Am I a Bad Feminist If I Want Plastic Surgery?
My nose and I have somewhat of a problematic relationship. Ever since I was young, it was my biggest insecurity, and I couldn't stand how it sort of overpowered every other feature on my face. Contouring only served as the makeup equivalent of a clear bra strap—you're not fooling anyone. You can see the makeup sitting on the surface of my skin just as you'd see the light hitting a clear bra strap. I always had a slight feeling that it would look better if the bridge could be smoothed over to become less pronounced, but the combination of fear and lacking funds hindered me from ever doing anything about it. Still, it remained a thought in the back of my head, and it used to be a running gag between me and my cousin that once he became a practicing surgeon, he could fix the situation in the center of my face.
People have this tendency to immediately retort with something along the lines of "Don't do it, your nose is fine as it is," if the topic ever comes up in conversation—which is rare, it's not something I run around telling people. The response is almost second nature, ingrained in us like the fight or flight instinct embedded in our reptilian brain, or our need to respond to a compliment with another compliment. To be fair, I get it. The feminist in me wants to actively fight against male-imposed standards of beauty and empower other women to do the same, but the nagging insecurity still remains. The voice in my head was not god—it was every photo where my nose dominated the frame, every kid from my classes spanning from elementary to high school who had ever called me ugly, it was the guy who told me my roommate was better looking than me, every ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend and every new boyfriend's ex-girlfriend zooming in closely and carefully so as to not double-tap the photo as their Greek chorus of friends surrounded them with a resounding response of "You're so much prettier than her!"
Or maybe the voice was my conscience, because you know, who cares about those people, right? My conscience certainly could be a bitch, if that's the case. I toyed with the idea of a consultation in the same way I constantly toy with the idea of moving to the West Coast—somewhat often and in quiet situations where I could fully weigh the pros and cons—but I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong in even considering a procedure. Does wanting plastic surgery make me a bad feminist? Am I taking control of my appearance, or am I giving in to the pressure of the patriarchy?
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The line between your genuine wants and needs, and those society has conditioned you to believe can be a tricky, blurred one to determine, especially since we've been inundated with these messages since before we could think for ourselves. "Everything we think is something we've been conditioned to think, so it's important to observe those thoughts with a certain amount of compassion," licensed therapist and psychologist Dr. Laura S. Brown tells me. "It's not surprising to have these thoughts every now and then, but it's important to ask yourself, where does that thought come from? Does it show up when I'm feeling lonely and unattractive, or when I'm imagining myself in a more positive way?" The decision boils down to choice—more specifically, is it one you're consciously making for your own well-being, or is it one you're making to live up to someone else's expectations?
For New York City-based plastic surgeon Dr. Dara Liotta, the answer to that question becomes clear during the consultation period. "You get to learn some of the language and buzzwords around it. For instance, people who think their nose is so bad they can't leave the house, that a tiny imperfection is ricocheting through their lives in a huge way, and surgery will fix every problem they have, or if their significant other is talking about everything that needs to be done while the client remains quiet," she says. "If there's even a question that this isn't a conscious choice by the client, then I won't do it."
Even in a location like Los Angeles, where plastic surgery is not only public, but also celebrated, Lisa Goodman, PA of Brentwood's swanky GoodSkin Los Angeles clinic has turned away patients for not making that self-motivated decision, and there are certain things she won't do. "I won't Botox away every wrinkle, and I just try to be a conduit of information on the aging process, not necessarily being 'pretty.' Our goal is to fit the individual, rather than the beauty ideal on paper," says Goodman. "There are certain things we won't do—like trendy lips—and I tread on it carefully because at the same time, I support if someone wants to look a certain way, it's their body, their decision, and right to do that. Every doctor has their own aesthetic, and personally, mine is about embracing different, unique qualities you have."
