Tag Archives: body image

Day 19: The Plastic Surgery Debate Shall Continue Forever

2 Mar

By accident, I ran into this article today written by Siobhan Courtney. This discusses the PIP breast implant scandal and the whole issue of plastic surgery and women’s choice. I don’t know if you remember, but this was the horrendous case where silicone that was not up to standard for medical use was used for breast implants everywhere in the world. She mainly argues that women who choose to obtain the surgery are exercising their agencies over their bodies, and they are not some cheap bimbos.

Her argument is something that seems to be opposite to the argument that I presented yesterday. But the general sentiment against the patriarchal voices regarding plastic surgery seems to be the same. Her argument is more on the fact that many patriarchal discourses ignore the fact that women have agency to make their own choices regarding their bodies (and satisfy their needs to feel good about themselves, not necessarily pleasing men), while calling the women bimbos and many terrible names. Although I agree that women should be able to freely exercise their agencies, I would argue against her argument, because I think that the driving force of overall plastic surgery industry and culture is the patriarchal culture. What seems to matter the most in this whole plastic surgery debate ultimately is that patriarchal discourse will always be present whether to cause plastic surgeries or to criticize them. Also it should be debated what has contributed to the formation of “women’s agency” which is highly subjective anyways. Well, I guess I saw the extreme negatives while she observed the “grey areas,” like the example of the woman in her writing who had to get plastic surgery after breastfeeding 2 children.

Just too much to think about… and the debate will go on, I suppose.

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Day 18: The Plastic World to My Eyes

1 Mar

One day in April 2011, it was my first time going to Apgujeong area in Seoul. It takes about an hour and half to get there from where I live, which is just outside of the city, and I couldn’t bother to visit there while my breaks were often quite short and didn’t involve visiting the particular area at all. Well, it is supposed to be one of the richest area in the capital city. There are lots of highly-priced restaurants, fancy clothing shops, and cool places to hang out where one can be very happy if she has enough money to splurge. This area is perhaps the most famous for a very unique feature: The Apgujeong Beauty belt where literally thousands of plastic surgery clinics are filling in the entire stretch of the road. As soon as you get out of the subway, you are overwhelmed by large advertisements by a number of those clinics, and quite often they are very “creative” in selling their skills. Some clinics can take care of anywhere, from the head to toe, and they say they will change your life. And others have specializations, often eyes, facial shape, nose and breasts, and say the same thing: You’ll be happier with bigger breasts. The ads tell you something is wrong with you, if you are content (or even OK) with how you look and if you haven’t consulted those doctors at least once in your life. It is widely known that Korea has one of the biggest plastic surgery industry that is largely fed by the demands in the domestic market as well as international market. By the way, the government promotes medical tourism. Interesting facts are found here.

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“Let Me In.” It is a name of a cable channel’s show in Korea. “Me in” in Korean (the sound of it) means a beautiful woman, so the show’s title cleverly uses the English phrase to mean two things. One, let me become a beautiful woman, and two, let me be in the show so that I can become beautiful. It is a show that chooses a woman every week with a dramatic story, and she gets to get a fully-paid plastic surgery makeover. Each woman comes with her own story, and each is quite heartbreaking because the women tend to have been hurt by others deeply throughout their lives by the way they look and have no confidence in themselves. And talking about the scars that they have lived with for very long in public is perhaps one of the most humiliating thing that one can do, especially as a scarred, unconfident individual. Some of them do have some clinical problems physically, but the show is, as you can guess, mostly concerned with making someone look more beautiful through cosmetic surgeries. After the storytelling is done, there is a panel of doctors behind the wall who discuss about the issue, and they are the one who decide if the woman on the other side of the wall will get the chance to change her look (and her life, so they say). There are plastic surgeons, dentists and psychiatrists who quite fiercely discuss the case. They sometimes laugh at how the woman looks like, maybe commenting, “Really, there’s not much that can be done in this case (meaning that she’s ‘too ugly’ that even with their magical hands, that can’t be fixed).” For all the episodes that I’ve watched, all women got chosen, but I couldn’t watch the show anymore.

Every time after watching the show, I looked at myself in the mirror and think, “Something is wrong with my facial shape,” or “My nose could look better.” I mean everyone looked more beautiful and happier on the show, and deep down unconsciously, I was thinking, maybe I can be happier if I can fix the parts that I don’t like.

