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Cosmetic Surgery for Vanity Is One Glaring Symptom of Our Toxic Culture.

Notice the ironic message on her t-shirt. Image by Sandra Gabriel from

Cosmetic surgery does not exist in a vacuum. It is a direct result of pervasive cultural influences. Firm and subtle social directives, along with prescriptive imagery and messages telling women how they can and, thus, should look- if they can hope to be deemed of any worth to men or society.

As a culture, we teach women to dislike, even hate, as well as inflict cruelty and violence on themselves. This self-inflicted violence includes extreme dieting, eating to excess, binge drinking and other substance abuse, over-exercising, taking laxatives or diet pills, mental cruelty such as telling oneself “you are ugly”, “not good enough”, or that this body part isn’t up to par, self-mutilation, and paying someone else to cut open and essentially mutilate oneself in an effort to feel more accepted and desired.

Cosmetic surgery is a symptom of a culture that is toxic and abusive toward women. It’s a significant sign of disease within a society if an entire sex feels compelled to surgically alter their bodies and outer appearance to feel more aesthetically acceptable.

This is a catch-22 though because, within said culture, women are never acceptable. They are either too thin or too large. Too loud or too shy. Too sexual or too repressed. Their breasts, too small or too saggy. Their skin, too wrinkled or too blemished. They are either aggressive or weak, demanding or too permissive. No woman is ever enough exactly as she is. This message, with which we are routinely browbeaten, ensures that women continue jumping through hoops towards a figurative end goal. It is a means of keeping them distracted, controlled, and contained.

Cosmetic surgery is not even about “beauty” for a couple of reasons. Ideas of “beauty” as narrated by the mass media and consumer culture are ever-shifting and thus impossible to meet. Consider the idealized muscular female form with ample breasts of the nineties. The punk rock, bruised-looking eye makeup, safety pins through ears, the hard-sex-just-happened look of the eighties. The “Twiggy” look of the sixties. And the pornified, cartoonish body parts, airbrushed face, and sex-worker female fashions advertised as what should be sought after and considered as sexy today.

Thus, what is beauty, if none other than an ever-shifting, imagined ideal prescribed by whoever is molding the media imagery that year? Each of these supposed ideals of beauty is then about the making of one’s body and sexuality into a commodity.

All of this is a method of keeping women scrambling for approval, rushing about, and attempting to mold and bend themselves to feel desired and accepted by the culture’s higher demands of how they “should” look. It’s a way of keeping women less powerful in a male-dominated society. Because if women are clamoring about in an effort to garner validation and approval, who remains in power while watching the jostling below? The rest of society who isn’t engaged in the same degree of scurry: men. This is not to say that men aren’t suffering from toxic, male prescribed cultural ideals as well. They certainly do, and that is a valid and important topic that deserves its own article.

It is symbolic though that, in a nation where a woman’s appearance still is her utmost commodity, it is generally the men who are slicing, dicing, and piecing women together to fit into that narrow, homogenized, never fully attainable ideal, in order to become more desirable to these men.

According to an article from Racked, men make up 85 percent of board-certified plastic surgeons, while 92 percent of cosmetic surgeries are performed on women. Men are the ones assembling the supposedly upgraded and improved ragdoll women who are apparently, after their handiwork, a better fit for our culture’s rigid, oppressive, cruel, and ever-shifting standards for women. This is not a coincidence. For it isn’t women who decided we are never up to par. It is society at large who created that construct, and then the certain men who have been conditioned by it.

Who knows, eventually we may be able to look out into a sea of women who look exactly alike. Physical uniqueness will become a thing of the past. “Personal taste” will be phased out. “Beauty in the eye of the beholder”? What nonsense is that?

Instead, women’s appearances will become eerily duplicate and depressingly boring. Soon, we can all be sex objects and walking billboards of visual pleasure for men. We can look as though having just stepped off an assembly line. With breasts rounded, huge, all exactly the same size and shape. Everyone with a washboard flat stomach, the same shape butt, and a similar-looking face. Smooth skin, plumped lips, huge eyes, with gigantic white, chiclet looking teeth. No more mystery to be left when disrobing with a new lover. They will know exactly the size, shape, and feel of what our bodies will be, in this new uniform, one-look-only type of beauty.

