July
2nd 2009
Dr. Str!pper T!ts, I presume?

Posted under: Bodily modification, Gender, technoskepticism, the body

NOTE:  This post was edited from an earlier version.  My apologies for those of you who might have come back here in the past few hours and found this post had temporarily “disappeared.”
Here’s one for all of the laydees out there in Historiann Nation:  Have you ever considered elective cosmetic surgery?  Now, don’t panic:  because of my natural beauty, enhanced only by vigorous exercise and protected vigilantly against the sun on the high plains desert by SPF 30+ at minimum, I’m certainly not considering “having some work done.”  I’m just wondering if educated, successful women such as yourselves have either thought about plastic surgery or have had it done. 

The reason I ask is that I have heard stories recently about highly successful professional women (that is, in professions nowhere near the entertainment industry) having serious plastic surgery–as in, massive breast implants and obvious facelifts.

How does a successful woman with a busy professional and personal life have time or energy for big, bad str!pper t!ts?  It all seems just too exhausting and cumbersome.  The only people I know who have had cosmetic surgery have had breast reductions, because they had developed chronic back problems, or because they couldn’t do the things they loved (dance, jog, etc.)  And who after age 15 really thinks that big b00bs are the answer to life’s problems?

plasticsurgerydisasters

If you're old enough to get this allusion, you're old enough for cosmetic surgery.

Is having cosmetic surgery  the ultimate postfeminist maneuver for otherwise successful, smart, and talented women?  Without feminism, I suppose it’s easy to think that your midlife disappointments and  frustrations are the fault of your essentially flawed body.  What do you think?  Are new b00bs out of the question, but you’d consider a little botox here, a little dermabrasion there. . . ?

I see this fixation on perfecting the female body as a major enabler of patriarchal equilibrium in these modern times.  When, I wonder, will grey hair on women look “distinguished,” instead of something to disguise?  When will wrinkles make us look wise and experienced, instead of like old bags?  When will women be permitted to just enjoy their bodies instead of seeing them as a collection of flaws and cosmetic problems in need of fixing?  Oh well–I’m sure I’ll never live to see the day.

43 Comments »

43 Responses to “Dr. Str!pper T!ts, I presume?”

  1. anon on 02 Jul 2009 at 7:03 am #

    I agree with you that plastic surgery is the ultimate in postfeminism. Anybody making an argument for this kind of surgery “empowering” women are doing so on the same basis that say, stripping or appearing in Playboy are “empowering” for women. While I don’t disagree with the argument that sex can be powerful and even empowering in some contexts, the problem with all the examples I’ve given is they posit sex as the SOLE way for women to achieve or maintain power. Having sex/sexuality as women’s only avenue to respect, money, or power is one of the major foundations of patriarchy, not their liberation from it. In my opinion.

    That said, the pressure on women to be perfect and the increasing normalization of plastic surgery is so extensive that women who sign up for these procedures are not fringe people (like celebrities), but real struggling women. So I don’t like to criticize them as individuals making personal decisions, but rather the whole structure that makes women feel like physical perfection is the only avenue to self-respect. On the other hand,something like a little chemical peel or botox is so common now, how do we differentiate it from something more “benign” like dyeing one’s hair to hide the gray (as I absolutely do and refuse to every stop)?

  2. Susan on 02 Jul 2009 at 7:26 am #

    I agree with anon above that there is a whole system that feeds towards plastic surgery. . . the whole notion that botox is minor, for instance.

    That said, I have never been tempted for more than about 5 minutes by breast surgery. But I certainly have at times thought, “well, it would be easier to take care of those pesky 10 pounds through liposuction.” Just part of routine women’s body dysmorphia. Fortunately, I am so frightened of surgery that the idea disappears almost as quickly as it surfaces.

  3. Historiann on 02 Jul 2009 at 7:35 am #

    Agreed on the horrors of surgery. A friend of mine who had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction last year told me recently that she really doesn’t get why women with healthy bodies would pursue plastic surgery because of all of the pain, risk, and inconvenience. I’ve really learned a lot from her recently about enjoying my healthy body! (But, I’m such a huge baby about physical pain or inconvenience that I have never considered cosmetic surgery in any case. Aside from having some dubious moles removed, that is, and the scars are worse than the moles, so I guess that’s not very “cosmetic,” is it?)

  4. squadratomagico on 02 Jul 2009 at 7:47 am #

    I actually have had a procedure that really is a form of cosmetic surgery: lasik eye surgery. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But, it’s not something that actually alters your appearance in quite the same way as the procedures you mention.

    I’m with Susan: no to implants, but definite consideration of lipo. It’s my understanding that implants actually impair the sensitivity of the breast and nipple, so that getting them means that you “look sexier” but actually have worse sex. No thanks! Plus, I think a range of breast sizes are beautiful — lots of women look sexier small than they would large, IMO.