In the cases of both Dr. Liotta and Goodman, they are their own clients—they identify with their patients, many are in the same generation as both doctors, and they have a certain understanding of light, shadow, and the contours of their own faces that other professionals who adhere to strict templates and standard one-size-fits-all measurements don't quite grasp. Every doctor has their own aesthetic, and before making any reactive decisions, finding a doctor whose view aligns with your own is incredibly important before choosing to do anything. Otherwise, you'll likely be unhappy with the result, or hold a lingering grudge that someone else simply projected their own idea of beauty onto you without addressing your specific concern.
To that point, making the conscious choice to have plastic surgery can be a feminist one. You weren't cool with a certain aspect of yourself for either health or personal reasons, and after careful deliberation, you made the conscious choice to take control of it. You're handling it, you are going through it, and girl, you are even paying for it in full. I completely understand that one's appearance can impact the way they feel. When you know you look good, you feel confident, and when you feel confident, you can take on the world. You can have a preference for how you want to look while also caring deeply about the state of the world—the two things aren't mutually exclusive.
Of course, we are far more than what they look like, and I start fuming when women are reduced to their mere appearance. When a guy who was definitely not my friend, but a friend of someone I hang with, made some stupid comment that women should be given breast implants in the way males are circumcised, I wanted to scream and scream and scream until my soul left its body and I departed from the planet. We are so much more than our cup size and the symmetry of our face, which I guess that guy and various males in the world have yet to realize. But I know—not all men, right?
It should also be noted that, at least at Dr. Liotta's office, men are engaging in the same plastic surgery procedures women do, but aren't scrutinized nearly as heavily. "Men are seeking out the same treatments, and they're coming in higher and higher percentages. It's interesting that the second-guessing is only coming from the women's side of the camp," she says. "Men never come in with that apologetic approach. The idea questioning whether you can get plastic surgery and still be a feminist doesn't exist from the male perspective. There's almost a reverse pressure on women who do decide to change something, because they'll get backlash in a really weird way."
Does the act of shaving one's legs, wearing heels, dyeing or cutting their hair, or wearing makeup make a bad feminist? Of course not. That would be insane. "It's funny, because we don't say someone is a bad feminist for doing those things, and I can tell you that someone might have said that 40 years ago, and it would have been as wrong then as it is now," Dr. Brown says. It's easy to pick someone apart because they made a choice you don't necessarily agree with, and we fall prey to it more often than not—hell, I'll admit that I even catch myself doing it from time to time. It's a dirty trick the patriarchy plays to pit women against each other, and it's important to try and consciously un-learn that behavior. Just because you don't totally understand a person's choices, that doesn't make them a bad person, they're simply a person who made a choice. If it isn't disempowering or undermining someone else, then who are we to judge? "That part is important," Dr. Brown adds. "Because feminism is not about individualism. Feminism is about empowering choices made in a community context. A feminist is a person of any gender who believes in equality of opportunity based of capacity, not some apparent characteristic of the individual."
Dr. Brown also wants to clear up the notion that there is such a thing as a "good feminist" and a "bad feminist." There isn't an all-knowing feminist holding a rule book deciding what is considered good and what is considered bad. When a woman who has engaged the services of a plastic surgeon marches alongside a woman who has not at an event like the Women's March, you don't think the latter woman is the better feminist for not having work done—you think about the beautiful act of women coming together to disrupt the problematic narratives about gender, while calling for social and political change.
Enlisting the services of a plastic surgeon doesn't undo your feminist viewpoint, but it's important that a choice that is your own is the one motivating the actions. "I've been pro-choice on all issues relating to women's bodies since forever, and it's the same thing with making choices about reproduction. Is it your choice, or is it someone else's?" Dr. Brown adds. "Because if it's not your choice—and I don't care what that choice is—it's not going to be one that reflects the values of feminism. You have to make that conclusion in order to do anything."
That being said, who the hell cares about my nose? Whether or not I choose to do anything about it certainly doesn't impact my ability to fight the good fight alongside my sisters, and after discussing it in detail, I'm not even completely sure if it's something that's totally right for me. Still, you'll never find me knocking any woman who chooses to get the procedure. You do you, sister.