Plastic Surgery and Effect On Society – Essay
In her essay “Cosmetic surgery: Paying for your beauty,” Debra Gimlin concludes that “women who undergo plastic surgery help to reproduce some of the worst aspects of the
beauty culture, not so much through the act of surgery
itself as through their ideological efforts to restore appearance as an indicator of character” (Gimlin, 107). I believe that women, who decide upon plastic surgery, have a stronger character than those who stay unhappy with their appearance, although it is obvious to me that women who do get plastic surgery will most likely fight a constant battle with society. Throughout this paper I will be proving my thesis along with discussing what Gimlin means by the above quote. I will compare Gimlin’s essay to Lisa Carver’s article “Surrender the Pink,” in terms of whether or not the vagina is also an indicator of character, along with discussing the complicating factors that such a comparison between the types of surgery Gimlin discusses and the types Carver discusses.
In Gimlin’s essay she points out a group of women who seem to believe that their culture is judging their outer appearances. These women responded to the judgment, with plastic surgery. It was clear that the women interviewed by Gimlin all had plastic surgery to correct a perceived flaw, and not to please anyone else. In the quote used in the before paragraph, Gimlin seems to be critical, not of the women who get plastic surgery, but of our culture that emphasizes what a beautiful person is. I believe what Gimlin means by
“appearance as an indicator of character” (107) is that this is what she believes women use to judge themselves. Instead of looking at their values and beliefs, they think that others focus on their appearance above and before their character. She is saying that women who give in to plastic surgery to correct a self perceived abnormality are allowing our society to judge them based on super models on magazine covers or billboards. These women are forgetting that appearance is not an indicator of character, but that their character might be questioned after undergoing plastic surgery. Gimlin states, “Simply put, if plastic surgery were a successful method for constructing identity, these women would argue that the surgically altered body… rather than body work that has proved unsuccessful at shaping the body or establishing the self… serves to symbolize identity” (Gimlin, 106). This quote is very similar to the above quote. It is easier for women to connect their identity to a surgically altered body, than a body, which will not look how they want it to, no matter how much work they put into it. Although in the quote, I am also given the feeling that women who have had plastic surgery still cannot completely connect their identity to their new body. I believe that women need to learn to love themselves on the inside, before they change their outside. If they do not love themselves before the surgery, chances are they will not feel complete after the surgery. Women want to feel that they can identify themselves as being beautiful, and by turning to plastic surgery after much hard work has not paid off, they can feel better about themselves.
Carver’s essay focuses exclusively on vaginal cosmetic surgery, and how women feel about their own genitals. “My vagina is like an emotion… something other can see and judge, but that I can’t really look at clearly” (Carver, 1). I believe that female genitals are a more sensitive subject to most women that other parts of the body. What Carver is saying is that women have insecurities about almost every part of their bodies, but when it comes to their vagina the fears are much bigger. This is because the vagina is not seen everyday, only you get to choose who can look at it and every women wants to feel normal. Since these women do not know what normal is, except from what they have seen in Playboy, many women feel insecure about their genitals. In Gimlin’s essay the women tried to make it clear that they didn’t necessarily feel judged by others about their appearance flaw, but they judged themselves in Carver’s essay it is made clear that women’s genitals are being judged both by themselves and by others. Carver says, “Do some people go around saying these things about vaginas? (I checked in with my male friend afterwards, and discovered that indeed, terms like ‘roast beef sandwich’ or ‘the hanging garden’ are used by certain men to describe long lips)” (Carver, 2). I do not believe that the vagina is an indicator of character, just as I do not believe that other body parts are indicators of character, but it is easy to see from the quote above, why women might be insecure about their genitals, when some men make rude comments about them. A person’s character does not come from any body part, it comes from their inner feelings, emotions, and beliefs. Since Carver described her vagina as an emotion, one might argue that it does stand for character. But to me, Carver means that women have definite emotions around their vaginas, and if they look “normal” in societies standards.