    But I will freely confess that I’d definitely consider liposuction, and would have absolutely no qualms or guilt about doing so. I also color and style my hair, have a tattoo and pierced ears, wear makeup, select certain styles of clothing and jewelry, and routinely do dozens of other things to groom myself in the way I like best. I don’t see cosmetic surgery as very much different from the rest of this list, though I do think there are forms of it, like botox and restylane injections, that are being marketed as basic “maintenance” in pretty obnoxious ways.

  5. Historiann on 02 Jul 2009 at 8:00 am #

    Your comment gets exactly to one of the interesting questions here, Sq.: where is the line that we each draw between acceptable permanent and/or surgical alterations of the body, and the unacceptable? I never thought of Lasik as plastic surgery–it’s certainly not cosmetic surgery (since a temporary techology–contacts–exists to free people from glasses.)

    But: pierced ears? Other body piercings? Tattoos? Hair color? Colored contacts? They’re cosmetic, but they’re fairly easily reversible (well, tats are not so easily reversible, I suppose.)

    One of the things that would scare me away from plastic surgery is that it’s not something that you can get done and forget about it. You will have to have stuff re-done in order to preserve/recreate the effects that you’re after. Breast implants may cause scarring that must be surgically removed. Botox/restylane/silicone injections have to be re-done or “maintained.” So instead of looking after an imperfect but uncut body, one must become a servant to the plastic surgery: scrutinizing it, keeping it “up,” maintaining it, etc.

    All of which just seems too exhausting and narcissistic to me.

  6. squadratomagico on 02 Jul 2009 at 8:27 am #

    Well, I think that lipo is not a high-maintenance procedure, but a one-time deal. And, while I personally think it’s nuts to get on the facial-injections-as-routine-maintenance bandwagon, and continually have to renew them, at the same time, I’m not sure that it’s any different from my haircut and color, which also must be renewed every couple of months.

    I’m sympathetic to the critique of cosmetic surgery as unnatural, yet we do live in a culture, not in nature, and many — indeed most — of the grooming (and living) decisions we make are fundamentally “unnatural.” Likewise, I understand the notion that some forms of cosmetic surgery seem to be pandering to a male gaze, but it seems to me impossible to isolate the individual’s desires apart from larger cultural factors. Who are we to say that if someone wants implants, that it’s a retrograde desire dictated purely by her inculturation into patriarchal norms? Part of it may be, part of it may not — how exactly do you figure it out? I don’t think it’s worth my time to judge others at this level of scrutiny.

  7. Fratguy on 02 Jul 2009 at 9:03 am #

    Taking a huge fricking laser to the luxuriant pelt that adorns my chest, back,.. shoulders,…hands…….knuckles, has crossed my mind but never seriously. I generally wear a shirt to work and the effects would solely be for Mrs Fratguy and myself, and I am fine with my cross species appearance. But then again I am a heterosexual male and if my shirt coordinates with my trousers I rate a Vogue cover. I think I would find it upsetting, very upsetting, if Mrs Fratguy asked me to subject myself to this James Bondian depilataion, and by all accounts that procedure is relatively painless. I will acquiesce to stern admonitions to get the eyebrows under control, but that is different by several orders of magnitude.

    I do not where one draws the line between routine grooming and turning yourself into a cartoon character. I suppose some of it has to do with the intended effects and audience. I will say that as far as empowerment goes, when it comes to implants and guys, b00bs are different. Enter a male domaian (boardroom, surgical suite etc) with a flattering haircut, or 15 pounds lighter whether through exercise or liposuction and your colleages will say, to you, “You look good” and do so in a not necessarily demeaning or threatening way. Enter the same domain with breast implants that are obviously implants and I promise you they are saying to themselves “Those look good.” The Scrubs character “The Tod” is just barely a parody.

  8. Clio Bluestocking on 02 Jul 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Your expression of them as “str!pper t!ts,” with the exclamation points, is priceless.

    Like Squadratomagico, I have tattoos and extra ear piercings. I have considered the eye surgery. I have also had fleeting fantasies about liposuction (then I realized that, if you sucked away all of the cellulite in my rear, I would have no rear) and breast reduction (I never liked having these globes on my chest that somehow automatically reduced my IQ in the eyes of the beholders). I’m a bit allergic to pain, and think that it should leave behind something pretty, like a picture or jewelry, not something cumbersome like a huge rack that requires industrial strength jog bras for any physical activity. That’s just me.

    I’d like to say that I don’t spend too much time judging women for getting the surgery, except I do sort of think it is sad to feel the need to go through that much pain and cost to be patriarchally approved. But, then, I wear make-up, tights or pantyhose, shave my legs, once or twice a month wear heels, and in general make myself patriarchally-approved for my daily life. I also do it partly to look in the mirror and feel like I look “good.”

    As Squadro says, there are more factors that affect our own perception of ourselves, making our manipulation of our own appearance more complicated than, say, a str!pper’s desire to have less cellulite and bigger breasts in order to get more customers to give up more dollars. I can’t entirely separate my own perception of my own appearance from the patriarchally-approved notion because that’s the way girls are indoctrinated. If I could, I’d probably have more hair on my legs and armpits than on my head and wear oversized jeans and untucked men’s shirts everyday. I’d also have more earrings and visible ink.

