Sunday, 21 September 2014

This could be some kind of feminist rant

'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programmes in Britain, broadcast into our 1960s/70s brown and mustard living rooms via the BBC before it was deemed too outdated and politically incorrect to show as mainstream entertainment.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'd 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?


15 comments:

  1. Actually, when it's all said and done, it's just one giant corporate money grab. Making women feel physically insufficient has been a huge license to print money for years. You're too fat, too skinny, hair too curly, hair too straight, not blonde/brunette/redhead enough, skin too pale, not pale enough, you smell bad, too hairy, small chested, too large chested, small buttocks, buttocks too big, your clothes are out of style, ad infinitum. It's sheer corporate advertising exploitation to take your money because you fear one or more of the above. If it makes you feel any better, they've recently figured out they can increase their profits by targeting men's insecurities as well. Here in the states, if you watch a sporting event, it's just one long erectile dysfunction commercial, or, the latest and greatest, testosterone therapy, in case, you know, you're over 50 and your sex drive has waned. Yes, not because you're naturally aging and it's normal (after all, there's no corporate profit in normal health), but because your sex drive at 55 should be the same as when you were 18. Um, suuuure. Not to mention baldness remedies, and gym equipment so we can have the body of a 25 year old professional athlete. Anyways, I think it's all just a load of tripe to empty our bank accounts, and it's just too bad we all so easily fall for it.

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  2. "To compliment a woman on her fake breasts is surely no more meaningful than telling someone with a wig that they have lovely hair." I could not prevent myself from laughing aloud at this.

    As a father to three daughters, I'm deeply concerned about the continuing objectification of women. I think we believed that this war had been battled and won back in the 70's and 80's only to find it has basically reappeared in a new, more insidious, form. It's shocking how easily some women fall for all this crap but the root cause must rest in society's warped expectation of what it means to be female - and that's very difficult for any us to resist. Plastic surgery for no apparent reason, diets, fashion, young men thinking rape is something to laugh about....I don't know what the answer is but we're all responsible and until we face up to the powers that be who have a vested interest in keeping things this way, nothing will change.

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  3. Lolo Ferrari all over again... that ended well, didn't it?

    I am so glad to find I am NOT the only person who gets quite upset and despairing when I see young women mutilating themselves and offering themselves up as though their only aim in life is to become a sex toy. JohnJayJay is right to say that all of this scrutiny and invented corporate paranoia is now being aimed at men too but there is an added sting in the tail for women like us who grew up when all around us the war for equality was being "won"... only to find that our own ranks seem to be hell bent on trashing everything that was achieved.

    I guess equality for women means standing by a woman's right to devalue her humanity so much that she would rather be a plastic masturbation aid. Let's face it, no man ever 'made love' to a sex doll, they are intended for solo flights! It is as though this poor girl can only imagine having sex as an inanimate object rather than a real live self motivated individual who has her own needs and desires to satisfy as well as pleasing her partner.

    AND she HAS a partner! That was the bit I found most worrying, a guy comes along and meets a pretty, shy, natural looking girl with a lot of insecurities about her looks. The fairy-tale love affair involves him encouraging her to re-evaluate herself and her attitude to her looks and realise that she is loved and cherished AS SHE IS... but, no, this rose tinted Fairy-tale results in him "investing" in her transformation to lucrative freak that they both hope to make a lot of money from... true love indeed!

    I feel so sorry for teens growing up now in this porn saturated world, sex must seem like an obligatory spectator sport. Something you have to post online or do in front of an audience, get rated on. Sorry, this week you get voted off "sexual attractiveness", go hide in a corner, no-one wants you. If everyone at school hasn't got a selfie of your 'downstairs activity centre' then you are no-one... plus you have to have a degree in all the weirder, specialist fetishes to even take part... there will be written exams and diagrams handed out... the only thing no-one seems to be doing anymore is intimacy, that dull old chore of actually getting to know someone, two human beings making a connection. When did that go out of fashion?

    I know I seem to have gone off at a tangent but I think that is at the heart of the problem. There is hardly any privacy anymore, kids have to be SEEN to be popular, what you did today means nothing unless you tweeted it and got loads of likes on your FB page. The very essence of our personality is now meant to be about peer approval. How to stand out if you are not naturally the life and soul of the party? Become a freak and be laughed at, there is no such thing as shame and it means you are still getting attention. Hell, no worries If you are a 'loner' - just start a Ning group so that you can hang out with other loners and check that you are doing it right. WTF has happened to individuality?

    When we were in our teens and twenties we made our own clothes because what was in the shops was so boring. We wanted to break rules and become unique (ok, so our ideas of unique were maybe not that astonishing but we were probably all aiming at being big fish in our own little ponds). It is exactly the same now except that even "street fashion" has a website and YouTube "how to's" so some self appointed airhead spokesperson can hand out RULES! I despair, and feel it is why young people are increasingly becoming so dissatisfied with themselves that they seek out more and more extreme ways to be unusual and get the attention they imagine they crave.

    Ooohhh, I have to stop, I could rant on for hours yet! What you wrote was well thought out and succinct but I am not sure I can be detatched enough anymore

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  4. Such an interesting post. I had a dear friend who, in her mid fifties, decided to have a facelift and a breast reduction so that she could look 'better, younger'. So her lovely, interesting face, and the breasts that had nourished her child went under the knife. She didn't look like a younger version of herself, in fact, but like someone entirely different, someone who had never lived at all. She was delighted with how it all looked (once the swelling and bruising had gone down, and the infection had cleared up). This isn't just about young women. It's about telling all women that how they look naturally is unacceptable.

