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.

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

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.

Child makeover – seriously?!

November 30, 2011

In today’s session we heard and discussed a lot about cosmetic/plastic surgery, but we only talked about adults. Why did we totally ignore plastic surgery for kids? Because it doesn’t exist, as it is completely crazy, unacceptable, and no parents would let their kid undergo cosmetic surgery?  – Well, that is what one could think. Still, it does exist. Of course. Such as so many other things that are actually too extreme to be true.

Researching about cosmetic surgery for kids I came across this documentary about a 7-year-old girl getting bullied because of her big ears. Her parents claim that surgery was the only option and that they only wanted the best for their child. Of course. All parents do. Naturally, as a parent, you do everything possible to keep your kid with a big nose or protruding ears from being teased by other people. Is going to a surgeon to fix everything that is “not right” a good way, though? One could argue that, dealing with the situation that way, you’re automatically confronting your child with this standardized ideal of beauty. In Samantha’s case, by having her undergo cosmetic surgery her mother encourages her to believe that her ears are too big and that there is, in fact, something that is abnormal or not beautiful about her face. Her mom even supports the “arguments” of the kids in school or other people who bully her, since she actually agrees with them and, therefore, takes her girl to a surgeon. (– How the hell, if not at her parents’ suggestion, does this little girl even know of plastic surgery? She probably doesn’t even know yet how to spell it! –) At the end of the video Samantha’s mum says “Kids are mean. They just are”, so she actually gives in to the kids’ bullying (even though she also stated that it was the parents that were mean to her girl) by having her child undergo plastic surgery. Jared, the Subway spokesman, in Super Size me says something that fits to that: “The worls is not going to change, so you have to.” It seems like changing your looks is the only option and changing the way others treat you or/and raising your child to believe in itself is considered impossible. Personally, I think this is the exact opposite of what one should do. Isn’t it more important to raise your child to be a confident person by valuing it in any kind of way, no matter what it looks like? And I’m not saying that Samantha’s parents don’t do that, nevertheless, to me it seems like they opted for the simplest way. Of course, a huge amount of love and appreciation from the parents’ side does not automatically make a girl with big ears be above all the bullying. A way to prevent this problem could be to build up an awareness that there are all kinds of people and that this is one thing that makes mankind diverse and beautiful.  Moreover, you should explain to your child that you do not stare at people or judge them by their looks, as there is no “right” or “wrong” in the way we look.

Or are we, in fact, being selfish or careless by comforting our child with these “empty phrases” and what we should really do is actively try to change something if our child gets bullied?

Is plastic surgery the most effective and, therefore, right answer to bullying? What do you guys think?

Who is responsible for the popularity of cosmetic surgery?

November 30, 2011

Everybody agrees that humans act due to the norms of society. If certains things seem approved by the society more people tend to act like that. That is why many criticise cosmetic surgery and say that people who do it set bad examples. Also advertising is supposed to set bad role models if they make print ads or big posters with photoshopped girls with well-formed breasts. Nowadays you see more naked people in the media than you see real naked people. That of course changes the ideal people have in mind of how a perfect body should look. But can you really say that the TV industry is responsible for all this development, as it is often said? It definitely doesn´t help to advertise with perfect bodies or to have shows that search for the next skinny top model, where women who do not have the right measurements are sent away. But the TV producers only produce what people watch. There are enough TV programmes that don´t show ads or shows like that, but they have lower audience ratings and are not as popular as those who do. So what does this say about society? And is only bad TV responsible for all of that?

The ideal we nowadays have is a naturally very rare body. A slim, not too skinny body with round butt and big breasts. Maybe this could to some extent be explained by reproduction intelligence, because in all times women with wide hips and round breasts were considered fertile. This, combined with the modern ideal to be slim, however creats a paradox. Normally women are formed either way, not both. They are either curvy or slim and sporty. Or they are very lucky or had surgery.

The possibility plastic surgery gives also changes the way people, who do not fit the norm, are seen in society. If you have very small breasts or a big hook nose society almost expects you to do surgery. These people are often asked why they don´t do anything about their looks. But actually if they feel comfortable in their skin and act like that to the outside, people get used to it or don´t see the otherness at all. You don´t necessarily need a perfect body to be confident with yourself. I have a friend about whom you could say she is really quite fat. But she is an outgoing person and is dressed nicely and does her hair well, she adapts perfectly in society and has many friends. Of course she is not free from jealousy sometimes, when her skinny friends eat whatever they want because of good genes or whatever reason. She could lose weight if she wanted and she could also have plastic surgery or a stomach reduction to lose weight easier but she doesn´t want to because she is comfortable enough with her body. That shows that it is maybe harder to be confident in your body if you are different to the norm, but not impossible.