    Having that approved appearance can be powerful in the sense that it can play into other people’s perceptions, which affect the way that they react. There is also an empowerment in knowing that you can manipulate that reaction by wearing the push up bra, or the power suit, or whatever the situation requires in order to coerce the desired reaction. It is a form of disguise, of wearing a costume for whatever role we must take in our daily lives in order to acheive our desired ends, even if those desired ends are just the fun of creativity in our own self-presentation. The disguise can be tactic in a feminist struggle, but I don’t think that they are inherently “feminist.”

  9. Feminist Avatar on 02 Jul 2009 at 9:37 am #

    I also think that we might need to question the extent to which the body is ‘natural’- after all, our body shape and size, as well as aging, hair-colour etc, has a lot to do with what we eat, what environment we live in, how much physical activity we do and what types. There isn’t really a ‘natural’ body that we could some how ‘get back to’ if only we new the right formula.

    I haven’t dyed or styled my hair since I was a teenager. I only cut it every couple of years. I don’t wear make-up except for very very special occasions, but I do pluck my eyebrows and shave my legs. I wouldn’t consider cosmetic surgery, but would consider plastic surgery if I was in an accident or had other medical interventions that altered my body. On the other hand I would have lasik and will as soon as my eyes stabilise. They have been deteriorating for the last ten years [hence it's not yet possible as your sight needs to be stable] and am now effectively blind without my specs. I am the person who needs help if her glasses aren’t where I left them by the bed- but I don’t see this as cosmetic- in fact I like my glasses- but as about improving my quality of life. Just like I would have a hearing-aid if I needed one.

  10. Historiann on 02 Jul 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    FA–I think your point about the artificial nature of the body is a good one. I was just commenting to someone else that we really have no idea just how emaciated the vast majority of colonial plebian laborers’ and slaves’ bodies really were–because it was members of the ruling class who produced and published images of workers’ bodies.

    Our bodies are doubtlessly different than the bodies of others through history, and there has always been a great deal of artifice that went into idealized presentations of the body, and most especially of women’s bodies in the modern era.

    Where I draw the line–at least for now!–is whether or not the person I’m hiring to provide cosmetic services has an M.D. after hir name. Medical and surgical interventions are just several steps beyond where I’m willing to go. (But, I have no tats, no piercings beyond one in each earlobe, etc.)

    BTW, I colored my hair for a year, from July 2007 to July 2008. It was such a pain in the ass that I cut it out–only to discover that many more grey hairs had appeared in the meantime. So, I’m hoping that for a while, my grey sprinkles will look at bit like blond highlights?

  11. Historiann on 02 Jul 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Clio Bluestocking: on liposuction. Now, I’m certainly not an expert, but lipo just takes away fat. Cellulite is just the outward appearance of said fat–but I think it’s there pretty much regardless. That is, you’ll just have a smaller cellulite butt, not a no-cellulite butt.

    It’s kind of like many women discover after having a child: some people’s stomach’s skins just don’t ever snap back, and all of the situps or crunches in the world won’t help. I am much more sympathetic to “mommy makeovers” than I used to be–some of my friends had twins, and until they got their mommy makeovers, their bellybuttons were twisted around onto their sides or something. Multiple births are really, really hard on a body.

    Oh, and Fraguy: if a Manimal such as yourself can find professional and personal happiness, then there’s hope for the rest of us!

  12. The Rebel Lettriste on 02 Jul 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    When I was a 22 year old, I eschewed leg or armpit shaving, and had a very short haircut. I rarely wore makeup (I didn’t really need it…)

    10 years later, though, the more important the makeup is, if only to cover the dark circles and broken capillaries and little scars that increase with age. There is NO WAY I could teach without a little coverup and mascara–I’d feel naked.

    I have dyed my hair and (horrors!) I have also had some serious upperlip depilation. With wax, via threading, and most recently with a laser.

    I would never consider liposuction (too painful). The whole boob thing is ridiculous to me, too (I’m quite happy with my 36 AA’s, thank you very much.)

    But botox on that wrinkle growing between my brows, caused by serious furrowing whilst writing? I’d blitz that fucker in a second. I know it’ll come back, and that it’s natural and whatever, but man. I just want to freeze it so it arrives more slowly.

