Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Natural" Beauty and the Backlash to Body Modification

This week in class, one of the points often raised was that cosmetic surgery is supposedly more socially acceptable than forms of body modification that speak to a subculture, like tattooing or facial piercing. To a certain extent, I agree: button noses, full breasts and pouty lips are generally approved by society, while sleeves of tattoos often are not. However, the caveat is that plastic surgery cannot look "obvious," since people who appear to have had work done are shamed as shallow, foolish, vain, etc. For proof of this, look no further than RenĂ©e Zellweger, who this year stepped onto a red carpet  looking remarkably different. Her distinctive round-faced, full-lipped, almond-eyed look had given way to a woman with thin cheeks and wide eyes. The Internet went into frenzy mode and plastic surgeons weighed in online, speculating that she had had excess skin removed from her eyelids as well as possible Botox and rhinoplasty and that her cheeks and face shape had changed due to weight loss. The general reaction was overwhelmingly negative, as people condemned Zellweger for presumably caving to Hollywood pressures and going under the knife to fit the mold.
However, women who go in the other direction with "alternative" body modifications fare little better. Several years ago, when Kat Von D moved from her status as an small-scale celebrity in the niche tattooing community to the mainstream spotlight after having an affair with Sandra Bullock's (ex-)husband Jesse James, she was routinely criticized for her all-over tattoos and signature skimpy outfits. Commenters routinely condemned her as trashy, and wondered how James could prefer her to the un-inked, classically beautiful Bullock.
Actual online comments about von D include calling her "white trash" and a "vapid Hollywood slut" and offering the opinion that "too many tattoos is just trashy"

The conclusion I draw from all this is that, in terms of general social approval, people (and women in particular) can't win when they venture to either extreme. Too much cosmetic surgery and you're a vain sell-out; too much body art and you're trashy and attention-seeking. This feeds into the idea that, in our culture, beauty has to be both idealistic and apparently "natural." This comic, which I've often seen on Tumblr and other sites, pretty much sums up our cultural paradox that beauty must be perfect-- but it has to be effortless, too.


No comments:

Post a Comment