People who do plastic surgery are often called shallow or superficial, but I would rather say that they just have a weak personality that they have to strengthen with a perfect body. In the media you often hear about women whose breasts sag after they breastfed their children and they are therefore even ashamed to show themselves to their own husbands. I really pity those women, not because of their looks, but because of their low self-esteem. They have the feeling their husbands wouldn´t like them anymore with hanging breasts as if they couldn´t find anything else that is worth being liked in their bodies or their personality. That is very sad if you think about it. Also they have no trust in other people, or their husbands, to think so badly about them. Maybe there should be more documentaries about these women or others where they don´t have the operation in the end but find something else to help them be confident about themselves again. It is not always easy but there has to be another way than to have a dangerous operation if you are not totally self-confident.

Fat vs. Skinny – Modern Beauty Standarts based on Historical Views?

November 21, 2011

Last session we talked about the “Venus Hottentot” and prostitutes, and about how these women were stereotyped as being fat because of their uncivilized way of life. We further discussed how 19th century society used these ‘bad’ stereotypes to control society. Women (and people in general) were led to believe that being thin means being civilized. In the discussion we talked about how this viewpoint of relating obesity to unattractiveness and an uncivilized way of life still affects our lives today. We discussed the stereotypes of black women with big butts in rap videos, the skinny runway models, and attempts to encourage curvy women in their self-confidence (Dove Ad). And this made me think…

Could it really be that 19th century Victorian society was the starting point for the slimming craze that we see everyday in modern life? Of course the stereotypes aren’t communicated the exact same way, but they still exist. Women feel unattractive if they don’t look like “photoshopped” models. I always thought that the starting point for the slimming craze was given with the rise of the mass media, and the broad propagation of these ideals. The media tell us what to wear, what to eat, what to buy, and of course how to look. Everybody who wants to sell something uses a standardized ideal of beauty for advertising.

Of course the attraction to skinny people isn’t naturally given, it is a pattern used and represented by the media. In fact attributes that made a person attractive varied from fat to thin. Society constructs attractiveness. It decides what is acceptable, and what is not. However, today it’s not so sure whether society controls these images, or rather the companies that want to sell stuff by using mass media to reach people. Maybe both of them are combined, and today’s life takes place in a “mass media/ concern- controlled society”. You find yourself surrounded by ads wherever you go: in the streets, on the radio, TV, internet, magazines… being exposed to ads that carry certain messages is part of everyone’s life. We’re used to it, so we stop thinking about the appearance of ads, and at the same time we stop questioning the validity of the messages. We simply accept what we see as part of our surrounding. So, by accepting the messages, we accept the stereotypes carried by them – and every ad does carry them. Even Dove – with their “anti-skinny” campaign – uses the thin stereotype in order to sell stuff. They just turn it around. And in fact the women in these videos aren’t fat at all, but they’re said to be chubby, as opposition to the skinny standard models. Unconsciously this creates the message that curvy women feel bad for their appearance, because they don’t look like skinny models, which again makes the skinny body a desirable body. Besides that, the women shown in the ad aren’t fat or anything close to it, so there’s a disproportioned image shown a certain group of society should relate to.

Many people are intimidated by the ideal they’re shown. Often enough one can’t reach the idealistic stereotype, because it is, as the definition says, something existing only in imagination, desirable or perfect, but not likely to become reality (Oxford Dictionary). I often compare the awareness of one’s own flaws to drawing a picture. The viewer who sees the picture after it’s finished looks at it and sees a beautiful painting. The artist, however, sees all the flaws, the process and the mistakes he made while painting it. Most people don’t realize that their looks aren’t bad at all, and that they don’t look ugly to others because those others aren’t aware of any of these flaws. Often enough they’re too concerned with hiding their own.

Currently there aren’t many people who fit the common ideal of skinny beauty, because it isn’t in the human’s nature to be extra skinny. There are different medical views that say what amount of body fat is healthy, and one could argue for different points of views, but that’s not the point. Every living being puts a lot of effort in staying alive; the given conditions are acknowledged and maintained. The human is the only being that would deliberately starve or stuff himself on conditions that aren’t linked to health or surviving at all.