Plastic Surgery – For information on risks and side-effects please ask your TV!

January 31, 2012

Skipping through the TV program, I just came across a series called “Schönheitsalarm!” (“beauty alarm”) on the German private TV channel Sat1. I caught myself thinking “This simply HAS to be bizarre” – and, finally, I watched the show. I did not find a permanent link yet, but the episodes can be watched online free and legally for a certain time on the channel’s homepage:

The series and the episode

“Schönheitsalarm”, as I found out during this respective evening, is one of the typical depictions of scripted reality plastic surgery documentations. Episode 2 of the series presents two mother-daughter-pairs in which mother and daughter share the wish for plastic surgery, focussing each time on breast surgery. More precisely, the surgeries presented in the course of the episode are the following:

In the first half, the spectator gets to know Ruth (50) and Ingke (28), who are both unhappy with their small breasts and are planning on getting bigger ones. Mother and daughter also use the opportunity to have some facial corrections realised: Whereas Ruth has her eye-lids and some facial parts lifted, Ingke wants the doctors to do a nose correction on her, explaining that the nose was broken by her ex-boyfriend during a violent argument. Their problem, however, is that they are both heavy smokers, and so the smoking prohibition stated by the doctor is presented as a real challenge, especially for the mother. After a few days, both Ruth and Ingke are shown as being very happy with their new breasts.

In the second part, “Schönheitsalarm” presents Conny (50) and Maria (21), who also want to have their breasts done, but are only willing to undertake this project together. Whereas Maria wants to have implants to become bigger and more youthful breasts, her mother wants hers to be downsized. The problem here is that Conny weighs about 128 kg, which is why her doctor refuses to start any kind of surgery and tells her to lose at least 30-35 kilograms before coming to him again.There’s a leap in time, one year later: Conny has lost about 40kg, that means mother and daughter are getting the surgery done, and again, both are completely happy with the results.

About the motivations for plastic surgery presented in the seriesI want it. In order to please others…”

The presentation of the motivations to undergo plastic and cosmetic surgery of all four women in the episode is quite contradictory: especially for the mothers, the idea of changing their body to become more attractive for men and thus to find a new partner more easily seems to be the predominant reason for the decision they made. In general, the issue of a higher self-esteem is, as usual if we’re talking about plastic surgery, omnipresent. Conny’s daughter Maria, for example, wants to be more attractive for her boyfriend. He, in return, was against surgery at first, but then left the decision to her, ‘secretly’ hoping that it would increase Maria’s self-esteem and thus make her become more independent from her mother. (He also hopes that Conny finds a new partner in order to have more time alone with his girlfriend without having to ‘share’ her with her mother)  Conny and Ruth, on the other hand, state at one point that making the experience of a plastic surgery together will link them even more closely. Their relations and relationships seem to be quite confusing and contradictory…

“Schönheitsalarm” as a typical example for ‘makeovers’

Apart from family history and relationships among the family members, there are several aspects which make the show a typical representative of a makeover show: The focus stays on the process all the time, both families are portrayed in chronological order, the second part even showing how long it can take to finally realize the idea of a makeover. The show also strongly emphazises the work that is necessary to do so: Be it Conny’s weight loss, Maria’s job to control her mother’s weight loss, or Ruth’s and Ingke’s smoking prohibition, they all have to ‘suffer’ something in order to reach what they wish for the most. All their labor and pain are displayed, the camera is even present when they wake up after the surgery. Additionally, actors like the doctors or Conny’s nutrition consultant are shown.

Another aspect that integrates the series into the overall topic of the grotesque within the scope of makeover culture is that the body is presented as something that is open, that can be changed and is thus never static. Having started with her breast, both Ruth and Ingke had surgeries on other body parts. This aspect of the body as being always ready for more work is very dominant in the fist episode, where the mother of a family gets drawn into a kind of surgery obsession, always claiming to be satisfied after the next surgery and then immediately finding a new part of her body that ought to be changed.

