I received a private message recently, asking me to comment on plastic surgery, in the context of body positivity. I think that it is actually a very important discussion to be had, and I am also going to talk about other kinds of body modifications in this post as well, things like corsets, Spanx, etc. Please leave me your thoughts in the comments!
Let me start by saying that I am a feminist and given that context, it is important to note that I believe in freedom of choice for all women. We need to acknowledge that choice does not exist in a vacuum so while there may be multiple options, some of those available to us may be taken away because of the woman’s individual social location. For example, most of us would likely choose to not work every day, but because we were not born wealthy and because we live in a society that requires us to pay for rent and food, most of us will choose to have a job or a career. In the context of body positivity, this means that we can’t all choose to join a gym or choose to eat an organic vegan diet, but it also means that some of us can’t afford make-up, brand name clothes, fancy undergarments or plastic surgery. Being an intersectional feminist means acknowledging these places of privilege and oppression, and doing as much as possible to even the playing field.
It is my opinion that these things always need to be acknowledged, pointed out and admitted to. If you are posting a nude photo, saying that you love your body, but do not address the fact that after extreme weight loss or child birth, you had skin removal surgery or a tummy tuck, you are excluding so many people that could have otherwise been able to relate to your story. If you make a post about loving your extreme hourglass figure and curves but have never talked about your love of corsets and waist training, I see that as problematic. If you are modeling for a skin care or makeup company but have had injections, fillers and a facelift, that kind of feels like false advertising to me. We all know that the images we see in advertisements and marketing campaigns have been photoshopped but should we also assumed the model was altered by a doctor months or years prior to the photo shoot even beginning?
One of my role models on this topic is Jane Fonda. Jane openly discusses her plastic surgery and how at the time she felt that it was necessary to maintain a career in Hollywood. She admits that it is still basically essential to maintain your appearance as a woman working as an actor. While men are allowed and even encouraged to age, they will simply cast a younger woman in the role if their desired actor has “let themselves go”. She has also been open about the fact that at times she regrets ever having had plastic surgery, she wonders what she would look like now if she had not, if she had aged naturally. The most important part, though, is that she is open about her experience so that women can have more realistic expectations of their own appearance and maybe learn from Jane’s own lessons before making similar mistakes. I admire Jane because whenever she is asked how or why she looks so good for her age, she replies honestly and openly that she had plastic surgery.
Personally, I have thought about wearing corsets under certain outfits and I have always maintained that if I ever took that step, I would mention it in the caption of any photo that I was wearing it in. Would I model for a corset company? Almost certainly, because if I was openly talking about my experience wearing a corset, no one could possibly be confused about why my body looks curvier than it normally does. I don’t own any Spanx myself, actually, I did when I was a size 4/6 which seems hilarious to me now. I just find them horribly uncomfortable and not really that functional. Full disclosure (and probably TMI), the built-in pee hole kind of reminds me of the time I got third-degree burns on my tummy and thighs as a kid and had to wear a garment like that for medical reasons. I feel like sometimes Spanx actually make the outfit look worse than it would have otherwise. But, I still support the choice to wear them since I also understand that some women like that feeling and also because our society puts so much pressure on women to look slim and dress in a way that flatters. (Speaking of flattering, check out SmartGlamour’s new #ImFlattered campaign).
To me that is what it all comes down to, us having realistic images of women and men from all different backgrounds, ages, shapes, and sizes to look up to, instead of one produced exclusively by slimming undergarments, surgery, and photoshop. I support everyone’s choice to wear what they choose or to have plastic surgery if they believe it will make them happier, but I hope they will always be open and honest about why their face and/or body looks the way it does so we can compare apples and apples instead of apples and oranges. I actually wish we lived in a world where we didn’t compare our on beauty to that of another, but for now, I am focusing on all the reasons representation matters and why seeing images of people who look like us in the media, is helpful to our self-esteem. If everyone we see has been poked, filled and tucked, those of us who aren’t will always be stuck.