Though you might remember the denim or heavy eyeliner or—heaven forbid—the fauxhawk, the 2000s were a time for one of the biggest, baddest, and most influential beauty trends of all time that is often overlooked: cosmetic surgery. Yes, the dreaded “c word” is actually the manipulation of one’s body to conform to beauty norms created by society. Though plastic surgery has been around for decades, it took on a whole new face (pun intended) when it stopped being used for only medical purposes and entered the consumer world of beauty. Men did partake in the action, but this trend was mostly female-dominated—as most beauty trends are. From 2000 to 2005, the amount of plastic surgery procedures in the US went up by 38% to 10.1 million procedures completed per year—about the amount of people in New York and Chicago combined. Needless to say, there were a lot of people taking the plunge to reconstruct their body.
How would I know that my nose is too big if someone or something around me hadn’t said that a smaller nose is more attractive?
Though cosmetic surgery (for non-medical reasons) is a personal choice and I hate to judge others’ decisions, it seems so troubling to know that two major city’s worth of people are trying to change the way they look because they are unhappy or dissatisfied with their natural, beautiful selves. Not only were people making decisions to go under the knife on their own, but they were certainly being influenced by the media. Media did as media does and picked up this trend and ran with it. Reality shows about plastic surgery flourished. Shows such as Nip/Tuck or Extreme Makeover took women who wanted partial- or full-body transformations and gave it to them. Can you believe getting an entirely new body?! A more controversial show—and rightly so—The Swan featured women who were “unattractive” and refigured their figures to be beauty pageant contestants. Not only were we consuming images of body manipulation as a good thing, we then pit women against each other based on their appearances which only reinforced our ideas that body-alteration is really okay.
This sort of alteration of women’s bodies was not a new concept, however. Women in China had been foot-binding for hundreds of years before because smaller feet were seen as more beautiful (from a male perspective, of course). Though it is an extreme comparison, cosmetic surgery also holds similarities to FGM (female genital mutilation)—it is the manipulation of the female body for appearance or performance in order to please men. Yes, women should have the right to her body; however this fad just perpetuates beauty standards and male dominations. If I were to say “I want a nose job because I don’t like how big my nose it—it’s for my own personal desires”, I would be ignoring the fact that my desires are shaped by the standards around us. How would I know that my nose is too big if someone or something around me hadn’t said that a smaller nose is more attractive? This issue reminds me of the Alice Walker definition for “Womanist”. She states that a womanist “Loves herself. Regardless.” (11). The right to one’s body is one thing, but the desire to recreate the already wonderful person that you are is completely different.
Thanks to acts passed in the US, cosmetic surgery is no longer strictly medical which affects our society in so many ways. We now don’t have to accept our bodies because we can alter them. Rather than recreating beauty standards and emphasizing beauty in everyone, we are conforming to the standards by simply changing face. The 2000s may have been the new millennium, but it certainly kept its old oppressive standards of beauty.
Walker, Alice. “Womanist.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. Ed. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Bartkowski. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1983. 11. Print.