Critical thoughts

Plastic and cosmetic surgery are presented as being successful and bearable in all four cases; thus it becomes a kind of reward that is being earned by means of weight loss or discipline. This, however, is also the part where one has to ask if this isn’t the most dangerous aspect of the show: Ingke ‘deserves’ bigger breasts for being a mother and breast-feeding her daughter, the surgery only serves to even out the negative consequences of her motherhood. There is not really much talk about the risks, and if so, the doctors talk about minor ones and the scenes are surprisingly short.

Generally, the way surgery is treated is mirrored in Ingke explaining her plans to her now seven-year old daughter. Altogether, it is nothing more than “first there was breast-milk when you were a baby, then you grew older and now there’s almost nothing left inside, so the doctor will put in more of the stuff that is already in there so that it looks nice again”. Is it really that simple? ‘Containing breast-milk’ was not the original status quo, there are risks because it is a surgery, and what Ingke gets are implants, not natural body tissue (and as we have seen in the latest scandal about the low-quality implants of a certain french company, these risks concerning the implants are very real and very present…)! All four women are willing to take these risks, and even Ingke has a short panic attack right before her surgery, the message that is transmitted by the show could be summarized as “As you have seen, surgery improves your quality of life – everybody is happy afterwards!”. (Conny even starts dating again, for example)

In the course of our session on makeover culture, we also discussed the issue of female inferiority and the idea of the man-made woman. Well, the mothers and daughters depicted in the show come across just like that. This, combined with the dangerously lax and poorly reflected attitude they support, allows for a severe critique of the show’s message.

Sources: –> episodes availible: episode 2.

There are freaks and freaks.

January 30, 2012

The word that we might have used most often in the course of the seminar probably is “freak”. But what do we actually mean by using this word? What is a freak? If you pick up the Oxford Dictionary, you will find that a freak is “a person, animal, or plant with an unusual physical abnormality” or “a person who is obsessed with a particular activity or interest”. This leads me to the following thesis: There are (at least) two kinds of freaks, the ones that are or become freaks unwillingly (e.g. due to having an accident or a disease), and those who make themselves freaks (although this can also be accompanied by some sort of psychological disease).

What I would like to point out is that the word “freak” – which is unfortunately negatively connoted – is quite ambiguous. In class, we talked about the Elephant Man for instance. It was not Joseph Merrick’s fault that he had all these deformities and was thus a freak. His disease is to blame for him becoming a freak. There are of course many more people like Joseph Merrick, and I would like to shortly present two of these “natural” freaks.

Marlie Casseus suffers from polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, a genetic disorder of bones. An 18-pound tumor covered her face before it has been removed in four surgeries.

Shiloh Pepin suffered from the Mermaid Syndrome, which means that her legs were fused together. Moreover, she had no bladder, no rectum, no uterus and no genitalia. She managed to live for ten years despite this disease.

What both of these impressive girls have in common is that they can actually be considered freaks because of their physical abnormity. But would we really refer to them as freaks? Personally, I would not. I would rather handle it like the TV show and call these girls “Extraordinary People”. How come? The word “freak” is – as I already mentioned – usually used in a negative context. I do not think that one of these girls partakes of something negative. You just have to watch the videos above to find that both Marlie and Shiloh are full of life and moreover very inspiring for us all. Thus I rather admire them, and I would never call them freaks. They are just special, and they cannot be blamed for what they look like.

But why is the word “freak” then used that often? There must be another sort of people that we can call freaks because they make themselves freaks. Here is one of them:

Maria José Cristerna, also called the “Mexican Vampire Woman”, compares her appearance with a game. Aside from her fang teeth, she is nearly completely tattooed and has some metal implants in her head.

Why would I call her a freak? The reason is obviously her extraordinary appearance. In the video, Maria is even called “the world’s most unusual woman”, and honestly, I agree. Furthermore, it is mentioned in the video that Maria is a battered housewife and tells the story of her family in her tattoos. Since that is no excuse for becoming a “Vampire Woman”, I consider her a freak. There are many people with a dramatic background that do not express themselves in their appearance (and even if they do, they do not do it in such an extreme way). So, Maria is a freak because she seems to like what she looks like, and because she seems to be obsessed with the whole vampire issue.

