Unlike most people, I love long flights. That is the only time I can unguiltily relax, get caught up on Mad Men, or even better, read an entire book in one sitting. While travelling I recently completed Rhian Parker’s Women, Doctors and Cosmetic Surgery (2010). Though in many ways hideously dull and repetitive, I found one argument–based on in-depth interviews with Australian women who have purchased cosmetic surgeries of various kinds–surprising. Apparently, women do not pursue breast reductions or enlargements, nose jobs, and eye lifts in order to stand out or be looked at, enviously by women, lustfully by men. (All of the interviewed women were straight, something worth thinking about). Oh no; they just want to blend in and ‘look normal.’
Really? Because that is not my experience with cosmetic surgery; I mean, with hearing about other people’s cosmetic surgery, for I have had none of the invasive prodecures listed above (nor have I had any kind. I have not even had my appendix out or experienced a broken bone). Now I should confess–and this is something you already know–that most of the women I encounter who have had such interventions are fitness models, bodybuilders or bikini girls. And as far as I can tell, they do NOT want to look like everyone else. They strive for distinction. Nor do they want to ‘look natural,’ whatever the hell that means. They want to look produced, lean, muscular and notably hot.
But wait, there’s more. Many of these impressive women want to look like they have had surgery. The surgical nature of their transformations is deliberately visible, deliberately unnatural. The ‘look of cosmetic surgery’ can include impossibly bulbous breasts that defy not only gravity, but also the leanness of the frame in which they are implanted. It includes a wrinkle free face regardless of age, or for those under 40, clearly botoxed forehead and crow’s feet. These elements are accompanied by long decorated finger nails, dark tans, bleached blonde hair, and blindingly white teeth. The sheer amount of physical labour, pain, money, and protein binging that produced these bodies is not hidden. It is not a dirty secret. Au contraire, it is on display for all to see and appreciate.
More is better: that is essentially the figure girl and bodybuilding mantra. The female built body is not modernist, and Mies van der Rohe would not approve of it. The ideal figure girl is excessive and decorated, like cutlery imprinted with roses. While teaching a course on popular culture back in the day, I assigned a great article about post-war consumer culture in the United States. During the 1950s more Americans could afford to buy big ticket items, like refrigerators, that were previously the exclusive domain of the wealthy. These newly flush working class people, however, functioned according to a different aesthetic, wanting more bang for their buck. Their fondest desire was a giant turquoise fridge with a flashy silver handle and some racing stripe decorations. Obviously. Everyone would feel a delightful burning sensation in their eyeballs while both admiring that chunky item and drinking instant sanka in a cosy yet cheery kitchen. The narrow, sleek white model was purchased by those with ‘good taste’ who scoffed at such tackiness. The working class aesthetic favoured quantity over quality, and let’s face it, it still does. Just think spaghetti supper, all you can eat ‘Chinese food’ buffet, American portions slathered in American cheese. Ugh. Sorry but I prefer tiny well made food that looks beautiful. Snob alert! But I have not always been this way. I was raised in a white trash household, its kitchen adorned with green curtains, and orange flowered wall paper interspersed with orange striped wall paper. Why buy a plain kleenex box when you can get one with bright yellow flowers? Or even better, crochet a lilac cover for it during your weekly stitch and bitch.
The look of cosmetic surgery is essentially a working class aesthetic: a really expensive and painful working class aesthetic. Those hot girls work hard for the money, so hard for it honey, and they want their costly fake tits to burn your eyes out, just like a shiny blue fridge.