Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Plastics

Yesterday when my colleague Jesse sent me this Vanity Fair article about a woman who goes "undercover" to three different plastic surgery consultations I didn't quite know what to think of it. It's a well-written article, and the author has many of the same attitudes about plastic surgery that I do: It's not for her.

For those that don't want to click through and read the whole thing, here's the article in brief: Doctor #1 is much like the plastic surgeon in the "Freak Show" episode of Sex in the City, verbally drawing lines all over the "imperfections" in her body; Doctor #2 used compliments, constantly praising her and telling her she has a beautiful body; Doctor #3 continues to remind her that she gets to choose what she wants to do, often telling her that she doesn't need many of the procedures suggested by Doctor #1.

Aside from the problematic "undercover" nature of the piece -- I didn't really see why it was particularly vital to misrepresent herself since the doctors probably told her many of the same things they would have told her "on the record" -- I ended up feeling a lot more sympathetic to the plastic surgeons than I thought I might. Sure, the compliments are manipulative. The kind of clientele that seeks out plastic surgery is ego-driven enough that the complements feed into the motivation to undergo the procedure. But two of the doctors she visited seemed more grounded in reality than you might expect. They told her certain procedures weren't necessary (although one could argue that correcting one breast hanging a little lower than another isn't something that's necessary either) and reminded her that she was already beautiful.

Still, this body image stuff is more intangible than we like to admit. There is no policy prescription to make women feel better about their bodies. The author of the piece admitted that after her first session, she was more judgmental about her appearance, and after the doctor referred to part of her ass as "banana rolls" she admitted she'd never think of her favorite fruit the same way again. These attacks, however subtle and self-induced really do affect our mindset. After my last doctor visit, where my doctor pointed out I'd gained ten pounds in two years, I suddenly began weighing myself every time I went to the gym. It may make us seem insecure, but these insecurities are the result of a reality. It is the reality where we are judged, sometimes harshly, on our appearance.

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