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After reading the two episodes above, I hope you are upset or at least uncomfortable. Such trend that I have observed is not just limited to Korea, but everywhere (I do happen to see more about this stuff in Korea, though). Maybe you will say, “Well, isn’t it ultimately the women’s choices that lead them to those clinics and the show? Shouldn’t they have reasonable causes that lead them to such actions?” I argue that women’s “choices” are not entirely theirs when it comes down to plastic surgery decisions. The media and the entire society are telling you that there is something so wrong about your body that you need to hate those parts and yourself. And ultimately, it is not about your ability to have your own intelligent reasoning, but it’s about how you feel (ugly and awful) and how the society enforces its terrible reasons on women. Even as a highly educated woman (for God’s sake, I have a master’s degree), I felt terribly wrong, awkward and ugly whenever I had to stand on the street of the Beauty Belt and whenever I watched that show. There is nothing more discouraging and demoralizing than the feeling of self-hatred, feeling that you are not beautiful hence no one, including yourself, will love you. And these feelings are more serious and important than any other matters to one’s self-confidence.

All women have the right to believe that each and one of them is beautiful inside out. However, unfortunately, many women learn how to find what is “wrong” about their bodies and hate themselves as they grow up, instead of learn to love who they are. The human pursuit of beauty and vanity will never stop, but they should not have to be built upon the self-deprecating, self-hating ground where the media and industries are constantly telling you to not to appreciate yourself so that you may eventually buy into that scheme. If plastic surgeries are done completely free of such negative social baggage which damages women’s personhood, and if one can be completely happy after such surgeries are done, I wouldn’t be so against the idea of plastic surgeries. However, why is it that there are more and more women who are knocking on the plastic surgeons’ offices in the Beauty Belt every year from everywhere in the world? Why is it that I hear women who have had at least one plastic surgery would go for more of them over time?

There is certainly something missing to the (temporary) satisfaction that the perfect plastic surgery gives to a person.

Day 10: My Angry Protest against What “They” Tell Me (about how I look)

21 Feb

Do you know Margaret Cho? She is a Korean-American comedian who is a huge deal. I never got into her stuff, but I have always known that she is an outspoken (and fabulous) woman who never avoids speaking her mind directly, especially against gender injustice and homophobia. And I recently heard of her response to Karl Lagerfeld’s comment on Adele, calling her “fat.” Cho responded with rather stern, direct, sarcastic and angry blog post that made me fall in love with this woman.

Karl Lagerfeld is a legend who has led big time fashion houses like Chanel and Fendi, and his comment does reflect a lot about how fashion (and media), the object of human fascination, has actually encouraged us to objectify ourselves so that we identify our bodies with the material. I do enjoy fashion and style and what not, but I was seriously angered by this outrageous junk that he blurted out. What angered me the most is not simply the comment, but more of the helplessness that I felt about how women are forced to feel terrible while we consume the images that the media produce. Let me talk about this simply from my perspective.

I have constantly been exposed to what “they” tell us, and they seem to reflect how I am supposed to look and behave. And heck, I have been constantly feeling bad about my own body, because I don’t have a face like that girl who is advertising Chanel whitening cream (who is White to begin with), I don’t have a body like Angelina Jolie (and alike) and I probably can’t even possibly fit into the clothes that the K-pop girl bands wear. They have constantly told me that I’m supposed to look like that since I could remember, and the constant feeling of being “not good enough” has always been there. I shrank myself from the world, because everybody told me that I am probably not good enough for anything. Really, what does it take to become a beautiful person? Just my façade that looks good to everyone else, but never good enough to me that I feel the pressure to get plastic surgery on every single part of my face and body? What about what I have inside of me? My intelligence, my genuine heart, my potential, and my feelings? Do they count at all? Well, never mind, all I need, according to them, is just a pretty face and a nice body to be a confident, whole human being.

Dear Lagerfeld and alike, maybe you just need to build factories to produce the “ideal” bodies and images that you would like so that you can hang your clothes on them. Don’t try to make me be your clothes hanger (heck, I probably won’t be able to afford any of them for the rest of my life, and I don’t even care). Kindly, shut up.

Margaret Cho writes:

It sounds complex because it is terribly complex, but curiously simple and plain. When you see someone you identify with, who has a body that could be your body, and you recognize it on the screen because you remember it from the mirror and you watch them shine and conquer and overcome and overwhelm and startle and take over the world, you think you can do the same. It gives you strength. It’s powerful, indescribably so.

Now, I refuse to let them define me, who I am and how I am supposed to be. I will never be free from their noises, and it’s incredibly difficult to not to hear them. But hey, I will choose to tune them out, because they are too loud for me to concentrate on my inner voice. I’m gonna shine the way I want, both inside and outside.

I love you Margaret.

I love you Adele.