The Globalization of Cosmetic Surgery
At what lengths do people go through to fit into a certain look or "beauty" that society dictates? From very early on, people have been transforming themselves into what is thought as beautiful at the time or what is desired in certain societies and cities. Much like many other ideals of a city this idea of vanity is very much a part of the lifestyle and effects the way the people in that city sees themselves and others. This is very evident in the lifestyle of women, although men endured these vanities as well. Much like the corset worn by women of the west and foot binding of the east, in today’s global city one of the most popular ways to look great and fit in the city life is cosmetic surgery. From its popularity in Los Angeles, California to Beijing, China, cosmetic surgery has become a multi-billion dollar industry going global. Does beauty always have to come with a price?
What are people willing to pay to feel like they fit in? As we see in our history and in the present some people would go to any lengths. Some might see it as "rational" behavior for their desire to look a certain way, while others may disagree. On the one hand does it not seem "rational" to want to look the way society feels as beautiful and to want to be accepted? Fashion has dictated many throughout the years, it is the one thing in the city that is not held to be law but at the same time many look to it and follow it to fit in and viewed as "rational." Author Christine Rosen even goes as far as calling plastic surgery "Vanitus Democratus." She explains plastic surgery as a valuable commodity that is "unfairly distributed." In a world where we are judged upon our looks, having the freedom to be able to change it is "liberating." (Rosen, Christine)
During the early 1920s a young fashion designer and a well known plastic surgeon had created a buzz about the case of "the amputated leg." Fashion during this period had raised hemlines and shortened skirts. Embarrassed by her legs, the young fashion designer sought the plastic surgeon for help. Unfortunately the procedure did not go well, so the patient sued. The young fashion designer’s lawyer made the argument that "fashion.....is a tyrannical goddess." (Comisky, Caroline) As we have witnessed in our past and our present, fashion and vanity have a strong hold on our culture. It may not be law, some may oppose it, and it varies from city to city, but it is a global phenomenon that shapes our lifestyle.
Some people feel that the only way towards self love and fulfillment is to be able to change one’s appearance. Plastic surgery provides this solution, giving way to endorsing the free market while providing self fulfillment. Making plastic surgery increasingly popular and therefore increasingly "democratic," as Rosen would put it. Our culture has since put such a strong emphasis on physical appearance that beauty is linked into moral worth. From childhood such fairly tales as Snow White with the beautiful princess and the ugly witch cements this thought in our minds. (Rosen, Christine)
As the story of the young fashion designer pointed out, plastic surgery had a ways to go, and its reputation did not come about until after the First World War. Plastic surgeons had found ways to redo faces and limbs of soldiers that were badly injured during the war. Shortly after the war however, the need for plastic surgeons were diminishing, so plastic surgeons sought new ways to attract business. So the case of the "amputated leg," caused a stir in the business, while the judge ruled that cosmetic surgery had no medical necessity and therefore plastic surgeons have no right in performing these procedures. Plastic surgeons banded together to defend their profession blaming the court for not understanding how it lend a hand in society. Plastic surgeons argued that plastic surgery indeed was able to help a woman shave years off her looks so that she was able to immediately find a job. The point was made that plastic surgery was needed to aid society by riding the undesirable ugliness. As Comisky puts it, "Rather than critiquing society’s emphasis upon youth and beauty, doctors encouraged the belief that ugliness could be considered a sickness." Finally in the early thirties a judge finally ruled that cosmetic surgery may be beneficial in many areas. (Comisky, Caroline) Today, plastic surgery falls under many categories. From using it for medical reason or for enhancing, it is used on many areas of "enhancement."
Today we have embraced plastic surgery as a legitimate way to "relieve people\'s suffering" regarding their appearance. Still there are those who feel cosmetic surgery is unnecessary and oppressive of the people, most commonly to women. Many "feminist liberals" argue that cosmetic surgery does not provide real self esteem but deprives one of their true self. Like those beauty practices of the past, plastic surgery is just as invasive and harmful to the human body. From the days of the corsets breaking the ribs and mutilating the organs as well as foot binding, plastic surgery also provides many risks such as loss of sensation of parts of the body, body parts falling off, and permanent internal pain. Sheila Jeffreys, author of "Beauty And Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices In The West," states that women have come too far in fighting for women’s liberalism to go and submit ourselves to these practices of "beauty." She points out that the look that women are trying to achieve from these new beauty practices reflects many of the styles from the growing sex industry, such as the waxing and breast enlargements. Agree with Jeffreys or not, you can not ignore that the beauty industry is definitely reflecting the growing sex image in our society, especially in America. (Bindel, Julie)
In Los Angeles alone the image of sex and sexuality is plastered everywhere. The need to be young and beautiful is essential in living in L.A. It is a city of glimmer and glamour, and where success is the key to the city and failure is never mentioned but always hiding around the corner screaming at you. Among the expensive cars, clothes, jewelry, and houses are the expensive bodies. In the city of Los Angeles it is always "rational" to be beautiful and fit in, and most of all it is essential to know who’s who. People in this city live by Hollywood standards. There is no room for bodily imperfections. Many stars live in L.A. and many of them strive to look "perfect." Many succeed and many fail. We read their lives in tabloids and judge them, perhaps too harshly, for they too are only human. Most stars in L.A. have rumored to have had "work done" if not actually had some done. L.A. has a reputation for having only the beautiful residing there. It is one of the cities where the phrase "survival of the prettiest" is not just a joke, but a way of life. The desire to look and fit in this city almost seems to consume all of its inhabitants. Because of these characteristic of this city, L.A. has become known as the capitol of plastic surgery. (Nelson, Zed)
Los Angeles now houses some of the most world renowned plastic surgeons in the world, where they are known as "skilled cutters, tighteners and medicine men who promise beauty, eternal youth and a fast-track to success." L.A. has become the fastest growing city in plastic surgery. People of every color, background, and profession come to L.A. if they ever feel the need to "enhance" any feature or features. Although there are a few clinics across the states that provide plastic surgery, L.A. claims "that you always get what you pay for." (Nelson, Zed) Everywhere from magazines of stars to new reality shows, show how plastic surgery can not only enhance but change a person’s life forever. With these publicity plastic surgery has become so widely accepted, some medical experts are wary that many do not know the reality of plastic surgery.
