Davis Kathy in her article, “Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences,” explores cosmetic surgery as a cultural phenomenon of late modernity. From its onset as a medical specialty at the end of the 19th century, cosmetic surgery has been intimately linked to discourses of “normalcy” in terms of gender, race and other categories of difference (Davis 2003, 9).
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The contemporary body culture has been the subject of considerable theorizing especially among females and has constantly drawn a lot of criticism. Cosmetic surgery enables one to alter his or her body parts through neutral technology to change life’s routine, and make one look younger, feel healthier and be more successful (Shilling 2005, 15). It involves reshaping and beautifying the body, ear lobes, elimination of frown wrinkles, reshaping different parts of the body and the list is infinite. A perfect example of a person who has undergone cosmetic surgery is Michael Jackson, who reshaped his nose and skin color.
Cosmetic surgery continues to raise questions over who should do it and who should not. There has been also a debate on the cut line in altering the natural body since this is not associated with the gender or a nation, it is all on personal ground (Featherstone 1991, 56; Gill, Henwood and McLean 2005, 3). In the current society, cosmetic surgery is increasingly presented as a natural technology where women or men alter their bodies depending on individual preference.
Gilman (1999, 87) poses “And what is the difference between dreadlocks on a white teenager and the widespread practice of hair straightening among Afro- American women?” We are all different because what one decides to do depends on self-interest and the neutral technology. Surgery is not all about color as Michael Jackson once put it that ‘black or white we are tired of being a color’.
This can be done by anyone irrespective of the color; both whites and blacks do this. It’s all in one’s self-interest but if this can be a problem then it comes in under inequality factor because with technology in place significance of cosmetic surgery, trivializing its dangers and transforming it into neutral technology that can be used by anybody in the interest of his or her identity project. Unless cosmetic surgery causes abnormal appearance to people it will be considered an exceptional case because people will continue using it as long as they can afford hence the first main problem of equality (Monaghan 2001, 330; Davis 1994, 56; Giddens 1991, 290)).
The second problem with equality discourse is that it deflects attention from structural discrimination depending on nationality, age, ethnicity, and gender ignoring history and current conditions hence giving body practices different meanings (Monaghan 1999, 267). For example, Cher’s decision to have her belly bottom tucked and her bottom rib removed is not the same as an Asian American having her eyes westernized. Treating these two cases as matters of individual choice of beauty then the act of imitation does not occur and therefore cosmetic surgery has no cultural meaning and no political valence (Crawford 1984, 23; Crossley 2005, 120).
The other problem with equality discourse is that it ignores one’s interaction with his or her material, fleshy body with the outside world. Make a body of some shape is a process that takes time before the required shape appears, this is because our bodies have a history of suffering so if tampered with healing takes time and the surgeries mainly involve some interference with the skin (Mercer 1992, 69). Therefore, with equality in mind, we cannot understand cosmetic surgery because it ignores embodied difference.
In conclusion, cosmetic surgery is not all about the blacks imitating the white culture but about personal choice and preference and the affordability, it all about what one wants to do with his or her body.
Crawford, R., 1984. A cultural account of health: control, release and the social body. in McKinlay, J.B. (ed.) Issues in the Political Economy of Health. London: Tavistock.
Crossley, N., 2005, Reflexive Embodiment in Contemporary Society. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Davis, K., 1994. Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery. London: Routledge.
Davis, K., 2003. ‘Surgical Passing’ in Dubious Equalities & Embodied Differences. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Featherstone, M., 1991.The body in consumer culture, in Featherstone, M., Hepworth, M and Turner, B.S. The Body: Social Process, Cultural Theory. London: Sage.
Giddens, A., 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
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Gill, R., Henwood, K. and McLean, C., 2005. Body projects and the regulation of normative masculinity. Body and Society 11 (1) 3.
Gilman S., 1999. Making the Body Beautiful: A History of Aesthetic Surgery. Princeton NJ: Princeton University.
Mercer, K., 1992. ‘Black hair/style politics’, in R. Fergusson, M. Gever et. al. (eds) Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Monaghan, L., 1999. Creating the perfect body: Body & Society. 5 (2-3): 267-90.
Monaghan, L., 2001. Looking good, feeling good. Sociology of Health and Illness. 23, (3), 330-56.
Shilling, C., 2005. The Body in Culture, Technology and Society, 1st ed. London: Sage.