There was a girl in my middle school who got a nose job. I was 10, and she was my first glimpse of plastic surgery. When she came to school after getting it done, most everyone made fun of her. She wore her bandages proudly, despite the other girls mocking and snickering. When she had her bandages removed, and her new nose was revealed for the world to see, everyone commented on how ‘stuck up’ and ‘cocky’ she had started acting, and how she clearly thought she was better than everyone else. I didn’t know her well, but I noticed no shift in her personality after the surgery.
I remember this incident because I was a bit enamored with this girl. Her fearlessness and honesty regarding her surgery fascinated me. She was proud to explain how she afforded the surgery, how much her parents chipped in, her rationale behind it and how great she was feeling since getting it done. Her frankness only gave my classmates more material to mock her with, but she stood her ground. I remember thinking to myself that although her honesty impressed me; if it were me, I would have lied.
As we have observed with many hetero-normative beauty practices: you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. You must wear makeup, but not too much make up. You must dress sexy, but not too sexy. You must style your hair, but pretend that you woke up like that. Your efforts must remain invisible. You cannot be obvious in your beauty regimens, dare you dismantle the illusion of women.
Edmonds discusses the emergence of cosmetic surgery just after WWII, when plastic surgery transitioned to being no longer strictly ‘medical’,
“Not only do aesthetic ideals vary over time; so does the degree to which the ugly or deformed are expected to endure their fate. Victorian England viewed surgery on a cleft palate as cosmetic. The implication was that stoically bearing a defect built character, correcting it was vanity…in the Victorian Era, ugliness was fate; bearing it with dignity built character. “ 79
I believe this ‘fate’ still exists prominently in the US. While in Brazil it seems culturally acceptable (and encouraged) to be open about having plastic surgery, stigmas and shame continue to surround cosmetic procedures here. It is not societally acceptable to work to achieve your beauty, only to attain it.
A strange paradox exists between surgery shaming and the high number of Extreme Makeover shows on television… The women on these shows are taken out of their dull homes and whisked into a short and elite life of glamour. While on their pampered vacation they undergo numerous changes to their body; all of which is completely hidden from their family and friends, who only witness the final completed masterpiece, flawless and brimming with newfound self-confidence. Although these contestants are participating for all the TV viewing world to see, the procedures they undergo remain a secret within the individual lives they lead, reinforcing the importance of illusion within beauty work.