Plastic Surgery: A Postmodern Veil
Updated: Jan 28
Written by: Mahnoor
Edited by: Khushi Karnawat and Jesie Randhawa
We live in a world where the Kardashian-Jenner tribe are not only some of the most influential people in the world but also have created this culture of getting copious amounts of fillers, lifts and implants to obtain an “ideal” appearance that will get you all the sponsorships, followers and validation you may want. Beauty ideals have been changing through the decades, and plastic surgery has been the vehicle that has helped people transform into whatever their desired look may be.
Whether it be a sharper jawline, or a smaller nose, everyone has heard or made a complaint about a physical feature they wish they could change. Plastic surgery has become a quick fix solution to society’s insecurities but we need to ask ourselves where the toxic threshold lies.
When do we stop doing it for ourselves and start altering our appearances for the approval of others?
Surgeries administered for superficial or aesthetic purposes are no novel feat. Throughout history, the need to alter or enhance one's physical appearance has existed across various regions and cultures. Most notably, reconstructive surgery can be traced back to 800 B.C. India in a book called the ‘Sushruta Samhita’ where it mentions a technique using a leaf-shaped flap from the forehead to reconstruct the nose. This method was later adapted and used to conduct procedures in the 18th century.
We have always been exposed to the concept, whether it were from TV shows, social media or even the toys we had growing up - remember how unrealistic bratz dolls figure and features were? Growing up, going under the knife for “beauty” was something a few celebrities or older people got done to maintain a youthful look. However now it is not restricted to any specific demographic, younger people are getting it more than ever and women disproportionately make up the majority of patients for cosmetic surgeries and body augmentations/contouring.
Fillers, double-eyelid surgery and Brazilian Butt Lifts are a few of the popular procedures amongst women.
But why are they the more active customers?
With the constant changing trends - big lips, small noses, fox eyes - posted all over the covers of fashion/beauty magazines, women are constantly hammered with how they should be looking. The 90s was all about being extremely skinny, and just twenty years later we are at a point that the trend is to have the ultimate hourglass figure, with an extremely petite waist and a big curvaceous bottom half.
Can’t open Instagram without being “assaulted” with pictures of people perfectly round breasts, teeny tiny waists, a massive derrière and jawlines and plump lips, without a double chin in sight. There are few celebrities and influencers that have not gone under the knife to “perfect their looks,” these individuals with followers ranging in the millions have many young impressionable girls as their followers who are more than willing to follow suit of their role models .
This normalisation of seeing women openly embracing getting certain procedures done such as fillers or botox and even endorsing them to a certain extent is decreasing cultural stigma surrounding the topic. Facial fillers are one of the easiest cosmetic procedures to have done as they do not need to be performed by a medical professional in a registered clinic. The danger here is that It’s an unregulated industry for the most part so you may not have any idea what you’re actually injecting.
Online most of the beauty trends that are pushing women into getting plastic surgery are pushing forward Eurocentric beauty standards whilst picking and choosing which features of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) they deem acceptable and that look good on them. Such as the fox eye “trend” that roots from East Asian features and the big lip “trend” that is rooted from African/Afro-Carribean features. BIPOC women were usually scrutinized for their features, and yet those same features are being artificially achieved in (mainly) white women and they are then deemed as attractive qualities.
Alternatively different cultures have different ideals, to what determines a “beautiful woman”. By far the most common surgery undergone by Koreans, according to Dr. Choi Min of Answer Plastic Surgery in Gangnam, is double-eyelid surgery, where they insert a crease in the eyelid to make the eye look bigger. The two other popular procedures are nose jobs, and glutathione injections, which slows pigmentation in the skin, thus giving a fairer skin tone. These alterations are not internalising western beauty standards but are actually pandering to Korean beauty standards. Varying demographics put pressure on women to look a certain way and this leads them towards the route of plastic surgery.
There is a purpose in that getting these surgeries makes women feel more confident than they have before. But there is a line when tackling the issue.
Though it has become more accepted in society and is treated like any basic body modification (like a tattoo or piercing) by some, there is still a lot of judgement from society towards those who get it done and a sense of shame/embarrassment felt in sharing whether one has had any work done. And though it is wrong to shame anyone who chooses to have a procedure we must be weary in how we embrace it all. Studies have shown that one of the biggest motivators in young women getting plastic surgery is bullying. Whether that is in person, online or through indirect microaggressions, what is said to a young person, even as a passing comment, heavily affects their psyche. With enough pressure from social media, the last thing anyone needs is pressure to conform to a certain physical aesthetic.
Instagram removed filters that mimicked “plastic surgery” last year as they were having a massive negative impact on body image and mental health, especially in young girls. Spark AR, the company responsible for selfie filters said: “We want Spark AR effects to be a positive experience and are re-evaluating our existing policies as they relate to well-being” They also stated that whilst re-evaluating, they would removing all effects associated with plastic surgery from the Instagram Effect Gallery and postpone any approval of new effects associated with plastic surgery until further notice”
The growing commonality of teenage plastic surgery promotes self-esteem issues among the young population and creates the illusion that cosmetic procedures are the only viable option to achieve their desired results.
People are too willing to risk their health and safety for the most accessible cosmetic surgery options for them, which tend to be the cheapest option, most unhygienic. Not only are possible side effects to plastic surgery, dangerous, they can increase anxiety within an individual and can also become quite addictive.
As human beings we often get trapped in a cycle of unattainable desires - we always want what we can’t/don’t have. Are we running on the hedonic treadmill? What will be enough? What is deemed as beautiful in magazines today will be different 20 years from now. So before you find yourself in the waiting room of a surgeon (after having done copious amounts of research on everything), ask yourself:
Am I sure I want to do this?
And am I doing this for me or for someone else?
Completely discarding and shaming the idea of plastic surgery is pointless.
As long as women are objectified by our society as an object of desire or social mobility this pressure will remain. But what we can do instead is reassuring people that what they look like; only counts for a fraction of who they are, they are enough, and that no external forces are pressuring them into getting anything done. It’s all about you and what makes you happy and if getting plastic surgery helps you live your best life and be your best self then who are we to infringe upon one's happiness.