All in one, what is the difference between the two girls and Maria? Both Shiloh and Marlie cannot be blamed for what they look like. We feel compassion for them and marvel at them because they manage life quite well in spite of their diseases and their appearances. If we look at Maria, we are just shocked because of what she looks like. We do not feel pity for her. It was her conscious decision to get all the tattoos and the implants. She has been made a freak by herself.


Heaviest Mum to Give Birth

January 28, 2012

Donna Simpson is an American who wanted to become the world’s heaviest woman. Her target was 1,000 pounds (450 kg). Why? “I don’t know why my target is 1,000lbs – it’s just the weight I believe I was born to be”, she said. Donna holds the Guinness World Record as the “heaviest mum to give birth”. When her daughter Jacqueline was born in 2007, 30 medics were needed during the high-risk Caesarean birth.

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BBW Part 2

January 28, 2012

This is a follow-up to my first blog post (which is dealing with big beautiful women and feederism) providing some information from the point of view of women who are part of the BBW and/or feederism culture.
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I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie..

January 28, 2012

This post is too long to be graded, but I figured I’d throw it in for good measure:

The connection between a “beauty ideal” and ethnicity is devastatingly evident in popular culture. Music, movies, TV and even video games would have us believe that white women, Asians, Latinas and black women each have their own, specific realm of what is considered attractive and strive to achieve this by any means possible. To me, the most surprising thing is the lack continuity of this ideal within academia and the medical profession, which each make their own, if not contradictory, claims regarding the relation between a female beauty ideal and ethnicity. Before we move on to the set of contradictory ideals women face, let us begin with a look at beauty in popular culture.

White women of European descent  for the most part, expected to be trim, toned, with shapely breasts and buttocks (cellulite is a no-go). Just look at Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft, (, the wet dream of countless teenage boys of the early 2000s. Shape Magazine, a periodical dedicated to health and fitness features white women on 11 out of 12 of its cover photos. (As an interesting side note, the magazine touts the importance of health, as being connected to attractiveness, begging the question if the healthy living crave is a white monopoly).

Asian women are expected to be lean, elegant, dainty, and cute. The Japanese cultural ideal of kawaii, a preoccupation with “cuteness”, is highly evident in the emerging “Lolita fashion”, of young Japanese women. Body ideals within the kawaii trend include small breasts and lack of body hair (this is also evident among men, who shave their body hair to appear more asexual or prepubescent). Indeed, “”Japanese women see value in youth and want to combine childishness and cuteness with sexiness and glamour,” (Nonomura).

Hispanic women, and even more so, black women ought to be “womanly”, or “curvaceous” with large breasts and buttocks. Here, I must unfortunately turn to the clichés of Jennifer Lopez or Beyance Knowles, both know for their, by European standards, proportionately large buttocks. Music, Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back” (Which, if you have never watched the video, as I hadn’t, I recommend it in context of this class. Its hilarious!) Kid Shawty, in which black women’s behinds are on near constant display and lyrics like “Throw yo ass in the air, bigger than a tank.”, are not uncommon.

It is also made evidently clear that men of each of these ethnic groups are almost exclusively attracted to women which present these particular characteristics.

