We can halt the ever-increasing percentages of people who are having cosmetic procedures done. We can change how society looks at women in particular and glorifies a perfect image, male or female, which now means thin bodies and full breasts for women and lean, muscled lines for men. Maybe we can get back to the days when full-bodied women were glorified. Even better, maybe, just maybe, we can progress far enough where there is no ONE ideal, where all kinds of looks are appreciated. Now that sounds perfect.