    My BF’s sister is a fancy plastic surgeon. She does boob jobs all day long…

  13. maude on 02 Jul 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    my mom and i go round and round about body modification. she hates my tattoos, i hate her fake boobs and the fact that we both have brown eyes and she insists brown eyes are gross and wears turquoise contacts to hide hers because blue eyes are the only eyes worth looking at. frankly, it makes me sad to see my mom at 56 trying to transform herself into a barbie doll because she believed that societal norms labeled her as ugly her whole life. now she believes she is beautiful because she is a size 2 with str!pper t!ts and blue eyes when she was always pretty to begin with.

    however, i am having my face lasered, or going through the process of face lasering to correct major sun damage. while it’s true that i think that the sun damage makes my face look ugly, it’s not because people tell me that. i don’t mind imperfect skin. i do mind that my forehead is one color and the rest of my face a different color. i am self conscious, too, about the sun damage on my upper lip that casts a shadow and makes me look like i have a mustache.

    personally, i don’t know how people manage with the fake boobs. when i gained a bunch of weight and my boobs got big, i HATED it! they were in my way. I couldn’t wait to get back down to an A cup. my trainer at the gym said i was the only woman he’s ever trained who’s actually gotten excited about losing inches in the chest. there are so many things that can go wrong with those surgeries (my mom had to go back a year later and get another surgery to get her nipples realigned–no thanks!)–especially lipo. Sq. makes a good point, but i don’t know. i just don’t like the idea of major body augmentation–except breast reductions–i know my sister can’t do half the things she’d like to comfortably as large as she is.

  14. thefrogprincess on 02 Jul 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Let me echo Maude. I’ve got very big boobs and they’re a total pain. They’re heavy, I have to constantly lug them around, my back hurts, on and on. I’m pretty anti-plastic surgery in general but should they get much larger, I might have to consider a reduction. That being said, I do like having cleavage but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Nor does it get me widespread attention from men; I continue to maintain that men really don’t care.) So I don’t hate them or want to change them (other than by “natural” weight loss), but I wouldn’t recommend other people go out and purchase their own back problems.

    But sadly, Historiann, I know many smart women who think it’s all about having big breasts. Who comments most about my breasts? Other women, mostly, who see big breasts as being some sort of accomplishment. I always try to mention the heaviness issue, just how much they cramp your movement, the expense in buying bras that provide proper support, etc. And what nobody ever realizes is just how much having large breasts dictates what you wear. No dainty shirts, no tube top dresses. I’ve even stopped buying button down shirts; can’t handle the gaping buttons.

    I think it says something that our beauty standard for the chest is one that is such an utter burden for the woman. But I shouldn’t be surprised about that, should I?

  15. Clio Bluestocking on 02 Jul 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    See, I have to hold on to as much butt as I can. Between a flat butt, made flatter by the effects of gravity, and the growing middle age belly, my pants are starting to fit better if I put them on backwards.

  16. Historiann on 02 Jul 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    HA! Good one, Clio. I remember something Heather Locklear said about 15 years ago re: turning 35. (I know, I know–but this is the kind of thing that I remember. Sad!) She said that she has to really work to keep her butt from sliding into her thighs. It took me until 39 or 40, but now I see where she was coming from.

    And, thefrogprincess: “I think it says something that our beauty standard for the chest is one that is such an utter burden for the woman. But I shouldn’t be surprised about that, should I?”

    Brilliant. And sadly no, we shouldn’t be surprized: having a functional female body with a relatively “natural” silhouette has only been fetishized briefly and occasionally in the past century: in the 1920s and mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. In the more recent instance, it wasn’t strength or athleticism that was prized, it was just thinness, which is why Twiggy and not Peggy Fleming or Olga Korbut whose body was on the cover of Vogue.

  17. Notorious Ph.D. on 02 Jul 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Yes.

    I’ve thought about it off and on for over 20 years now. Oddly, it’s vanity that keeps me from going through with it. Now, this (the contemplation, not the vanity) may surprise you, since you’ve met me and know what I look like, so let me explain: reduction. I haven’t seen my feet since I was 15. I’ve gained and lost weight, but the boobs only get bigger, which when I’m relatively light, makes me look like I *do* have implants. I can no longer find bras in my size in regular stores. Plus, I can’t remember not having back and shoulder pain (my chiropractor is of the opinion that the boobs are partially responsible for the shoulder condition that I’m now on my second bout with, even though it usually hits women about 20 years older than I am).

    What stops me is vanity: the scarring from breast reduction is truly horrific to look upon. Plus, they have to actually remove (and later reposition and reattach) your nipples to do the procedure, which strikes me as awful in more than one way.

    Also, I recently lost 30 pounds, and this has created aesthetic issues that I will not describe, but which could be “remedied” by cosmetic surgery, which is an option that has crossed my mind, but which I have not *seriously* contemplated.

  18. Yancy on 02 Jul 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    To me, its seems like we could discuss this on two levels…

    First, the physical/individual level of what we each would do, would not do, would consider “over-the-top” vs. “necessary, etc. Clearly, the views from this angle vary widely, even just in these comments.

    Second, the whole body image concept, what parts are culturally constructed (ha, what isn’t culturally constructed!), how this fits into feminism (not to make “feminism” into a monolithic concept)…which, I think, is where this post was going?

    And, as a woman who had two children in close succession, I can attest to the terrible post-baby mom-belly. Ugh. But, as someone who had two c-sections to have these two babies, I can also attest to the fact that surgery is not something to be undertaken lightly, or with the expectation of an easy and complication-free recovery.