At the same time, however, Meredith Jones in her work, “Skintight: An Anatomy of Cosmetic Surgery” would have us believe that there is one ideal of attractiveness; The white one. She claims, “Lists of popular procedures for various groups show that ethnic cosmetic surgery usually aims to Aryanise features to some extent.” And goes on to list the varying facial plastic surgeries requested by ethnic clients, “Wide noses are narrowed, flat noses are raised, cheekbones are heightened, thick lips are thinned, slanted eyes are rounded.” Never does she mention bodily plastic surgery, which seems to go in entirely the opposite direction, where the ethnically defined ideals of beauty I outlined earlier are expressed, rather than hindered. The perfect example for this is the website of plastic surgeon, Thomas L. Roberts III, M.D., a specialist in buttocks augmentation. He uses his highly accredited medical expertise and his “8 years” and “more than 600 buttocks augmentation” to make a claim for “…the striking differences in the various ethnic ideals of beautiful buttocks.” Underneath a list of his medical accomplishments, the website asks, “What is your ideal buttocks?” and depicts four women; a black one, an Asian one, a Hispanic woman, and a white one. Following this link, one can search for the buttocks ideals related to one’s ethnicity. For a Caucasian patient, “Any fullness of the lateral thigh is considered objectionable.” Asian patients “  preferred buttocks that are small to moderate in size, but shapely.” Hispanic women are partial to “…buttocks that are very full…”, and black women consistatly ask for very full buttocks, and a “shelf-like” shape. Dr. Roberts claims that, “A woman with a very full, prominent trochanteric area of the lateral thighs is considered attractive by both men and women in this culture.” Here, instead of using Youtube orHollywood to make claims about ideal body image and ethnicity, we see a medical doctor, using science and medicine, to make claims about what is and what is not attractive within certain ethnic groups.

Consider, for example, an asian woman with the body shape ideal of a black woman. What would she be in her culture: a beauty or a freak? What about when these surgeries go awry? Or are performed to an extreme? Here too we have a modern day freak discourse, within the context of ethnic beauty ideals, and drawing the line between ethnicity, beauty, and the freak. An article in the Sun, a British tabloid newspaper (and in my opinion the perfect example of a modern day freak show) shows a young, black woman whose buttocks have been operated on to the point of…well…freakishness. The most telling here are the comments made by readers of The Sun, asking themselves why anyone would get a buttocks augmentation surgery, and making jokes. A comment by Terry01 claims, “Some people have a wierd idea on what a womans body shape should be, looks totally ridiculas and out of proportion.No wonder the person is standing as i would think sitting would be out of the question.” Although the botched surgery is extraordinary, I must ask myself how many people viewed this site, just to get a freak show…

sources (ish)..hope thats all I used…

T.I. and Shawty video

Shape magazine

Botched surgery

Dr. Roberts

The Anorexic Grotesque

January 28, 2012

The Anorexic Grotesque

A topic that I have tried to push in our class discussions quite a bit, and which never really seems to take hold, is the topic of anorexia as categorically the same type of grotesque as obesity. Indeed, the similarities between anorexia and obesity in feminist dialogue, religion, and especially the medical profession swing between nearly indistinguishable to binary opposition, yet are always inexorably linked

While men are expected to display characteristics of strength, individuality, determination, dominance and achievement, women are cherished for being submissive, gentle, accommodating, and agreeable. Therefore, their sphere of control is not meant to encompass others, especially men, but rather, they are expected to be in full control of themselves. (Just think of the connotations behind a “woman who is making a spectacle of herself” or “losing grip”). This is a way of thinking firmly rooted in religious history, and our first point of comparison; an obese women is seen as “The Whore”. It is assumed she lacks mental control over her body, not only in food but also in sex. In this, she is both primitive, takes up too much space, and is thus a threatening “consumer of men” and civilized society. On the other hand, anorexic women are considered “The Madonna”; women whose mind controls their bodies, who submit to cultural beauty ideals, and are the ideal Puritans in their self-denial. Women who suffer from anorexia are often considered hard workers who excel academically and in their careers. Despite this control, she is not seen as a threat to male power, mostly because she is physically weak and adheres to beauty ideals, furthermore a woman in control of herself is less likely to “lose it” or “let herself go”, and is thus kept in her social place.

