Sexy Feminism Excerpt: What Cosmetic Surgery Really Means

Leading up to the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, on March 12, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, a portion of our chapter, “Plastic Surgery: Can You?” 

Extreme cosmetic procedures also happen to be a serious threat to  health. To understand why plastic surgery is a feminist issue, we need to look at what it is—the ugly, bloody details. Imagery surrounding plastic surgery more often than not focuses on the “after.” Women showcasing smooth, tight new parts are shown smiling and dancing, usually on a beach. The reality of what they must endure to achieve the end result of smoother, tighter, younger (and happier?) are details usually confined to the doctor’s office. Here’s what the most popular procedures entail:


What it is: The good old-fashioned nose job is now so common, it’s often used as a comedic aside in film, TV, and standup acts—and the butt of the joke is always a woman. Remember poor Jennifer Grey’s ribbing and effective ousting from the entertainment industry after she got the nose her agents and managers no doubt talked her into? Here’s what they’re laughing at: After the patient is sedated, her nose is cut free from the cartilage so doctors can get to work sawing and hammering it into a new shape. Advertised recovery time is a few weeks, but most cases require six months to a year, and often a follow-up procedure is necessary to fix any imperfections or complications—including infections, blockages, and trouble breathing.

Feminist analysis: There are medical indications for rhinoplasty, such as a deviated septum that causes breathing problems or a deformity caused by trauma to the area. In these cases, yes, get your nose fixed so it can function. But if you want a nose job so you can look more like someone else or less like yourself, we’d like for you to instead find a way to fall in love with the girl in the mirror—because she’s kind of awesome just as she is. She’s at least as awesome as Barbra Streisand or Sarah Jessica Parker, beautiful women and feminist icons who scoffed at frequent public pressure to go under the knife.

Breast Augmentation

What it is: Somewhere between 1950s cone-shaped bras and Playboy, the American model of a perfect woman included the bra size 32-DD. Roughly 1 percent of women in the United States achieve this naturally. Anyone in the other 99 percent who wishes to get these popular fun bags must go under general anesthesia and have a surgeon insert the implants through an incision made under the breast, in the armpit, around the nipple, or through the navel. While surgical techniques for breast augmentation have advanced, resulting in minimal scarring and faster recovery time, there is still a “definite certainty of implant failure,” says the website of plastic surgeon Richard V. Dowden. So that means a guaranteed second, third, or even fourth surgery, depending on how long you keep your implants. And if you’re going to wind up taking them out—requiring another surgery and additional enhancements to fix sagging and scarring—what’s the point?

Feminist analysis: The invention of the artificial breast is a miracle for women whose natural ones are damaged or removed due to illness or injury. Lifesaving mastectomies are thankfully more common today because women don’t have to choose between being cancer-free and their womanhood. And breast surgery is an integral step in gender reassignment for those desperately trying to be their authentic selves. But the average breast-augmentation recipient is a typical-size woman who just thought she needed to look better. Finding a way to feel comfortable with our own breasts—no matter their size and shape—is something we all need to work on if we’re ever going to banish this absurd (and impossible) figure ideal. To start you off, we have a pep talk for your boobs:

Small cups: Girls, you don’t know how good you’ve got it. Yes, the world bombards you with images of breasts three times larger than yours, but come on: that’s not you. You are low maintenance, forever perky, and lucky enough to never have to deal with underwire. Rooney Mara, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Zoë Saldana are your heroines. And these are some of the sexiest women alive—women who can wear necklines as low as they want without a care in the world.

Medium cups: The B-cup is the most common naturally occurring size in the world, so there’s a predetermined reason you are the size and shape you are. No, being just a little bigger wouldn’t make you perfect; you’re already there. Jessica Biel, Beyoncé, and Sarah Jessica Parker (her own nose and boobs!) are natural goddesses.

Large cups: We know, it can suck to be ogled—ugh! But your size serves a purpose: your breasts are likely proportionate to the rest of your curves—and if they’re not, you were born to be curvy, a reason to celebrate. Don’t be ashamed of yourself because everyone pays a little too much attention to you. Embrace it. Wear fitted sweaters because you feel good in them, not to impress anyone else. Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, and Christina Hendricks are your well-endowed sisters.

Now, we understand there’s a difference between being well-endowed and having problematically large breasts. Many women have breasts so large they cause back and neck problems, and that’s in addition to the psychological damage caused by constant attention and criticism (typically beginning at a young age). Same goes for the small percentage of women with virtually no breasts at all. (And we mean really, truly nonexistent for hormonal reasons.) For these women, breast surgery can improve their physical and mental health. (Queen Latifah, in fact, underwent a breast reduction to change her F-cup breasts to DD-cups. She’s still voluptuous and fabulous.) We’re all for that. There’s an extreme point at which most medical procedures make sense; that’s the kind of extreme point we’re talking about here.

In Sexy Feminism, we also dissect (sorry) liposuction, the tummy tuck (grossly nicknamed “mommy tuck”) labiaplasty and injectables. Pre-order your copy today!

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