    And, (I’m not a troll, honestly) but I do wonder if most of the “expectations” of female beauty aren’t perpetuated mostly by women…I hesitate to even write that, but is it men who make Vogue and Marie Claire popular magazines, or women? Is it men who convince us to highlight our hair and pluck our eyebrows? I’m all for blaming the patriarchy–and there’s ample reasons to blame it–but what about the matriarchy? Do we do all the beauty things we do to gain the appreciation of men, or of other women?

    (And, I apologise for the heteronormative stance of the above questions!)

    -Y.

  19. anon on 02 Jul 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    @ Y. Whether women hold each other to unreasonable standards or men do (or, as I think is the case, both do), it’s the patriarchy. Women have always colluded to a greater or lesser extent with the patriarchy, which is one of the ways it is perpetuated. Look at all those ladies on the right who are thrilled to support politics that would force them into the home, preferably wearing a skirt, and there were plenty of women in the 1890s who thought it was “unladylike” to want the right to vote. We all absorb and are products of our dominant culture. Women turn on each other because they are vying for status in a culture that says that they are only allowed to compete on the basis of beauty.

    And I agree that the interesting question (for me anyway) is how the larger trend of plastic surgery, and the broader idea of beauty standards, fit into feminism. While it’s relatively easy to make the argument I just made in the above paragraph (and in my first post), the real discussion is a complex one, as some of the other posters have mentioned. Every human society that I know of has some sort of beauty standards (for men and for women) (tattoos, length of hair, color of skin/hair/eyes, shape of body, etc etc) – so how ought feminism deal with the idea of the exploitation and repression of women through the use of sexualization and unrealistic expectations without getting mired in those (again, in my opinion) unhelpful denunciations of women for any kind of alteration (ie wearing make up, dyeing hair, wearing a short skirt)? I consider myself a feminist, but care about how I look (ie, I want to look “cute”/”good” though I don’t necessarily see this directed at men as a way of gaining power over them) – where is the line between dyeing my hair to hide grays and getting surgery to look like the Girls Next Door? We could say “surgery”, I guess – having a major operation performed on us as opposed to anything that we could do ourselves in our homes?

    While it’s an interesting argument, I’m not sure I consider lasik eye surgery a form of plastic surgery. Even though it’s elective (not medically necessary) – unless a person does it because she thinks she’s ugly and unattractive to men in glasses (or contacts), the surgery is correcting a medical problem (poor eyesight).

  20. koshem bos on 02 Jul 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    The verbosity of the comments is surprising (to me). Since when we have the right to comment on the behavior of others? Joan Rivers stretches and stuffs after 70; who knows why. Is it feminism, post, pre and current the issue. Men also go through changes in particular taking trophy wives that looks as natural as b00b augmentation.

  21. Tenured Radical on 02 Jul 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    If you hear of anyplace that gives you a charitable tax donation for t!ts, let me know. I have yearned to be flat chested all my life and have always thought it was self-indulgent and a waste of hard earned dough. But I’m sure there is *someone* out there who would love to have them! There are a couple old ovaries with a little gas in them and a ute on the shelf too.

  22. Moria on 02 Jul 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    There is at least one demographic for whom gray hair on women is uniformly considered dignified, not to mention hot: young, aspirant academic women. There is nothing we like more than a flinty sexagenarian at a lectern.

    It’s happening. Slowly.

  23. The Rebel Lettriste on 02 Jul 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Oooh… “Flinty sexagenarian at a lectern.”
    I heart Moria.
    Just sayin’.

  24. servetus on 02 Jul 2009 at 5:57 pm #

    I’m troubled by the vaguely classist tone of the post and the discussion of “stripper tits.” Surely the breasts of exotic dancers come in many different sizes.

  25. The History Enthusiast on 02 Jul 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    “And who after age 15 really thinks that big b00bs are the answer to life’s problems?”

    That quote is really priceless; sadly too many of the role models for young women (in their teens and 20s) DO think bigger breasts are very important.

    I’m only 27–just a disclaimer here–so I don’t need a face lift, botox, etc…. I have had laser hair removal on my stomach (I had a “happy trail,” which made me extremely embarrassed as a teen). My only real issue now is cellulite, and I don’t think that lipo is anti-feminist so perhaps I will do that someday. I am between an A and a B cup, and thankfully my mom has always set a good example in terms of liking her breasts (which are large) and not teasing me or my sister because we are small. Having that example has been so, SO important for me, especially since I’ve seen how one of my aunts raised my cousins (not a healthy situation).

    There are a number of valid reasons, in my opinion, for plastic surgery. I have a large nose, and I’ve contemplated having it worked on, but haven’t because of two reasons: 1) I am a grad student and have no money, and 2) I don’t want to be another Jennifer Grey. Since noses are so prominent on a person’s face, I impart no judgment on people like Ashley Tisdale or Ashley Simpson. Breast reductions are also great (according to my friends’ experiences), but those come about more as a health issue to me, and not so much a sign of vanity, since large breasts cause legitimate problems. I guess I draw the line at anything that makes a person look like a Barbie, and also at the person’s motivations. Those are, of course, totally subjective criteria.