While I hate to create such a black and white comparison between the characterization of anorexia and obesity, it is important to understand that these binary differences exist within the same comparative framework. While religion and feminist discourse provide a good basis for the way these opposites are created within similar standards, it is even more interesting to see how the medical profession supports, rather than combats the underlying concepts of female body identity. First, both anorexia and obesity are characterized as diseases, both psychological and physical. Here, scientists create very defined and clear boundaries between what is normal and what is not (the BMI scale, for example). By doing this, we have a clear system, ordained by the religion we call medicine to tell women whether or not they are, in fact, diseased. While most women struggle with their weight, body image, and diet in one way or the other it is assumed that there is a fine line to be crossed between “normal” dieting behavior and that which becomes a disease (again, often based simply on weight) or “normal” fatness to full blown obesity. Here too, women are balancing on a fine line between expectations and disease. Medical professionals create this unnatural line by expounding the “virtues” (hint. hint. Puritanism) of diet and exercise in order to combat the sinful overweight person who will be punished (with high blood pressure etc.) for their weight. Indeed, any serious pro-ana anorexic needs only to visit an obesity website to get themselves some “helpful hints” on how to lose those inches.

The truly grotesque connection between these two types of women is their physical display in so-called medical texts, documentaries and even television shows. Often they are shown naked, nearly naked and/or faceless. This “medical discourse” is a dehumanizing tactic, which serves two core purposes. First, it places high value on the body of the women, rather her person (often with the excuse of anonymity or personal shame)[1]. Second, and even more disturbing is that this categorization of differing physical status as “disease” takes the blame for unhealthy body standards away from society as a whole (the viewer, reader, producer, cameraman, editor etc. etc. of any women’s magazine or weight loss and dieting television show), and makes it something that is naturally occurring.

In the end, it is important to understand that not just the fat woman, but also the skinny one has an important place in feminist and grotesque discourse. Why then was anorexia not included in our course syllabus? And more importantly why did discussions on anorexia never really take off in class? Is it because the obese are easier to condemn (Why are they? ) or because a fat woman is a threat to male dominance? Or is it in fact because our blind faith in the medical profession ahs lead us to believe that fat women have crossed that line into disease by choice, rather than by the sick chance we associate with anorexia?


[1] “Photo Therapist Ellen Fisher-Turk works with women who suffer from eating disorders. [in this case anorexia and bulimia]. As women like this forty-six-year-old are photographed almost naked, “their emotional defenses are stripped away along with their clothing,” says Fisher-Turk. “When they look at the photos, they can see their denial and their defenses, which is what keeps an eating disorder going.” Our Bodies, Ourselves (38)

Whithead, Kelly and Tim Kurz. “Saints, sinners and   standards of femininity: discursive constructions of  anorexia nervosa and obesity in women’s magazines” Journal of Gender Studies. Vol 17, no. 4. Dec. 2008: 345-358. Web. Jan. 2012.

Taboo Beauty

January 28, 2012

This video is what inspired me to write this post. I found it extremely related to our class discussion on January 25th.

Starting on the topic “only in America”, we can appreciate in this video this quote is untrue. The US may be is the instigator in this crazy plastic world, but the rest of the world is sure catching up quite fast. Whether they offer you the best treatment or just the cheapest one, cosmetic surgery tourism is a huge source of opportunities both for customers/patients and doctors. The customers/patients know that what can’t be done at home, someone will be willing to do abroad, no matter the consequences.

I can understand how a transgerder person needs their body to match their mind, and they’ll go as far as possible to make it happen. Sometimes this change is impossible at their home country (money, insurance, waiting lists) so they decide to go abroad for this procedure, even though many times the result is not even close what they had expected.

But when it comes to health, I can’t wrap my head around how many people go the extra mile and don’t listen to the expert’s advice. In the video we can see Sheyla Hershey being really devastated as they she is told that they are going to remove her implants. She is more concern about her looks than leaving her two young children motherless.