Our bodies can be designed and pieced together just so to feel finally adequate in a culture that is oh-so-messed up and inhospitable to women. The only instruments required: a knife, needle and thread, some silicon bags filled with liquid, and a man in a coat.

Within this creating of the perfect body and look via surgery will become a sense of pressure and expectation among women, one which makes them feel worse, not better. Because if you can look supposedly better (via whatever means: starving oneself, surgery, you name it), why wouldn’t you? Women then live their lives beneath a hovering, omnipresent cloud of this pressure.

This mindset and moral does not encourage women to place a high value on their inner spirit and character. Instead, it pushes and promotes the quick fix, a sense of conformity among women and in terms of how they consider beauty, and the basing of one’s value on the look of one’s body and size of one’s breasts. And folks, not only is this a crime against half of humanity (all women), this is an incredibly sad and emotionally detrimental state to be in.

In the words of Naomi Wolf, “female sexuality is turned inside out from birth, so ‘beauty’ can take its place, keeping women's eyes lowered to their own bodies, glancing up only to check their reflections in the eyes of men. Girls growing up learn not of their own desires for the other, but for the desire to be desired.”

From a very young age, women are taught both to sexualize themselves, (to break themselves down into body parts of varying quality); and that their own sexuality and desirability lies in the hands and eyes of men.

This is why women have reported (at least, articles on surgery report that women report) supposed sexual fulfillment after breast implants, even if their breasts are nerve-dead and rock-hard, a not infrequent result. Why? Many women’s sexuality is so externalized, so dependent on outer validation from men, that they may truly feel more excited by sexual organs that, though dead, immobile, or which cause significant health problems down the road, visually fit our culture’s rigid and oppressive guidelines.

The health implications of these surgically altered sexual organs are not insignificant. After just three years, 20 percent of augmentation patients and 46 percent of reconstruction patients may need additional surgeries because of complications such as infection. Hematoma (a collection of blood or fluid around the implant) can occur, as can the loss of breast sensation, and the formation of painful, misshapen scar tissue around the implant.

Women who received implants for augmentation often experience significant increases in muscle and joint pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, and other signs and symptoms of connective tissue disease within two years. Prior to getting implants, these were healthy women, with an average age of 34. And a National Cancer Institute study found that women with implants had increased risk of cancer of the brain, respiratory tract, cervix, and vulva.

But implants, even if they cut off or lessen sensation in herself, or cause adverse health effects, might be something from which she feels convinced, “frees” her sexually. They “look better,” they “photograph well.” Now she is one step closer to the flawless, Stepford-wife look, a showpiece more than a human woman, which is our culture’s goal for women.

Men are not cutting up and surgically altering their bodies to garner women’s desire, or to fit into a cultural ideal. Imagine the following societal scene for a moment. Men are regarded as sexual objects, for the pleasure of women. Sweeping numbers of men do not eat, may throw up their food behind closed doors, or exercise for hours to rid themselves of “too many calories.” They obsess over every bite they take.

And picture men being told, “You’d better get surgery on your testicles to make them less lopsided, or no woman is going to want you.” Or, “You should get your penis tweaked so it isn’t slightly crooked; otherwise, women are going to be grossed out and think it looks weird.” Or, “Dude, maybe get surgery on your butt so it isn’t quite so big; otherwise, women are going to choose someone else, leave you for a better looking guy with the right kind of body.”

There would be public outcry and stunned anger. People would ask, “What is wrong with women? How dare they treat men this way? It’s awful, so messed up, a crime against men. Who do they think they are? This is abuse.” And yet, this is the world women live in every day, and nary is an eye batted. Instead, this world is not only quietly accepted, it’s completely bought into.

It is no wonder then that perpetual anxiety, fear, and an acute sense of insecurity pervade women’s daily thoughts and lives causing them to mold themselves into what they hope will please and elicit the desire of men. How can they be more beautiful? Thinner? Sexier? Obtain a more appealing figure? Bigger breasts? Less droopy ones? A “better” nose? Otherwise, our culture tells them, you are of little to no value, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t a “real” woman, no one will love or desire you, and you aren’t beautiful.

New data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows continued growth in cosmetic procedures. According to the annual plastic surgery procedural statistics, there were 17.5 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States in 2017, a two percent increase from 2016.