Some surgeons reveal that many of the flawless beauties we see on television and in magazines may not tell the whole truth. In reality some surgeons reveal that there are certain moral ethics in this business. Sometimes surgeons must simply deny a patient when they make requests that are too outrageous. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the plastic surgery industry grossed more than 8.3 billion dollars in 2003. The most popular procedures were nose reshaping, liposuction, eyelid surgery, and facelifts. Forty-five percent of all patients were repeat patients, and almost one-third of all plastic surgery recipients had multiple procedures. (Dressler, Shayla) Not only that, but plastic surgery is not done only in the United States, but have been going throughout the world. Plastic surgery is a global industry, bringing the world together with another common ground, plastic surgery and the desire to be beautiful.
Halfway around the world, plastic surgery has now spread to China. Much like America’s television show The Swan, China is now showcasing their "plastic beauties" in a form of a pageant. In Beijing where the pageant is held, eighteen women compete against each other for the title of Miss Plastic Surgery. Each contestant must have had gone under the knife and have the certification to prove it. The contestants range from 22 years of age to 62. Plastic surgery has become so rampant in China that there are more and more clinics everywhere in the major cities. Many of the wealthier clinics seek out anyone willing to go under the knife for free and become their poster child for advertisement similar in this particular pageant, because competition has become so ruthless. Plastic surgery has become so popular that many surgeons popping up around some of the cities are not even certified for plastic surgery making it increasingly dangerous for those seeking to have plastic surgery done. (Haworth, Abigail)
Unlike L.A., Beijing, China has not always been the capitol of beauty and perfection. During their imperial rule China had valued beauty and for more than nine hundred years bound feet was practiced as a painful ritual, because small feet were considered more alluring. Many of the wealthy families bound their daughter’s feet in order for them to be eligible to be wed. Later, under Moa and the communist rule, everyone was considered be equal, no one was better or prettier than anyone else. Vanity was illegal and any woman owning a hair brush, mirror, moisturizer, or anything to the like were regularly beaten. Now, and for the past thirty years, China has become more liberal and the pursuit of beauty is again on the minds of many Chinese women. (Haworth, Abigail)
With these new ideas, it seems that it is becoming more vital to look good to be able to find work, claims one woman in China. Dandan was a young girl in Beijing seeking a job and all she could find were cleaning jobs. Employers told her she was not suitable to work in front of customers. After seeing an ad for a free makeover to promote a new clinic, Dandan did not hesitate not wanting to mop floors for the rest of her life. After weeks of enduring agony and healing, Dandan unwrapped her bandages to reveal a new person. She soon was able to find better jobs such as hostess at classy restaurants and hotels. (Haworth, Abigail)
Chinese women are seeking a somewhat western look in their features, when visiting the plastic surgeon. They want to eliminate "imperfections" such as their classic Chinese features as flat nose, broad face, narrow eyes, and longer legs. Such procedures such as double eyelid surgery, to make the eyes seem rounder, and a nose job to heighten the nose are some of the regular requests. Many of China’s favorite actors and actresses have also had these "jobs" done. (Haworth, Abigail)
The similarities of some cultural practices regarding beauty between L.A. and Beijing are evident; the desires to correct imperfections and striving to be like the stars. So what is the price and lengths that people are willing to go to fit in? I think we now know if we had not known before. It is no wonder plastic surgery is a multibillion dollar industry. When we think about plastic surgery ideas such as vanity, frivolousness, narcissism, and low self-esteem comes to mind. Or if you advocate plastic surgery ideas such as empowerment, fulfillment, and improvement comes to mind. However, the reason the cosmetic surgery industry has grown is not due to vanity alone. It is very possible that it has something to do with denial and envy. The industry thrives on those who are in denial of aging and our physical limits. People who envy those that are young, strong, beautiful, and fertile strive to try and gain it back or try to turn back the clocks of time. It’s been in our history that we have searched far and wide for the fountain of youth, now that we have no means of obtaining that we have created it in the form of plastic surgery. These desires have been and is still within all of us who’s years are fleeting, it transcend through all of us, therefore making the industry of cosmetic surgery spreading worldwide and a global industry.
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