Saturday, September 29, 2007

Plastic Feminism

Has Artificial Beauty Become the New Feminism?
By Jennifer Cognard-Black, Ms. Magazine. Posted September 29, 2007.
How the pitch for cosmetic surgery co-opts feminism.
This spring, Sideways star Virginia Madsen became a spokesperson for Allergan Inc., the maker of Botox." Quoted in People magazine, Madsen asserts that she's made "a lot of choices" to keep herself "youthful and strong": "I work out. I eat good foods. And I also get injectables."

In celebrity promos such as Madsen's, the current pop-cultural acceptance of cosmetic medicine is clear -- and is borne out by the rising numbers of customers. Since 2000, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports a 48 percent increase in all cosmetic (elective) procedures, both surgical, such as breast augmentations, and minimally invasive, such as the injectable wrinkle-filler Botox.

Once considered clandestine and risky, cosmetic procedures are currently treated across a variety of media as if they were as benign and mundane as whitening your teeth. Advertisers, TV producers, publishers, PR personnel and even physicians themselves are touting it as an effortless, egalitarian way for women of all backgrounds to "enhance" their looks and "stay young."

Not only have cosmetic procedures become more acceptable, but they're being promoted in less sensationalized ways to whole new markets. Increasingly, reality TV's Cinderella tale of surgical transformation is being replaced with a smart woman's narrative of enlightened self-maintenance. While Extreme Makeover and its imitators shame and blame ugly-duck patients in order for prince-surgeons to rescue them and magically unlock their inner swans through "drastic plastic" (multiple surgeries), other media sources now compliment potential customers as mature women who are "smart," "talented" and "wise." Such women are supposedly savvy enough to appreciate their own wisdom -- but, then again, they should want to soften the telltale marks of how many years it took them to acquire it. "I am not using these injectables to look 25," Madsen insists. "I don't want to be 25. I just want to look like me."

Alex Kuczynski, a New York Times reporter and author of Beauty Junkies (Doubleday, 2006) calls these latest appeals "the new feminism, an activism of aesthetics." That ignores the work of feminists from Susan Faludi to Susan Bordo, who have argued for years against the global beauty industry and its misogynistic practices. Yet the cosmetic-surgery industry is doing exactly what the beauty industry has done for years: It's co-opting, repackaging and reselling the feminist call to empower women into what may be dubbed "consumer feminism." Under the dual slogans of possibility and choice, producers, promoters and providers are selling elective surgery as self-determination.

Moreover, much of the media covering cosmetic surgery centers on the idea of choice. Parallel to Madsen's insistence that using Botox is just another lifestyle choice with little difference from working out and eating well, Cosmetic Surgery for Dummies (For Dummies, 2005) promises that the reader will discover how to "decide whether surgery is right for you," "find a qualified surgeon," "set realistic expectations," "evaluate the cons," "make the surgical environment safe" and ultimately "make an informed choice." The word "choice" obviously plays on reproductive-rights connotations, so that consumers will trust that they are maintaining autonomy over their bodies. Yet one choice goes completely unmentioned: The choice not to consider cosmetic surgery at all.

These days, with consumers able to "choose" from among a dizzying array of procedures and providers, even the most minute areas of the female body are potential sites of worry and "intervention." Surgical procedures have been developed to reduce "bra fat," to make over belly-buttons, to "rejuvenate" vaginas after childbirth or to achieve the "Sex and the City effect" -- foot surgeries to shorten or even remove a toe in order for women to squeeze their feet into pointy shoes.

Few seem immune to the sell, no matter what their income. In fact, according to an ASPS-commissioned study, more than two-thirds of those who underwent cosmetic surgery in 2005 made $60,000 or less. Easy access to credit and the declining cost of procedures has brought even the working class into the market.

The most graphic consequences of these trends are the stretched, alien, expressionless faces worn by certain celebrities and increasing numbers of "everyday" women. There are also the disfigurements and deaths that can result from surgeries gone wrong.

At the end of Beauty Junkies, Kuczynski asserts that "looks are the new feminism." Yet it's feminists who have led the fight against silicone breast implants when research suggested they were dangerous. It's feminists who have pointed out that a branch of medicine formed to fix or replace broken, burned and diseased body parts has since become an industry serving often-misogynistic interests. And it's feminists who have emphatically and persistently shown that cosmetic medicine exists because sexism is powerfully linked with capitalism -- keeping a woman worried about her looks in order to stay attractive, keep a job or retain self-worth. To say that a preoccupation with looks is "feminist" is a cynical misreading; feminists must instead insist that a furrowed, "wise" brow -- minus the fillers -- is the empowered feminist face, both old and new.