    Sorry for the long comment…this topic is just fascinating to me.

  26. Digger on 02 Jul 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    Like Squadrato~ and Clio, I have a tattoo and an extra ear piercing (though haven’t worn earrings in years ‘n years). I’ve been wanting another tat for a while now (ok, ok, since I got my first one… um… holy crap, 17 years ago?!).

    Curious, I never considered tattoos or piercings or other body modifications in the same category as plastic surgery. I wonder if it’s because one is a medical procedure and the others are not done in a medical environment? What I have heard about tattoos and plastic surgery is their “addictive” nature. I can attest to it for tattoos in myself, and there are no lack of folks who have extensive plastic surgeries.

    I haven’t had any plastic surgery; no makeup; no hair dye. I insist I won’t dye my hair, but we’ll see what happens when the gray materializes (impending mortality vs. laziness in coloring vs. appreciation of flinty sexagenarians..). Would I have plastic surgery? I ponder a breast reduction, but the $$, the risks, the pain, and the fuss keep me from serious contemplation. Gravity sucks, though.

  27. Notorious Ph.D. on 02 Jul 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    Digger, I think that we categorize tattoos (and to a lesser degree, some hair color changes) differently because there’s no cultural mandate upon women to have a tattoo. In that sense, a tattoo is closer to a real choice (that is, one less influenced by patriarchal mandate) than a boob job.

    I have a porn-poisoned friend who tried to accuse me of being unfeminist for opposing women’s “choice” to get a boob job. Even after repeated explanations, he didn’t get that such choices are not made in a vacuum.

  28. Susan on 03 Jul 2009 at 3:44 am #

    As I went up in the elevator at the library today, I realized there was an awful lot of grey in my hair. And I’ve never considered dying it — I think it’s grown in rather attractively. Give me a few years, and I’ll be one of Moria’s “flinty sexagenarians at a lectern”!

  29. Historiann on 03 Jul 2009 at 5:36 am #

    Susan, if anyone can, you’ll be able to pull it off!

    And Notorious: you are gorgeous, and I don’t understand the problems with your body of which you speak. But I like your distinctions between tattoos and b00b jobs.

    The History Enthusiast writes, “I don’t want to be another Jennifer Grey.” Yes–exactly. Rhinoplasty all too often results with the same perky little nothing of a nose. Like the fake b00bs that are always higher, rounder, and more projectile than natural breasts, the sculpted nose is a cookie-cutter accessory of a body part that gets slapped on one and all, whether or not your face or body is proportional, etc.

    I think it’s important that women look like who they are, not who some surgeon wants them to look like. It’s all more than just a little Frankensteinian, don’t you think? (And I’m someone who loves me some allopathy and their other lifesaving medical and surgical interventions!)

  30. Clio Bluestocking on 03 Jul 2009 at 7:04 am #

    Historiann, you don’t have to apologize for knowing Heather Locklear quotes. You’d be amazed at the cranial square footage I have devoted to similar information and worse — as the following comment will demonstrate.

    In regard to “cookie cutter” accessories, many Hollywook actresses take that to the extreme. Looking at those aging (and “aging” now seems to extend down to women in their late-20s!) Hollywood actresses, I notice that some get so nipped, tucked, implanted, botoxed, and whatnot that I stop noticing their faces and only notice the “work.” Like Fratguy says, the surgery is the feature that first catches your eye. These actresses are held up as the representatives of beauty in America and are under enormous pressure to maintain that standard of beauty in order to work. Yet, at some point, if they get enough surgery done, they stop actually being beautiful and start looking like the idea of beauty. Their faces take on the appearance of masks of their younger selves; and, in the process, their ability to express emotion or to disappear into a character evaporates.

    I know these actresses are the extreme, but if you consider Hollywood as the purveyor of culture, then what does this say about cultural standard for even the already patriarchally-approved gorgeous women? Also, if you take this trope of surgery as feminist empowerment to this extreme, it starts to fall apart.

  31. Notorious Ph.D. on 03 Jul 2009 at 9:35 am #

    Something funny (and this is probably too late in the thread to even get noticed), but I was having a conversation with my (fortyish) landlady in Exotic Research City, and we got to talking about the differences between “beautiful” women here versus there. She has visited the U.S. several times, and she said, “I noticed that men there are really into breasts.” This floored me — the idea that there were places where this was *not* the case.

  32. Historiann on 03 Jul 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Notorious–great story! And considering that men in the country your research is in have an international reputation for womanizing, that’s saying a lot.

    I’m sure different cultures fetishize different women’s body parts.

  33. wackadoodle on 03 Jul 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    Amazing how this topic can get people going! A couple reactions to some of the posts:

    First, Fratguy, you stay hirsuite baby! Do NOT let them change you! The metrosexual thing is highly overrated.

