Plastic Surgery: The American Urge to Outdo

Part two!

Plastic surgery has served as a remedy for disfigurement and low-self esteem. Many now look at surgical procedures as a way to enhance beauty. We can alter anything from our scalps to our toes. But how and why do people decide on certain alterations? Does America even have a ‘type’ of beauty?

rsz_-1(2)Isolation of anything is difficult in today’s world, so defining components of beauty is no simple feat. But in this context diversity rears its beautiful and complex head, making it especially difficult to concentrate only on beauty aims of American cosmetic surgery. We are a melting pot, after all. So does that mean our concepts of beauty come in all shapes and sizes? Yes…and no. If you’ve been waiting for irony, it’s right here under our noses (pun intended).

You don’t need an expert to prove that America has an obsession with large breasts. Generous C’s, double D’s, if they’re big then you’re in. Young women everywhere practically flock to surgical offices for a size increase. And it’s no secret that one of the classic American beauty types is tall, tan, and shapely. Yes Baywatch, we see you and we know. You’ve always made us self-conscious.

But that’s just recently classic. In the ‘50s, women saw Marilyn Monroe and yearned for a curvy hourglass figure. Classic flapper girls were thin, small, and didn’t wear clothing that accentuated their breasts. But in the early 1800s, corsets were all the rage: “Hello gentlemen, because my ankles are too risqué, I’d like to present you with a lovely view of my cleavage.”

Case in point: how we model ourselves is a product of personal eras. And time has somehow convinced us that alteration is a necessity as standards change.

Classic looks vary from year to year and decade to decade. But America is a hodgepodge of cultures, and every culture has different ideals, yes? Culture, after all, is what’s next to you in line at the tag agency. It’s walking down the street and making your movies and growing your food. Culture is literally everywhere. Therefore, it’s difficult to say if we even have a type.

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So here’s where it gets interesting. Cosmetic surgeons were overwhelmed with Jewish clients begging them banish their distinctive noses during WWII.  Even today, many Ethnic American women seek procedures that will give their derrieres a lift, make their breasts larger, and their eyes bigger because these features align with American standards of beauty. Meanwhile, Caucasian American women are seeking procedures that celebrate the ethnic diversity of different cultures. Features traditionally associated with African, Latin American, and Asian women are compelling Caucasian women to seek exoticism.

Bigger lips.

Darker skin.

Curvier hips.

Nancy Etcoff, a brain and beauty psychologist, believes it indicates a cultural awareness. That can’t be argued; we’re obviously aware and pining for the ideals of other countries. White women in the US want to appear exotic while ethnic women want to appear more American. We’ve entered an age where standards have suddenly converged but remain somehow converse. We want to be what we’re not. And even though international women have been aligning with that for quite some time, Caucasian women are now jumping on the bandwagon. Either our culture can’t make up its mind or we’re developing new ideals of attraction.

Yet despite the dangers to body and mind, cosmetic surgery is glamorized. And here in the US, performers aren’t the only ones advertising. Television shows have made their mark, and their mark is deep and deceptive. Ever watched Nip/Tuck (2003-10)? Even though 99 percent of the cases were factually based, editing distorted the negative side effects. And Extreme Makeover (2002-07) may have showcased the empowering side of dangerous procedures, but what they failed to tell you is what happens when things end up botched. And that’s not pretty or empowering.

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The most disgusting of all is Bridalplasty. In case you were lucky enough to dodge the 2010 “reality” show, it was about 12 women who were competing for their dream wedding and plastic surgery procedures. The winner of each challenge was granted one of her dream surgeries. What the hell is this? What happened to the excitement of sharing your life with the person of your dreams? It’s obviously been overshadowed by unattainable American standards.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to be healthy. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want to look beautiful on your wedding day. But isn’t it kind of ridiculous that now we’ve resorted to all kinds of cosmetic surgery to make ourselves feel like we’re enough? The icing on the cake is how addictive it is. One surgery leads to another in a mad pursuit of perfection. Some people just can’t resist going back to their surgeon for ‘just one more’ job.

Let’s be honest: if plastic surgery didn’t exist, we’d learn to live with what we consider to be flaws. Plastic surgery (in a cosmetic sense) has done nothing but make us feel inadequate. It’s almost as though we require an army to make ourselves marginally adequate women. One surgeon for our chests, one for our wrinkles, and another for our Botox injections.

You’ll encounter women who say that they felt better about themselves when they upped their cup size or got collagen implants. But why do we need larger breasts or firmer butts to be happy? Nine times out of ten, I’m willing to bet that it’s not because you have always felt inadequate. You weren’t pushed into this world by your mama with the idea that your stomach isn’t flat enough. And until recently, you didn’t need a toned stomach to be beautiful. It’s as I said: we change with the eras. If you do change, you’ll be fashionable for only a short bit of time.

As soon as you get implants, everyone will value small breasts.

When you tattoo that eyeliner on, people are going to start going au natural.

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