'Miss World' finalists 1969
I absolutely adored Miss World when I was a kid, back in the days when it was a whole night's family viewing. It was one of the most watched programmes in Britain, broadcast into our 1960s/70s brown and mustard living rooms via the BBC before it was deemed too outdated and politically incorrect to show as mainstream entertainment. I loved the array of young women representing exotic countries I'd often never heard of, with their varied hairstyles and their imaginative national costumes. I had no concept of what “36-24-36” meant, no thought as to whether or not a contestant's breasts or legs made her more attractive or more likely to win (nor perhaps to my Dad's embarrassment at seeing curvy 20-year-olds in swimwear strutting their stuff on screen while his wife and daughters ooh'd and aah'd over their personal favourites. Pan's People on ToTP probably made his cheeks redden a little too.) I just loved their pretty faces and outfits, and to my naïve pre-teen self it was equivalent to an exciting, glamorous, gorgeous parade of beautiful dolls.
Like most young girls I'm sure, I wanted to be like one when I grew up. I longed for a mass of shiny, jet black hair and wished I had an olive complexion...well that was never going to happen... but it was an innocent enough ideal. Then I got used to the fact that I was just the way I was: pale-skinned and fair-haired and, as adolescence foisted its preoccupations with image upon me, I found that experiments with blue eyeshadow, Stablonde and an under-wired bra could at least temporarily enhance the features I was born with.
So now it's all changing. You don't have to stick with what you're born with, do you? You can get it all sorted. Lips and breasts appear to be the most popular things to transform, and you can do it while you're still young, while you're still growing as a person, with pure, fresh skin and a healthy, fully-functioning body. You can pick your new anatomy as if from a menu: those tits and those lips and how about that buttock augmentation while you're at it. Wow, what a great idea. What a great fucking idea.
I feel myself getting agitated and saddened even just writing this. I'm trying to articulate why the increasing desire for unnecessary cosmetic surgery troubles me as much as it does, and I feel this wave going through me, a jumble of thoughts and words jostling to be expressed, not just from some inner feminist angle, but as a compassionate human being. There are so many layers and strands to it that I must try and be eloquent and understanding if I'm going to say anything, but at the same time it makes me feel some kind of desperation. I felt that the other day when I was directed to a story in the news about a model called Victoria Wild. She has spent £30,000 on plastic surgery to make herself look like a 'sex doll'. You can read the article and see her pictures here - or just do an image search on her name. I think you'll find her new look shocking.
Mr SDS says to me, “Why are you worrying about it? Why even think about it? If people are stupid enough to do that to themselves, that's their problem, not yours...” and I know that basically of course he's right – but I suppose it's the bigger picture here that disturbs me, not just the more extreme individual examples of Victoria and a few other young women like her.
The bigger picture brings up so many questions that I struggle to find comfortable answers to. For a start I wonder how this exaggerated look could ever be perceived by anyone as being some kind of zenith for female sexual attractiveness. Then I question the increasing normalisation of cosmetic 'enhancements' and the fact that they are so readily available. And then I consider the underlying motivation – that any young woman can still be led to believe her only value in society is as a sexual object, to the point that she would resort to such lengths to reach such a disproportionately placed goal.
Insecurity is a word that gets liberally banded about when the subject comes up and I don't doubt its presence. I'm sure all women have at some point in their lives felt insecure about their appearance (and no doubt a number of men too). As a teenager it seems that one of the most important things in life is one's sexual attractiveness; that's fair enough, we all know what hormones do. Fair enough too is the naïve assumption at that age that our all-important shagability rating might be based on the most obvious physical attributes. I understand the relevance and desire for beauty – we can't help that some aspects of physicality are more appealing to us than others, and most of us would probably rather be better-looking than we are, it's how we're wired. But, as well as the infinite variations in personal taste, part of the process of maturity is the understanding that appearance isn't the be-all and end-all. If your inability to grasp that, or your insecurity, or if the pressure on you from society is such that you volunteer to have parts of your body cut open, that you'd undergo potentially life-threatening anaesthetic, risk post-operative infection and/or be injected with toxins, then surely those issues should be psychologically addressed, not physically indulged? (Please note, although I'm sure you already realise, I'm not talking about the need to rectify genuine deformities or disfigurement.)
The woman mentioned above says that, since her plastic surgery, “she has never been happier”. Prior to this she apparently had an inferiority complex. Her comment obliges me to feel it's not my place therefore to try and contest that or to prevent her from finding a solution. How mean-spirited it would be of me not to want her to be happy in whatever she opts to do. It's her body, her choice, her life, and not mine. And thus, there's a general expectation that the response of a tolerant, open-minded person must be to support this and not to judge. We're proud of our liberated society and the fact that women in particular, oppressed in so many ways throughout history, can do as we please with our bodies and make our own decisions, whatever they may be and however opposite they may be to another's. But does that really include this strange obsession for mutilation? I don't see this as liberated, not properly, healthily liberated - it's too skewed. How often do you also hear a woman say "I did it for myself, not for anyone else!" . And I do believe that she believes that.... although, when you put it in context, it often boils down to the same thing - it's the hope of endorsement that boosts the ego, the confidence that comes from meeting expectations. So, cosmetic surgeons continue to advertise their service as just that – a service, to help you feel better about yourself, to be what you've always wanted to be, to be in control. To be sexier - preferably in a way that focuses on ridiculously stereotypical ideals. Although I know it's an extreme example, it doesn't seem too many steps away from helping an anorexic to lose weight because they believe they'll only feel good about themselves when they're thinner.
Of course I know it's also about making money from people's insecurities... which makes it even more desperate. But at what point did we as a society allow the sinister 'quick fix' of surgery to replace the option of counselling, advice, acceptance? And when did the unnatural become seen as desirable? To compliment a woman on her fake breasts is surely no more meaningful than telling someone with a wig that they have lovely hair.
Oh, I'm exhausting myself... I should be more detached, I know. It's not hurting me personally, nor anyone I know. I think I'm just feeling it for womankind... We got so far - I don't want us to fuck it up.
Besides, don't we all know, deep down, that the sexiest part of us all is our mind?