    As for your point that the implants will be enthusiastically received in all-male settings, well of course! They will also be well received in many female settings too, since many women admire buxom-ness and would get implants if they could afford them. Only outliers like myself and maybe a few Historiann readers will think: wow, she went from being a pretty, youngish professional to looking like an aging, desperate cougar… I’m well aware that I’m in the minority on this, as much aesthetically as philosphically.

    As for what’s the difference between plucking eyebrows, dying hair and getting implants, I think the difference is pretty clear. Getting implants is frankly erotic/sexual in a way that must be kinda unsettling for at least some of the people who get them. You know, you get the new super-high boobs (which take time to “settle,” that is, fall, to a more natural hanging point) and you go in to work and suddenly your kindly, father-figure boss is staring at your chest with lust in his eyes. Is that really a good feeling?

    Another point: Research shows that the typical breast implant wearer is white, not well educated, more likely to have gotten pregnant or gotten an abortion at a young age, and….stay with me on this one: far more likely to commit suicide than the non-implant-wearing population. So I’m fascinated when women who don’t match the profile are going for boob jobs. What do we draw from this?

    Finally, I think we should see implants as driven by economic need in many cases. If you don’t have earning power then you have a greater incentive to pair up with a guy. Similarly, if you are a stay at home mom of a wealthy guy in a certain social circle, you better do what it takes to stay hot. If you are the wife of a professional baseball player, well… you get the picture. But the smart, attractive woman who earns her own money and is accomplished — to me it just seems even more striking that SHE should feel inadequate… Not saying she’s more important than anyone else, just saying that she should have more reasons to balk at the prospect of implants.

    peace out

  34. Historiann on 03 Jul 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    wackadoodle–welcome. And, great points. (On hirsutism in adult men: I’m reliably informed by a gay male informant that the chest waxing etc. is really a straight male kink, not a gay thing at all.)

    I think you’re exactly right about asking why women with their own money would choose to spend it on plastic surgery. I certainly don’t understand it, and moreover, I would think (as you suggest) that many professional women might be regarded skeptically/differently at work for having “work done.” I’m not saying that it’s ever right ever to be regarded as “the bod” at work–but these women are themselves colluding in the objectification of their own bodies and are perhaps looking for that specific kind of male attention.

  35. Sisyphus on 03 Jul 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    The whole question of what is “plastic surgery” and what is “body modification” and whether we divide these into “good” versions or “bad” ones is fascinating. (BTW, I had LASIK for purely vain reasons — not covered by insurance because glasses and contacts work perfectly well and I just hated looking all nerdy wearing them. I would put LASIK in the same category as the chemical peels and the less-invasive lifts. It’s plastic surgery.)

    What I’m currently trying to wrap my head around is the transgender aspect of body modification, because we generally make arguments that women who are undergoing beauty procedures because they hate their bodies and the way they look are somehow “dupes of the patriarchy,” yet transgender people often use the same language of self-loathing to describe why they want surgery, and they are seen as having “real, authentic selves inside” that they are recovering rather than being seen as dupes of the culture that is instilling thoughts into their heads. It’s all very tricky and confusing.

  36. Historiann on 03 Jul 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    Sisyphus: great points. What can’t queer theory explain, or explain better? I’m waiting…

    Anyhoo–I agree with you that the language of people transitioning bears remarkable resemblance to the language of women seeking “improvement” or “enhancement.” I would consider many women’s performances of femininity to be in the category of “female female impersonators.” (Think Dolly Parton or other performers who put on the Va-Va-Va-VOOM–whether or not the equipment is real or acquired surgically is beside the point, and the presentation matters too.) Men who distort their bodies with steroids would seem to be in the same category (of male male impersonators.)

    I think Tenured Radical’s post on Michael Jackson from earlier this week was a brilliant analysis in and of itself, but she comments on his many physical transformations which she reads as more about gender than racial transformations. (And I think she’s right about that, entirely.)

    What makes a transsexual sympathetic, and an XX chromosome person with breast implants a suspect feminist and a black man whose skin blanches over time a traitor to his race? I don’t know. I know I feel much more sympathetic to the transsexual than I do to the woman with the (IMHO) false consciousness that she needs bigger b00bs. I don’t know if any of us have entirely consistent applications of our dividing line between what’s an acceptable use of surgery or other techologies for bodily modification for us and what’s one step beyond…

  37. wackadoodle on 03 Jul 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    historiann, your words:

    but these women are themselves colluding in the objectification of their own bodies and are perhaps looking for that specific kind of male attention.

    That’s exactly how I see it. Implant wearers feel empowered when suddenly every guy is admiring them — getting male sexual attention makes them feel validated, though they might also feel overwhelmed and surprised by the intensity of male response.

    My Carrie Bradshaw question remains: if you’re an accomplished and even attractive professional why are you feeling so disempowered? Age, divorce, self-esteem?