This article is excerpted from a longer piece in Ms. Magazine. To get the whole story, pick up Ms. magazine on newsstands now.

15 comments:

Brad Brown said...

I can’t really see cosmetic surgery as the new form of feminism. As stated in the article, feminists have for a long time argued against cosmetic surgery, labeling it as a misogynist practice, driven for the favor of men. I think labeling cosmetic surgery and such as the new feminism is just a plain old misinterpretation of the meaning of, nay, the word feminism. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, feminism is belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Plainly put, beauty enhancement or trying to look younger has, in my opinion, absolutely nothing to do with perusing social, political, or economic gains for women. It is simply a fad, something women now like to do. Who doesn’t want to look good? It is a natural human emotion, an instinct, to try their best to be attractive. I am also going to disagree with the feminists that it is a misogynist practice on those grounds. It is not the male’s deliberate fault that females desire to be attractive. It is nature. Some men are abandoning traditional thought now as well, embracing “metro-sexuality,” or tanning, etc. to be considered attractive by the opposite sex. It is not a misogynist attempt at domination, just a product of pop-culture, technology, and nature (desire). Now whether cosmetic surgery is healthy for society or not, I don’t know, that wasn’t the question.

brian w said...

I think women today think they have something to prove. Getting bigger knockers makes them feel better about themselves because they know we men will sa"wow" you have a nice set of hooter's! Feminism I think does not play into this very much it is just about feeling bad about yourself and making yourself look and feel good about your body.

Chris Madden said...

Feminist, I thought were trying to empower women, and work to get away from the sterotyps of roll and gender acceptances! In my thought IF a women desires to have these types of procedures, what is the reasons behind them, when so many are troublsome, and dangours! For me I think most of the procedures are non- sence and not needed I find it to be vein and self centered for the women who opt for this kind of body modifacations.

kingkong said...

I don't think that cosmetic surgery is the new form of feminism. I agree with chirrs when he said that he thought feminist are trying to empower women and work to get away from the stereotypes of roll and gender acceptances. I think that if women are getting these cosmetic surgeries done then they are just falling into those stereotypes of being beautiful and pretty and that isn't being feminist. I think that if a woman really wants to change her appearance they should get up and workout out and eat right and not get these cosmetic surgeries. I think that sow women feel pressure to follow the crowd and go under the knife and try to change their appearance to look good. I really don't think this is a new form of feminism, I think it is just the new thing to do and it is just a desire that some women have. I also agree with cries again when he said, "I find it to be vein and self centered for the women who opt for this kind of body modifications." So I think that cosmetic surgery is a choice women have, but not a new form of feminism.

Wolfgang Amadeus said...

Feminism and plastic surgery an intresting blend of empowerment and advertisment. This entire article is obviously about feminist who has been hired to promote plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is a matter of choice and in some rare cases, can even be vital.

How can it be vital? Simple a burn victim may need skin transplants to give them a normal look. As Simone de Beauvoir said best "Woman is losing her way, Woman is lost." sometimes the best of us can become lost.

peace and love said...

What a joke.
"Has Arificial Beauty Become the New Feminism?" The question posed is contradicting. The ideology behind feminism is not fueled by physical change. Feminism is the fight for equal rights for women in society. I do not think that paying surgeons to shoot up specific parts of your body with plastic is an intelligent way to go about getting equal rights. The ideas alone are degrading to women because the woman has to actually change herself in order to find a niche. If Simone de Beauvoir was alive today, she'd probably feel that women have not even inched closer to receiving equal rights as men. It's a shame that this article was even printed, especially in a magazine targeted towards women with it being titled "Ms. Magazine". It's sad that society has set these standards where plastic surgery is even encouraged for the women to excel and they label it as "feminism", as if it were some mind blowing strive to for equality. We wonder why women aren't granted equal rights and then some numb nut gets an article like this published. Women should not have to go through not only expensive and dangerous surgery to change their appearance, but they just shouldn't feel like they have to change their appearance at all. Why can't people just appreciate people how they are? We're all people, regardless of sex, gender, or anything.
The only reason why women even feel obliged to "look better" is because of society's standards. What is beauty? Beauty has turned into this toxic based media fueled ideology that is accessible now with the cost of plastic and change. Whatever happened to just good old inner beauty or beauty as a pure art?
Feminism? Why yes, these new "feminists" may receive equal rights, if only they find it in their budget and in their conscious to change this, this, this, and this...

John said...

Plastic Feminism

Has Artificial Beauty Become the New Feminism?

Here is where the problems mount “In celebrity promos such as Madsen's, the current pop-cultural acceptance of cosmetic medicine is clear -- and is borne out by the rising numbers of customers.”

