Frisky Rant: Down With Plastic Surgery

I try to keep an open mind about plastic surgery, I really do. I try to tell myself that it’s just like dying your hair or wearing a pair of Spanx—a little tweak that can make you feel super slammin’. I try to tell myself that everyone has the right to look their best, and if it’s worth it to someone to drop serious Benjamins on a cosmetic procedure, who am I to object? But then I read a story like the one yesterday about Solange Magnano, the stunning 38-year-old former Miss Argentina who died after the liquid from a gluteoplasty injection made its way into her lungs and brains. It’s horribly sad, especially considering that her butt was enviable just the way it was. And I just can’t hold it in anymore: How have we created a culture in which it’s OK to go under the knife without medical necessity in the name of fixing some “flaw” no one ever noticed anyway?Obviously, there are certain cases where plastic surgery isn’t about vanity but about leading a normal life. In the cases of people disfigured in accidents, I completely understand plastic surgery. Ditto for someone born with cleft lip. In those cases, the slight risk—and yes, I am perfectly aware that the risk is actually very small—is worth the benefits. I, in general, have no problem with reconstructive surgery which, by the way, only comprises 28 percent of plastic surgeries performed in the US. What I object to is the average person who doesn’t love her tummy pouch or thinks her nose is just a little too hooky signing up for surgery. Here’s why …

To me, my objection isn’t about the risk. Or the cost. Or the healing time. It’s philosophical. If you boil it down to its most basic level, plastic surgery is about conforming to a narrow vision of what’s beautiful. It’s about taking whatever features are inherently yours and forcing them into the cookie cutter of the same five noses, the same poofy lips and orbular breasts, etcetera, that the culture at large has deemed the most attractive. Plastic surgery actively eliminates differences. It allows women—who got 91 percent of the 12 million cosmetic surgeries performed last year—to literally change the millions of permutations of face and body that occur naturally. I almost see it as if women, as a group, are on strike, trying to push back against the unreasonable beauty ideals that are driving us all crazy. Which makes the woman who gets plastic surgery the scab who crosses the picket line.

Breast implants particularly bother me in this regard. They’ve become so freaking common that it’s almost hard to remember that breasts actually come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes, and densities—all of them glorious. By getting breast implants, women are essentially saying, “Yes, I completely accept that bigger and rounder is better,” rather than celebrating what they’ve got.

But I think there’s a psychological component here, too. Once women start thinking of their bodies and faces as “fixable” and in need of being “fixed,” it becomes very easy to focus on the things you don’t like and want to change, rather than see the opposite—the things you love and appreciate. If you knew you had to live with a flaw for the rest of your life, you’d get over it and quickly realize that a flat chest or droopy eyes do not keep you from finding love, getting a job, or being happy. If changing the way you look were not on the menu, you wouldn’t obsess about it to nearly the same degree. And you wouldn’t be a walking target for the beauty and plastic surgery industries, which make billions of dollars a year by selling you insecurity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that repeat plastic surgery customers were up 10 percent last year. If you don’t like yourself, having a smaller nose or plumper butt isn’t going to help much. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of “Let me fix one more thing.”

A woman’s face and body are part of her DNA—chances are the women in your family have the same features. I have a good friend who had a nose job two years ago. (You’ll be shocked to hear that I thought her nose was just as lovely before as it is now.) She’s been talking lately about having children. And I can’t help but think: If you have a daughter, what if she has the same schnozz you thought inhibited your life and was so terrible that you had to get rid of it? How are you going to tell her that she’s beautiful? Or will you finally see that it actually is and you wasted so many years thinking you weren’t?

I guess it all boils down to: play with whatever cards you’re dealt.