It is not uncommon to hear the words ‘fake’ and ‘unrealistic’ when a conversation about plastic surgery comes up. Guys will usually chip in their two cents and mention how they would never go for a girl who has had plastic surgery, nor would they “let” their partners ever get plastic surgery. Girls will express that it is not feminist and that it is disempowering because women are giving into male standards of beauty. The conversation will usually steer towards horror stories about plastic surgery that has gone wrong and then it will end with a stiff agreement about how natural beauty prevails above all. Does that sound ironic? Maybe not yet, but I will explain to you exactly why the stigma around plastic surgery is problematic.
People often assume that plastic surgery is about giving into unrealistic expectations of beauty. This is usually due to misinformation because of the over sensationalization of cosmetic procedures, especially about celebrities, such as Kylie Jenner who have gone “under the knife”, in the media. What people do not realise is that sometimes plastic surgery is more than just an effort to get that tiny button nose; instead, it can be a lifesaving experience for people with severe facial disfigurements. One example is the Project Haraar which aims to provide facial reconstruction surgery for people with facial disfigurements in remote regions. One of their patients, Maftu had a tumour on her jaw that expanded until she could not eat or breathe properly. Not only did it affect her physically but she also felt isolated from society. The surgery was successful and with her tumour removed and jaw reconstructed, Maftu was able to integrate back into society. It is easy to say that plastic surgery is a problem but for some, like Maftu, it is a solution.
However, plastic surgery is not just a solution but a form of female empowerment. Feminist writer, Angela Neustatter, told The Guardian that: “I had an eye job in my 40s when my eyes seemed to be disappearing into a reptilian layer of skin folds. This made me miserable because we communicate so much with our eyes, and journalists, more than most.”
Angela, like most women, feel empowered by being able to be expressive with their bodies. It is not a surprise when people say that our appearance can often reflect how we feel on the inside. A clinical study published in the Journal of Clinical and Psychological Science did a study of patients who underwent plastic surgery and the study found numerous benefits. Plastic surgery boosted self-esteem, enhanced work performance and also resulted in a reduction in anxiety and depression and overall had a positive effect on mental health. Some people may think plastic surgery is anti-feminist but at a time when being a feminist is becoming more personally defined, does anyone really have any claim over what counts as feminist and what does not? Ultimately, the core of being a feminist is about having a choice, and if this is a choice that improves the lives of women then why not?
But what about those of us who do want that tiny button nose or fuller lips? It seems that, as far as we have come, we still have not really entrenched the message that feminism is about the choices that make you happiest, not the choice that makes others happy. It is difficult not to fall prey to the heaps of negative comments that will come your way, and fill you with self-doubt, if you choose to undertake that journey to cosmetic surgery. But since when have women not had to put up a fight for anything that gives them control over their bodies? It is easy for men to say that natural beauty is better and that is exactly where the irony lies. The same people that say that men prefer ‘natural’ women are also the ones saying that women who have undergone plastic surgery are giving in to the pressure of male expectations. If staying natural means that women are forced to stay miserable and conform to male ideals of beauty then how exactly is that a win?
The most important thing when it comes to plastic surgery is making an informed decision. Talk to your therapist, doctor and surgeon so that the decision you make is one of knowledge and certainty. Essentially, if having those lip fillers or getting that nose job makes you walk a little bit taller and gives you the confidence you need in your relationship and in your life then maybe it is worth fighting for.