  38. Flavia on 04 Jul 2009 at 12:56 am #

    My ex had a colleague in her early/mid 30s who got a boob job. Nothing ridiculous — I think she went from an A cup to a smallish C — but I have to admit that I judged her for it.

    In theory I’m in support of someone doing whatever makes her feel good about herself, and God knows I’ve spent years of my life on hair removal and the like. But this felt different. Because she was an academic? Because she was having relationship trouble and I suspected she was doing it to “keep” her partner?

    Or. . . because it made me better able to rationalize my own capitulations to patriarchy?

  39. wackadoodle on 04 Jul 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    Folks, I realize we’re at the end of this thread but anyone left should really take a look at this article by a proudly circumsized African woman comparing her culture’s practices to the recent spate of female genetical cosmetic surgery here in the U.S. and Europe. As the author herself states, it’s a strange world we live in.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090702_designer_vaginas_is_female_circumcision_coming_out_of_the_closet/

  40. Smilegirl on 05 Jul 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    What about orthodontic work, does that count as body modification? It may not be surgery, but it is invasive, painful, lengthy, and expensive.

    My work was performed when I was still prepubescent, and we can pretend that it was done to correct the function of my bite, but we all really know it was because I had big weird-looking buck teeth and an overbite.

    My smile is much more conventionally pretty now, and contributes a good deal toward my overall attractiveness. How much that affected my later opportunities is anyone’s guess. Would buck teeth have hampered my ability to succeed? Possibly; it’s hard to say.

    What is certain is that it was painful. As a nine-year-old, I used to cry after the orthodontist tightened my appliance, and would be unable to eat properly for days afterward. I had to take painkillers, and couldn’t speak properly for months because of all the plastic and metal in my mouth.

    Yet this is considered standard treatment for millions of kids, and plenty of grown-ups do it too. Where do we rank it on the continuum of bodily modification?

  41. Z on 07 Jul 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    Good point, Smilegirl!

    I say do what one must — we’re all so conditioned anyway. I’m a standard size and stuff so I don’t know what it would feel like not to be. But if there were surgery to be taller, I’d get it I think. Used to be more fixated on that until they started making jeans in short versions, so that now I can pick up something I don’t have to hem or otherwise alter (or wear men’s jeans, which is OK but women’s fit better).

    So, given that, I see why people want surgery.

    I’ve dyed my hair since before it was grey — it had gotten mousy brown and was boring; manicures and pedicures whenever I can afford it; pierced ears; had spider veins zapped away and it was worth it; would do restylane (plan to, actually), would do laser hair removal in a flash.

    I can see what gravity is starting to subtly do to my face (cheeks just starting to turn to jowls) and see the value a facelift will have in time, FEAR it, don’t WANT to do it, but know I’d like the results (doubt I’ll want to spend the cash though). I did get my teeth whitened.

    Also, two of my teeth don’t match, they are caps I got at 14 and they don’t exactly match the others in color. I used to not care but I see it now ages me. I’d redo it in a flash but the dentist says it’s so well done and so non worn out that he doesn’t recommend a change.

    I suppose all of this is very patriarchal but what can I do? I wouldn’t mind how I look, I actually look quite well for 50, but I haven’t accomplished much yet in life
    and I want the time back. Also, I can’t ever afford to retire, have long life expectancy (all women in my family live well to 100) and I might want to go back to school and get a new career, which would mean an entry level job. Capitalism requires I continue to give off a youthful air and I can and so I will.

    I am not saying this is good or anything, I am just saying it is.

  42. Z on 07 Jul 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    PS a friend in the corporate world, a man my age, says LOTS of people, male and female, in his circles get cosmetic stuff done to look better / younger / and so on.

    He says it’s like this: when you’re younger you just trim your hair and if you’re a shaver, shave, and you look fine.

    When you’re older, it takes a little more not to look raggedy. And that’s all there is to it, he says.

    Again, I am not saying it’s good, I’m just saying I am not willing to NOT do it just to live up to an ideal of non body modification that feels as oppressive as the idea that one should want *more* body modification.

    And finally — remember I would not have dreamed of saying any of this 10 or 15 years ago.

  43. Gavin on 16 Jul 2009 at 10:03 am #

    I’m coming to this very late, but I just want to share a particularly absurd example of how cosmetic surgery is overwhelmingly aimed at women and not men. Facebook keeps showing me ads for Make Yourself Amazing (a cosmetic surgery company) featuring pictures of young, skinny, breast-enhanced women. Why? Facebook and its advertisers know all too well from my profile info that I’m male and single (because they also keep giving me ads for dating sites where I can supposedly meet girls, including the very dodgy looking SugarDaddy.com). Are they saying that once I’ve found a girlfriend through the dating sites I have to pressure her into having breast enlargement otherwise she won’t be amazing enough? MYA does also offer surgery for men but it’s much less prominently displayed on their site and in its own male section on the sidebar, so all the other treatments must be seen as female by default.