Objections to Cosmetic Surgery

// 14 September 2005

The Guardian had a depressing article today entitled: Most British women now expect to have cosmetic surgery in their lifetime. How did the ultimate feminist taboo become just another lifestyle choice?.

Decca Aitkenhead looks at the media’s involvement in promoting and creating a market for the increasingly extreme procedures, but the article ends on a dismal note, writing: “I asked everybody I interviewed whether they could suggest anything that might slow or reverse surgery’s growth. …Feminists are too wary of sounding disloyal or unpragmatic to mount a coherent objection.”

Which is odd, because Sheila Jeffreys has just released a fascinating new book called “Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West” which includes a chapter all about the normalisation of cosmetic surgery. There’s also the classic “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf, which also covers cosmetic surgery. Also recommended is “Body Outlaws: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity” edited by Ophira Edut (whose website Adios Barbie also addresses the issue), and “Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body” by Susan Bordo. Some more ideas of feminists writing about this issue are here. You could also check out About Face who report on an interesting anti cosmetic surgery action.

As reported in Jeffreys’ book, one of the growth areas of cosmetic surgery is a the trend for labiaplasty (altering the appearance of the labia); a procedure becoming more popular due to the prevalence of airbrushed or altered porn. Whilst googling for cosmetic surgery and feminism I came across the intriguing “international labia blogathon“. The site was set up after the founder, who contributes to teen advice site, “noticed the abundance of posts made by girls complaining and worrying and wondering about the size, shape and colour of their labia. she felt a positive counterpoint to that negativity and labia non-loving was direly needed.”

So: feminists are objecting, actually: check out this post on the labia blogathon as a prime example. Admittedly most of the examples I’ve given are from outside the UK. But British feminists write about the issue too, on their blogs or in their zines.

But I agree more should be done. But what? How do you fight an entire culture, an ideology that is so ingrained? I don’t have any answers, but I do think that giving girls access to feminist books and magazines and teaching them media awareness at school might be a good start.

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