Photographer : Black cherries
I’m told that plastic surgery used to be about stopping the ageing process. The point was to stay looking the same, while everybody else succumbed to the pull of gravity and the puckering lines of sun damage. People went away in secret to have work done, and then got new haircuts so they could explain why they looked a little different. Like those annoying kids at school who wouldn’t admit to studying for their grades, these people wanted to cultivate the idea that they were naturally beautiful.
In today’s world, however, it seems that the concept of natural beauty has gone out of fashion. Plastic surgery is no longer about ageing. Young people whose bodies are not yet fully developed are increasingly willing to make permanent changes to their appearance—326,000 procedures were performed on teenagers in 2004 alone.
Plastic surgery has become a status symbol in itself. Many people no longer get work done to look more beautiful, they get it to show that they can afford it. And like any type of luxury good, there’s no point in having it if other people don’t know that you’ve got it. Far from hiding behind dodgy haircuts, people who get plastic surgery done these days want their new body parts to be noticed and suitably appreciated.
For instance, straight after high school a girl I knew decided to get a nose job to remove a bump I’d never noticed. After the surgery, her nose looked exactly the same to me. I would never have noticed she’d had something done if a friend hadn’t reminded me to compliment this girl on her new nose. “She had something done?” I asked. “But she looks the same to me.” Horror crossed my friend’s face. “Whatever you do, don’t tell her that.”
The increase of plastic surgery has also led to a new sense of familiarity people have with each other’s bodies, something which is not always welcome. One of my friends ended up at a house party one night. She was greeted at the door by the hostess, a woman she’d just met, who grabbed her boobs and asked, “Are they real?” My friend, blushing with shame, had to admit that they were.
Back in primary school, I remember reading with fascinated horror about the way Victorian women used to lace their corsets up so tightly that they cracked their ribs. Or about how Chinese women used to bind their daughter’s feet. The binding crushed toes and forced these girls to carry the smell of their dead, rotting feet around with them for the rest of their lives. What will future generations think when they look back on us—the people who injected cow proteins into their lips, who placed plastic sacs of saline into their bodies and purposely froze their faces into expressionless death-masks?
The thought of plastic surgery right now horrifies me, but what scares me more is that this opinion might not always hold. When I was twelve years-old I was disgusted by the idea of putting a contact lens directly into my eye. I got over that disgust once I hit puberty and started to notice boys. I worry that one day I’ll be ready to cross the line, like the father of one of my friends, who recently decided to get botox injections and collagen fillers. My friend couldn’t understand why her middle-aged father thought he would be convincing as a younger man. As she put it, “He’s been wrinkly for years, why is he suddenly worried about it now?” But perhaps she was missing the point. Everyone can get wrinkles if they wait long enough. Not everyone can magically erase them.
How do I know this?
Silmalis, L 2006, 'Teenagers face surgery ban', The Sunday Telegraph
, August 27, http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,20260310-2,00.html