From a man’s stand point, I think too much emphasis is placed on plastic surgery today, whether it has anything to do with feminism or not. However, I almost see a feminist side on this issue, I see the struggle for securing and defending the rights and the opportunities that almost makes them equal to their counterparts; men. Women and adolescent girls today have been bombarded (television, celebrities, internet and more) with an image that tells them that unless they are slim, trim, and wrinkle-free, they do not fall under the "beautiful" category. We as a society are raising generations after generations of women that run to the use of plastic surgery to "fix" all their "problem areas" when what really needs to be addressed and given attention is to their self-esteem, self-perception and body image.

Women were created beautiful and maturing is their essence, their bodies formed to change shape, and to age naturally. Hundreds of years ago women went through this natural process just fine. They didn't need plastic surgery to make them feel better about themselves. I agree that today's woman is rarely given the opportunity to NOT choose plastic surgery and age gracefully and naturally. As soon as she hits a certain age and wrinkles develop, she feels she MUST get some sort of surgery to keep her place in society. This trend is obvious in the life of Hollywood actresses, but also in the homes of Middle America where husbands are leaving their wives for the "beauty" of younger women or self-made younger women.

All things considered, lately I'd say the risks outweigh the benefits of plastic surgery. I feel is time to be happy with the body God gave you....you couldn't look any more perfect. Nonetheless I also see their point as far as competing for an office position or else or whether is against a younger person or to please men and their standards.

the Procrastinator said...

Since the first day of class we have been discussing the idea of individualism. This article is a classic example of individualism. After reading this article my first thoughts were “who cares if women want to make themselves look like plastic!” But after thinking about it for awhile it is quite obvious that this is a battle between individualism and group thought.
It is your right to express yourself how ever you want, to a certain degree. If a woman wants to inject herself with Botox or silicon then that is their decision. No one can tell her that she has to do it, not even with all the pressure out there for women to look like a Barbie doll.
Feminists believe that it is wrong for women to do this because of all the dangers that are associated with the surgeries. They don’t believe that women should put themselves through these dangerous surgeries just because they feel pressured from pop culture and men. I believe these feminists need to talk with their own kind and not put blame on everyone else, because it is their own CHOICE to do these surgeries!!
We live in America, the land were you can do whatever your heart desires. The plastic surgery industry happens to be booming because we are in an era right now where everyone wants to look young and beautiful. Is it a crime? NO! It is your right to look the way you want and if you can’t do it then you can find someone who can make you look the way you want.

Brad Brown said...

I have got to agree with “The Procrastinator” here. He reinforces the idea in my original comment that getting plastic surgery is a choice, not a commandment of males. He states that succumbing to the desire to get plastic surgery is a matter of individualism vs. group thought, and I agree. If you choose, yourself, to get plastic surgery, that is certainly not man’s fault. I think that individualism is more powerful in human society than group thought, because, in most situations (not all, like being held at gunpoint for example) there is always SOME degree of choice. Choice is what makes us individuals, and we all have it, we are all human. Of course pure individualism and pure group thought does not exist in society (there is always social pressure, and there is always choice), it is still a women’s CHOICE to get plastic surgery; it is not through the evil desires of men. True, social and biological pressures do exist, but this does not change the fact that there is a high degree of choice in the matter. And again, plastic surgery has no bearing, I feel, on the feminist movement; it is a different matter entirely. Plastic surgery may not be a healthy way to go about your life, and you SHOULD love the body God has given you (as you are a uniquely designed person made by Him) your decision to love yourself unconditionally, or to rise your self esteem through plastic surgery is your CHOICE, not man’s, not feminist principals’, but YOUR OWN.

i.c. toowell said...

At its core feminism should be about individuality and self determination. If that means a woman chooses to alter her appearance in any way for any reason that most certainly is an expression of her feminism. Whether that alteration takes the form of plastic surgery to appear more stereotypically appealing to males or the form of dressing and behaving in a Betty Friedan like faux-male seventies manner, either should come under the realm of feminism. To rail against either with a call to conform to the other flies in the face of what true individualistic feminism stands for.
Certainly the healthfulness of these new medical procedures could be called into question as should many of the medical solutions we now look for to cure every ill. We’ve become too overly dependent on doctors and pharmacies to offer a fix or pill for every ailment, real or perceived. But to single out cosmetic medical procedures undertaken by women would seem quite anti-feminist. It is no more correct, though, for Kuczynski to claim artificial beauty as the new feminism as it is for Cognard-Black to insist in her critque of Kuczynski that artificial beauty has no place in feminism.