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  5. Oh I exhausted myself writing all that last night so no long replies here today - but I must just say that I completely agree with all that you each say, and that you all say so well! I'm very glad you did. There are so many extra strands to it that you have each mentioned - and it's very reassuring to know I'm not alone in my concerns, although where it goes from here still seems beyond our power, sadly. We just have to hope that the tide may at some point turn, I suppose???

    Really appreciate your comments - thank you!

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  6. You had a really exhausting exercise with this piece. How do you have the energy to write all of this I thought. Your points were well taken, and gives me something to think about today. Take care of our health and body as is and try to keep it moving. My mind may not be able to keep up, but you write so well.

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    1. Thanks Gin G! Every so often I get the need to let off steam and as I don't get to see many people on a day-to-day basis (apart from Mr SDS who's heard it all before!) a rush of thoughts and opinions about something emotive may well end up as a blog post here. But yes I find it tiring writing quite this much about something that gets to me, I'm out of practice...
      "Take care of our health and body as is and try to keep it moving" sounds like a good plan for us all!

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  7. I've been struggling with this one.

    We had a friend whose face gradually morphed into some unrecognizable and it's disturbing. It's especially disturbing when you know that she nearly died during one procedure and still went back for more. A boob job is one thing...nearly killing yourself to shave a mm of your, perfectly fine, nose is quite another. I share your feelings on this (except of course about wanting to be better looking...obviously that's not possible).

    On the other hand...it's hard to fix the blame because we find it all across the cultural spectrum. Like the Turkana in Kenya with their elongated necks...how about those lip plugs. You find scaring in a lot of cultures...drastic changes in the human body...all for the same reasons...sex appeal, status, etc.

    I don't know...

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    1. Thanks for this Erik. I'm disturbed too by your friend's experience, that seems like a prime example to me of where some kind of counselling could have offered some risk-free, pain-free and liberating solutions. Changing one's face suggests a degree of self-loathing, that's what saddens me...

      But, interesting point about the varied cultural body modifications. The lip-plugs, neck elongation, scarring, etc. as you say - deformed feet too - we humans are very strange! Thinking about that does sort of put a slightly different perspective on what I was saying and what I think, so it does help a little. But I suppose the links with commerce promoting a sense of insecurity and sexism are what bother me most about the way things are here. Rather than being part of some proud, ancient cultural custom, however freaky it may appear to those outside that culture, it's as if all this plastic surgery obsession focuses on here is a lack of respect we have for each other and for ourselves.

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    2. That's another interesting angle.

      My immediate reaction to long necks, for instance, is that it is an authentic cultural expression...more elevated somehow than a butt tuck ( I wanted to say fanny tuck...but then remembered where I was :) ).
      There's a danger with this though...of reading too much wisdom into these practices...of constructing the magic native or whatever, and then interpreting his behavior to fit the narrative.
      Forgive me...this is a grouse for my own slab...I mean it's your fault for bringing this up and maybe I should bore your readers instead of my own....:).
      Have you seen the lady that had a third boob added?

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    3. Oh no I haven't seen the lady with the third boob... what the fuck?!

      Back to the authentic cultural expression thing - I know just what you're saying and the same thoughts went through my mind. I agree - there's a danger of reading too much into it, saying "well that's culturally different and therefore 'okay' because...". In the end I guess it's all symbolic of the human condition in one way or another, of our obsessions with power and sexuality, hierarchy and/or gender division... So really in essence - yes, it's all skewed! Foot-binding in China for example was an abhorrent practice... another form of female oppression, also in the name of some perceived idea of beauty...
      This could go on and on...and no magic answers. I still feel the same, though!

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  8. As a woman and a mother to two young women I am acutely aware of all the pressures that cause females to abuse themselves, whether from self harm, eating disorders or unnecessary surgical procedures... Or even conforming to the usual acceptable forms of beauty or sexuality. I am proud that both my daughters are proud to call themselves feminists and apart from shaving their armpits have never aspired to alter their bodies in any way or to change their behaviour in order to conform to a sexual stereotype. I think that unless young women are made aware of the political and feminist alternatives that the overwhelming media and social pressures are very hard to resist .

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    1. Ah, I'm so heartened to hear that about your daughters, thank you - and I hope the same can be said of their friends, or that they can at least have some influence over them! I can't imagine quite how it is to be young these days - the pressure seemed enough during my teens and it was nowhere near like it is now; I think it must take more strength than ever to resist the greater and (in my opinion, more distasteful) expectations now. It is indeed good to know that your daughters are comfortable with who they are and have embraced the political and feminist alternatives (Yve will be pleased to read this as well!) We can only hope that others will too...

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  9. Brilliant, brilliant post.

    One thing I'd like to say is that particularly over the last few years I've had the privilege to speak openly and frankly with a lot of people about a lot of issues. In my experience MOST men feel inferior about their appearance MOST of the time - us of the scruffy jeans, loafers and rugby shirt whilst acknowledging that they are comfy do wear this stuff so we blend blandly into the background and let the young bucks with the 6 packs who can wear the tight t-shirts or those with the right build wear the sharp suits. It is just frankly easier and somewhat more acceptable for a man to just blend with the wallpaper than a woman. I can't help thinking where female cosmetic surgery has gone in the last 30 years mens is just about to follow.

    However like you though - I really don't get it. Esp most of the "enhancements" I see I think are frankly obvious and horrible.

    If only we could be ourselves and not worry about it - but sadly our society is not built like that you have to be or at least be striving to be one of the beautiful people it seems to have a place at times.

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    1. Thank you!
      Good to hear your perspective and it certainly does seem to be something that is on the increase for men too. What a very strange species we will end up as if it carries on down this route; somewhere though I try to have faith that there are enough people still around and still coming into the world who share our views in spite of society's pressures....

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