Women in our culture are given the false message that their “beauty” is their sexuality, and yet, in actuality, it’s the other way around. This, along with the fact that at every turn in our culture, women’s sexuality is not for them. It’s for men. The visual appeal of our bodies: decided on and judged as good enough or not by men.

Look at the landscape of advertising, movies, porn. “Women’s sexuality” throughout is all for men. Their contrived poses, today’s sex-worker esque fashion styles, bodies airbrushed and cut down to smaller size, mouths open, heads thrown back, eyes closed, all to pique and draw the interest of men. To turn on and impress men. Men decide who is hot or not. We put this power in men’s hands, spending the bulk of our lives chasing this end goal. Wherever they point, we run.

The way our society routinely body shames women is a method of controlling and oppressing women. It’s a way of keeping them down. It is also a method of dividing women and keeping them at arm’s length from one another. If women are kept insecure, preoccupied, and obsessed with their weight, skin, desirability, and looks, they are isolated from each other (as women learn to view one another as competition and with suspicion and wariness), and they then remain weaker as a group. This is a political and societal strategy designed to keep men in power and women feeling ugly, worthless, and less powerful. It teaches women to continue appeasing men.

Plastic surgery is just one of the many ways in which our current culture embodies violence of the self in women. It’s one of the many symptoms of our culture hating women, continually tearing them apart, and doing all that it can to keep them down. Plastic surgery doesn’t help women, emotionally or physically. It hurts them.

A Finnish study found that women who have implants for breast augmentation are three times more likely to commit suicide than women without implants. And that’s along with the lengthy laundry list of health problems that come along with them for most women.

Some women might dismissively or defensively remark on this topic, something along the lines of, “People can do what they wish with their bodies.” Of course, they can. That isn’t the point. Anyone has the right to do what they wish with their body; however, this does not mean that everything a person chooses to do to their body is emotionally or physically healthy, or a good thing for that person.

We may do as we wish to our bodies, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to help our mental health or truly improve our lives. In many cases, it can do the opposite. And, merely because we may “do as we wish” with our bodies does not indicate it as synonymous with a healthy or positive societal thing for its citizens. Thus, such a remark is dismissive, simplistic thinking.

The questions we must ask ourselves today are: what does all this mean for both love and humanity? Why is beauty just one ideal? When natural breasts come in innumerable shapes and sizes, what all-seeing presence gets to decide that there is just one size, shape, and “look” that is decent, while all others are unacceptable?

Why is age ugly, older women rendered invisible (while older men are considered sexy, powerful, and wise) when in reality and logically, age indicates wisdom, experience, emotional maturity, and a life lived?

What do we learn about love, when the message promoted loud and clear is that only a very narrow subset of women are worthy of love? And that even for that small subset, it will eventually evade them, once they inevitably age.

What do we lose when we regard beauty as an impossibly unattainable, rigid, homogenized, even painful pursuit? When we treat female sexuality as not for women, but for the pleasure and approval of men and society at large? When we encourage women to inflict mental, emotional, and physical violence on themselves, all in this pursuit?

Imagine if women stopped buying into, going along with, and chasing after our culture’s narrow beauty myth and instead rejected that cultural construct and started truly loving themselves.

What might happen then?

We need to stop buying into the myth of one type of beauty, given that beauty is relative, ever-changing, and in the eyes of the beholder.

Why do we allow consumer culture to continue dictating and directing our sense of self-worth? Why do we allow mass media to encourage us in these varying forms of self-abuse and self-hatred? Why do we buy into it, when this gives us almost no true happiness, emotional fulfillment, sense of security, or mental health? Instead, it brings us the exact opposite.

Why not instead dare to address the insidious culture pressing these toxic messages upon us?

Why not decide to look closely and critically at the emotional disease of buying into such ideas and decide to refuse to allow them to be pressed upon one’s psyche?

Why not really challenge such a problematic cultural mindset and morals?

How about thrusting one big, fat middle finger in the direction of patriarchy and our women-objectifying and diminishing society?

If all women did that, it would result in one of the greatest cultural upheavals of our time: significantly emotionally healthier women, the toppling of the patriarchy, a total change of our media and political landscape, the leveling of the playing field between men and women for the first time ever, and happier and healthier relationships.

Why aren’t we all doing this right now?

(A source used for this article: The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf).

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

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