In one of Gimlin’s interviews that she documented in her essay, a woman named Ann Marie says that just because she turned to plastic surgery, it does not mean she is a bad and/or vain person. To her, she did not want her personal character to be judged upon her decision to get plastic surgery. In her case she worked hard to keep her body looking young, and when the skin on her face would not tighten, but the rest of her body looked as good as it did thirty years before, she got a facelift. This made her feel better about her outer appearance. When you compare this case to a case of vaginal plastic surgery in Carver’s essay, the women seem to have similar views on what is a good reason to undergo plastic surgery. In and interview Carver had with a woman who had vaginal plastic surgery the woman said, “I felt droopy and funny looking,” one mother of two told me. “No one complained, but I was inhibited. Now I feel
fabulous! I look like a playboy centerfold” (Carver, 2). No matter what kind of plastic surgery is being done, women seem to make it clear, in both readings, that plastic surgery makes them feel better about themselves and that is what’s
important. Gimlin states, “Second, plastic surgery requires a defense. Much like the women I studied in the aerobic classes, those who underwent plastic surgery are working hard to justify themselves” (Gimlin, 107). I believe that women, who make choices in order to feel more comfortable with their appearance, have a stronger inner character and will, than women who stay miserable with their appearances. In both Ann Marie’s case and the mother of two’s case, these women have gotten rid of their beliefs that they do not look as good as other with plastic surgery, but they both have to defend there solution of plastic surgery. To me, women who feel it necessary to get plastic surgery just cannot win in society. Either they don’t feel their appearance is suitable for their culture, or they have to defend their character when trying to do something about their appearance.
There are a couple important factors that can complicate the comparison between the types of surgery Gimlin discusses and the types of surgery Carver discusses. The main and most obvious factor is that the surgeries described by Gimlin, were to improve the appearance of women, but they were surgeries that can be see by any person, any time. The women in Gimlin’s essay care more about how they look, to themselves and others, when they are fully clothed. In Carver’s article, these women had surgery to make a private part of their bodies look better. It is clear that these women are more concerned with how they look to a certain, specific person or a set of people. In each of these readings the women were striving to change something about themselves that they think is abnormal, but the difference is that the surgeries discussed in Gimlin’s essay are more common and noticeable than the surgeries in Carver’s article.
Another factor that was mentioned in Carver’s essay, but not Gimlin’s was the topic of power. Carver says, He (Dr. Matlock) shines a bright, hot light between your legs and offers you power over a part of yourself you don’t understand. We could by harnessing his “laserscopy” machine, control our vaginas. That’s the snake oil he’s offering. In the hour and a half I spent with him, he never mentioned men. It was power he was selling me. (Carver, 6) Carver brings up the issue of having power over what you want your vagina to look like. Gimlin never mentions having power or “playing God.” In the cases Gimlin describes, the doctor has the right to pick and chose his patients. If he does not think that they should receive the surgery, he can deny them of that. In Carver’s article, each of the doctors she visited attempted to sell her the surgery. She mentioned that when looking at the before and after pictures the before pictures looked fine to her. The last doctor she had seen took the approach above and beyond by selling her the power of having the choice of what her vagina looks like. I believe that this is an oversight on Gimlin’s part because she did not find out how other doctors go about choosing their patients. She also made the doctor that she was working with aware that she was writing an article about him and his patients, therefore he was not going to say that he tries to sell his “work.” Because Carver went undercover for her article, she ended-up getting the more truthful side of plastic surgery.
After careful reading and analyzing both of these articles, I can conclude that for some women plastic surgery is the way to go. Gimlin writes, “Plastic surgery becomes for them not an act of deception but an attempt to align body with self” (Gimlin, 102). There are obviously some pro and cons to plastic surgery, as there are with many other large decisions women make in their lives. But in my opinion, if getting the surgery helps the woman gain confidence without losing her character and beliefs, then more power to her.