GueveraGurl_But_Soldier'sSweetie said...

I Believe their might be some confusion about the meaning of the term "feminism".

Not every action by someone who clamis to be a feminist can be seen as a justified expression of that term.

The statement made by the previous commentator: "it is no more correct, though,for Kuczynski to claim artifficial beauty as the new feminism as it is for Cognard-Black to insit in her critique of Kuczynski that artifficial beauty has no place in feminism" is a nice thought, but it isnt really exactly the truth. What the commentator was defending in that passage, was not feminism, but Lifestlye Feminism...the idea that a person claiming to be a feminist can believe, feel, think, or do anything that is justified as feminism in his/her own mind, and still should be considered labeled a true feminist.

Lifestyle feminism is all about labeling yourself a feminist, when in reality your living under a misconception.

Feminism is the belief in teh social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. (This is the definition we decided upon in my Women's Studdies 273 Class).

True Feminists fight out against two key forces of society: "The Cult of True Womanhood", and "Body Dismorphic Disorder".

The Cult of True Womanhood is a beauty ideal that sets the standard for what makes a woman a woman. The lead culprit in the cult is something feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft refers to as the "Angel in the House"...a woman who looks a certain way in order to please a man, get ahead, or be accepted by society.

Body Dismorphic Disorder is an addiction to changing your body in order to fit in with the standards of beauty that have been set by society, and enforced by the women who's bodies have been used as a commodity to sell a product or to "sell happiness".

Plstic surgeory enables both of these outdated and anti-feminist ideals to continue oppressing all women in our nation.

A true feminist, not just a Lifestlye Feminist, would have to agree.

Anonymous said...

This blog post made me think back to when I had an earlier english class, where we had to read different topics, write journals, etc...but anyways to the point: the main question in one of them was: "If you could get any cosmetic surgery for free, what would you get?...breast enlargement, botox, face lift, tummy tuck, etc.

And in this country of where the way you look is everything, where being blonde and skinny is the way to be and sales advertising is one of the fastest growing investments being produced...I chose nothing! Honestly, I don't want to be someone else nor do I want my body changed in any way. I mean sure I have had highlights or gotten my hair dyed, if you consider that me trying to change my look, then I'm guilty!

It's sad that our country has gotten so superfical. And even so, now most television shows are going for the reality appeal for makeovers. Honestly, I feel as if I don't have to practice my feminism by altering my appearance surgically.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that cosmetic surgery is the new form of Feminism. Cosmetic surgery is the just the self expression of women trying to fit into a small group of models and celebrities. So I really don't think this is an individualistic thought to alter ones body. They are altering there body because they want to look like someone else. How is this being and individual? This is just copycatting what someone already looks like. Because if you watch a show where women are talking about plastic surgery when they are talking to the surgeon they will say I want breast like Pamela Anderson or a butt like Jennifer Lopez.
Women are being pressured by men to look this way to fill beautiful. If men did not care about these skinny gorgeous women then they would not be getting plastic surgery. They are trying to attract males because they know we are just a bunch of horny cartoon wolves inside.

Anonymous said...

Plastic surgery is definitely not the new feminism. Feminism is supposed to empower women
and make them feel in control and promote equality. Plastic surgery only promotes women
wanting to look good for men. If you have a deformity and it would make you feel better
to get it fixed then that is fine but now a days women are getting breast enhancements
and lip injections for no reason other than to look better. I understand that getting
breast implants may make you feel better but the main purpose I believe people get them
is to be more appealing to men. If you were in a horrible accident and needed
reconstruction surgery then that is going to make to you feel better but that was needed.
I don't believe that getting plastic surgery makes women equal at all because you don't
see men going out and getting everything sucked away or the bump in their nose fixed.
That is because society has made women feel that they need that surgery. Plastic surgery
is becoming a norm in today's society and that isn't the way it should be. I don't think
plastic surgery will ever be considered the new feminism at least not by true feminist
because I think plastic surgery demoralizes women and doesn't help promote anything
feminism stands for.

Anonymous said...

Ok. People who say that plastic surgery is the new feminist movement is retarded. That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Why do you think women do plastic surgery? To make themselves look better, correct? For who? MEN!!! Why else would they do that to themselves? They do it to feel better about themselves, because men will find them more attractive. The whole point of feminism is to enlighten and empower women to not be objects of men’s affection. To stand up for yourself and be equal to men, not objectified by them. I think the author of this article makes a great point at the end of the article pretty much trashing who ever thinks that plastic surgery is the new feminism. Feminist have been in the forefront when it comes to trying to get women to not get plastic surgery, so whoever said that (Probably the media) can go suck a nut.