Gleeking Out over Plastic Surgery

At the beginning of college, I was a big fan of Glee. (I’ve since stopped watching the show because I felt that the plots got ridiculous and many of the characters’ personalities became stale and/or annoying.) Sometimes, though, I still like to go back and watch the episodes from earlier seasons. Doing the readings for this week, I was tempted to go back and watch the season 2 episode Born This Way, in which Rachel gets her nose broken and, at the advice of a doctor, considers getting plastic surgery.

I’ve always had some issues with this episode, especially the doctor’s insinuation that having a nose job at sixteen is a right of passage for Jewish girls (which if it is, I must have missed the memo). The biggest thing I had an issue with regarding this episode, though, was Rachel. Specifically, her obsessive attempts to deny that her nose job was about looks and simply about the potential benefit to their voice. I thought the producers dropped the ball with how they had Rachel approach the issue of whether or not to get the nose job, which was disappointing given (at that time) Glee’s fairly amazing track record with approaching tough social issues, like bullying, homophobia, teen pregnancy, and coming out.

Given all of the psychoanalytic and psychological elements that drive cosmetic surgery (such as the borrowing of “the psychoanalytic concept of the ‘inferiority complex’ [that] held that deviations from the norms of appearance could disturb mental health” (Edmonds 78)), I would have liked to see more of that play in to Rachel’s experience. It’s hinted at, such as when she brings the composites of her new nose to Glee club, and Tina calls her out on her self-hatred; Rachel’s response (to protest that she does love herself, to which Tina replies, “not enough”) shows some flicker of the “psychoanalytic ideas [that] gave scientific backing to the growing social recognition of the importance of appearance for normal functioning” (Edmonds 78). But it’s just a flicker. And for something so important, I think it should have been discussed more.

Inferiority complex issues happen more often then we think, or would even like to acknowledge, and they drive people to some pretty severe extremes. I still remember an article in an old issue of Seventeen magazine where a girl talked about her decision to get a nose job because she thought it would help stop bullying, only to be bullied even more for getting the nose job. As we saw with the clip of extreme makeover last week, plastic surgery has become a bandaid for life issues, and when a TV show with an enormous voice and the power to sway national conversations had a chance to talk about this issue, it dropped the ball and did a disservice to us all. We need to have a conversation about this, sooner rather than later.

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