The Modern Freak Show in Music Videos

January 25, 2012

In the 19th century freaks were a common attraction. They lived separated from the bourgeoisie because they were different. Sources (see reader) tell us they had their own communities, in which they were equal and seen as ‘normal’.
Today we have a similar phenomenon in a different context. Subcultures differentiate themselves from the ‘norm’ by wearing different clothes or by showing off body art like tattoos or body piercings. They even call themselves freaks to show their otherness. Such movements are always inspired and led by famous people or idols. Especially young people can relate to heavy metal and rock music entertainers like Marilyn Manson (to name a famous one). I don’t want to talk about these people’s music or what messages there could be involved in their lyrics. I simply want to talk about the way they present themselves to the world – because there you can find similarities to 19th century freak shows.

First example: Dope – Everything sucks

In the video you can see several requisites and figures taken from a classic freak show – there’s the showman that presents the freaks, you have the strong man, the tall guy and a dwarf lady. All of these figures seem pretty sinister and rather uninviting. The band is also featured in a big cage in the middle of a crowd. By blending in the cage and the freaks frequently in turns the viewer can relate the two scenes pretty quick – the band is equated to the freak show. Everybody comes to watch them. The band presents itself in this manner – look we’re freaks. Come to our show! Of course there’s always the negative connotation of being a freak, being exposed for examination and so on, which surely could be one of their messages, but in this case the band is not presented as victims, but rather as being open about what they stand for.

Second example: Motionless in White – Immaculate Misconception

In this video there’s a quite different presentation given. Again the band members resemble the freaks, but unlike in the first example they are presented in a way more negative light. They are shown as the victims of society. They are protested against and signs are shown that basically say ‘freaks go to hell’.  The video shows a lot of religious connotations. The singer is ‘attacked’ by a protester and he defends himself. Next you see him in the role of Jesus being captured and tortured. Interesting is that the same guy also plays the role of Pontius Pilate – the guy that sentences him to death. The guys in this video are shown as treated badly and having no rights in society.

Another example would be: Marilyn Manson – mOBSCENE

Here we have all the obvious freak show requisites and figures, like conjoined twins – Manson himself plays the show man. In this case it’s different again; it’s obviously staged freakishness. You can see the makeup, the twins are held together by a suit. The hints to 19th century freak shows are very obvious in this case. The artificiality and the deceit are shown clearly and intentionally.

I won’t interpret the different meanings of these videos – that’s a different topic. I want to look at them from a more general point of view.

Notable about these ‘modern freaks’ is first: the commercial point of view – of course, it’s a show that gets people’s interest. That’s for two kinds of people: people who can relate because they feel different, or not fitting into modern society, and people who can’t relate and find shows like these disgusting or frightening, but isn’t this exactly the same effect as it was in 19th century? Bands like the ones I named and many others know how to provoke by their looks and their performances. I don’t want to presume they do it just for commercial reasons, but nobody can deny the fame they get by doing so.

The other thing to mention is: those are made freaks – of course you don’t choose a certain look and behaviour without any kind of personal reason, but if society was so unbearable and mean to you, you could simply go change your clothes and wash the makeup off – perfectly blending in. It’s an intentional choice to be a freak in these cases (the reasons can be of great variety: from protest to craving attention).  Nevertheless, it’s interesting how the freak show is knowingly and willingly used in modern society to get people’s attention. You could always argue that these bands stage themselves as freaks to show the rest of society how ignorant they are, and I don’t deny that they do so, but no matter what their intentions are – otherness, disgust, fear, interest, sympathy, relation to others, always mixed with a varying amount of sex, are used to ensure the audience gets satisfied with whatever they were looking to find. Here the freak show still exists, just in different social practices.

(I know it’s kind of shallow to leave out the songs/ lyrics at all, but this would simply go beyond the scope of this blog. Besides in a really general overview one could say the lyrics resemble the different kinds of freakishness shown in the videos.)

The nurses are hot though…

January 17, 2012

Hi guys! This is not a blog 🙂 I found something that is related to what we did in class… and it is quite funny (and short:) at the same time. Look for yourself 🙂

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You suck (the fat out of my uggly baby)

January 12, 2012

Would you like your children to be less fat and more beautiful? Are you tired of exercising your toddler just so it doesn’t get fat? There is a solution!

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