Over the years, plastic surgery has become increasingly popular. Once thought only a thing for older celebrity women has now become so commonplace that people as young as 18 are getting work done to their faces and bodies. There is also far more transparency about surgery than ever before. Once, it was a dirty little secret that people lied about and kept to themselves. Now people are posting their plastic surgery journeys on Tik-Tok and Instagram, and there is a more nuanced conversation around plastic surgery than before. Whilst people think that plastic surgery is a way of oppressing women to patriarchal standards of beauty, some think it’s feminist and gives women more choice and control over their bodies. Keep in mind of course that plastic surgery, like any medical surgery, has many health risks and can cause death.
Plastic Surgery and Feminism
Plastic surgery for a long time has had no place in feminism. But plastic surgery positive people have argued that it may be, in fact, feminist. Unfortunately, it is a reality that people are judged by their looks, especially women. While feminists and others advocate to change how we perceive others based on looks, this will not change our current reality.
Beyond standards of beauty like blond hair or an hourglass figure, there is evidence to suggest that there is such a thing as objective beauty. Many studies have found that facial symmetry and averageness, regardless of race, significantly contribute to someone’s perceived attractiveness. You can find out more about this from a study here. Born with a crooked, large nose? Well, getting a rhinoplasty would help give you a more average and symmetrical nose. Not only would this help you in how you are perceived by others, but it also may help your own self-confidence. Many people after having surgery find themselves to be a lot more confident in their own skin.
Plastic surgery is not only for simple vanity. It has helped a lot of people with varying issues. People who have survived wars and acid attacks use plastic surgery as a way of reconstructing their faces and helping with their trauma. In fact, after both WW1 and WW2, many plastic surgery methods were created and developed to help reconstruct soldiers’ faces. I will not go into too much detail as this article focuses on plastic surgery from a feminist point of view, but you can find more information about how WW1 pioneered plastic surgery here. The famous model and writer Katie Piper is a woman who has found strength in her trauma. She is a survivor of an acid attack in 2008 by her ex-boyfriend and has used plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery to help reconstruct her face and help the appearance of her injuries. For her and other acid attack survivors, plastic surgery is indeed an empowering thing, it’s a way to gain control over their lives and overcome their tragic experiences.
For women, specifically, many unfortunately suffer from breast cancer and consequentially get their breasts removed. For these women, it can be a very daunting and traumatic experience, but many of these women get breast augmentation to help them deal with this experience and give them back some of their lost confidence. These are undeniably good uses of plastic surgery.
Patriarchal Standards and the Media
Of course, plastic surgery isn’t all good, and there are reasons to argue that it’s not feminist at all.
For probably centuries, women have been told that to be worthy, they must look a certain way. Across seemingly all cultures, women have been expected to meet certain beauty standards, whether its pale skin in East Asian cultures or wide hips and large butts in Africa, these beauty standards are often made by the men in society who controlled all outlets of art and culture. In the past and still now in the present, these beauty standards are shown to us through media, film, fashion, and now social media. Obviously, women who don’t meet the requirements of these beauty standards may feel ugly, inferior and insecure.
Photoshop and Instagram definitely don’t help, with women online consistently editing their skin to be completely flawless and bodies to be a perfect hourglass, this only furthers these beauty standards that are unreachable for many people. A study that surveyed 227 women in university found that women tend to compare their own appearance negatively with their peer group and with celebrities (not with family members), on Facebook. With things like apps designed for editing appearances, filters and more, this has warped many women’s (and men’s) perceptions of how the average person looks and makes them think negatively about their own appearance. Social media by itself has fuelled plastic surgery, as people strive to look more like these unattainable and fake beauty standards they see online. This is not empowerment, it’s social pressure.
Although the media has increasingly put a diverse range of models with different bodies and ‘imperfections’ in the spotlight, those features will be overly highlighted. What I mean by this is when you have a plus-sized model, she isn’t viewed as a regular ‘model,’ but her weight and body type is emphasized. She’ll specifically be labelled as a ‘plus-size’ model. This is far from normalisation and in my opinion does little to fix how the media represents women.
For the Middle and Upper Class Only
Not all people have access to plastic surgery, of course. It is incredibly expensive, for obvious reasons, and can cost up to hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars depending on what you get done and what doctor you get. According to the NHS, the average nose job is £4,000 to £7,000, and the average breast augmentation is between £3,500 to £8,000. Treatments and upkeep are also required for many cosmetic procedures like a BBL (Brazilian Butt Lift), which can quickly increase the overall price an individual may have to spend on plastic surgery.
Intersectional feminism is and should be concerned with the struggle and oppression of all women. So how could plastic surgery be feminist when it is limited and only accessible for women who can afford it?
So… is plastic surgery feminist?
In my opinion…no. But I don’t think it is anti-feminist or misogynistic either. Plastic surgery is something that is morally neutral. It can be used for good, like helping survivors of assault and war empower themselves, overcome their traumas and help them move through a judgmental society easier. It can help someone fix a huge insecurity that they have and lead them to be more confident and comfortable in their own body. But of course, it can be used for not-so-good reasons. People may use plastic surgery as a way to fit into patriarchal and unrealistic beauty standards, as they have been made to feel that their individuality is not beautiful or is unworthy, which is not true in the slightest. If you are considering plastic surgery, don’t feel as if you’re weak or vain, but I encourage you to examine the reasons as to why you are considering it and examine whether it is truly worth the price and risk.