A couple of weeks ago, my mother told me that she wanted to get cosmetic surgery.
I usually rationalize my aversion to plastic and cosmetic surgery with the fact that it’s tremendously expensive and has the potential to go terribly awry, but I didn’t really understand the emotional reaction I’ve always had to it until my mother’s fairly unabashed confession. “Self-improvement,” she called it, and it’s those two words that made me realize what about society’s ever-growing fascination with going under the knife bothers me so much.
Yes, the idea of cosmetic surgery troubles me because it seems like an awfully high price to pay for something that has far from a 100 percent success rate. However, what strikes me more than this is the idea that by getting cosmetic surgery, you are changing yourself to conform to a societal standard that is as harsh as it is ephemeral. By getting a nose job, or Botox, or liposuction, you are championing the idea that “self-improvement” translates to altering the things about yourself that society tells you aren’t pretty, or attractive, or sufficiently feminine or masculine. You are supporting the notion that movies, men or the latest of issue of Vogue should dictate how we see ourselves, a notion that is as dangerous and potentially destructive as it is untrue.
Many people defend cosmetic surgery by saying that not everyone gets it for superficial reasons — many really do get it for themselves; in order to feel happier or achieve higher self-confidence. My problem with this is that the best way to improve self-image shouldn’t be a superficial change at all. A better form of “self-improvement,” whether for others or for yourself, would be to go for a run or to read a book, instead of looking simply to erase perceived imperfections that we are told define us as people.
As a society (and especially as a university) we encourage people to embrace the ideas and intellectual challenges that make them uncomfortable and strive to think beyond the superficial. What would be consistent with this would be challenging ourselves to embrace the things about ourselves we aren’t necessarily in love with instead of just getting rid of them and putting them out of our thoughts.
There are a lot of things I wish I had said to my mother when she told me of the cosmetic surgery she envisions as “self-improvement” and the litany of physical changes I imagine she thinks would probably do me a lot of good. My mother has run through a list of the things about me that need “fixing” enough times for me to have committed most of it to memory: get the mole on the right side of your jawline lasered, the eyebrows permanently thinned, the nose slimmed down. I can’t help but wonder if any of these supposed “improvements” will make me feel any happier about myself, as my mother suggests, or if instead they will just make me even more aware of my waistline, or bra size, or complexion — other “imperfections” that could be “fixed” in the same way.
I am not going to ask my mom not do something she believes will make her happy just because it feeds into my long-standing, somewhat irrational insecurities. But there is a large part of me that is still holding on to — and likely will always hold on to — the idea that it has become far too easy and we have become far too inclined to simply do away with and change the parts of ourselves we cannot easily embrace.
Jennifer Yu is a rising College sophomore from Shrewsbury, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Up to Yu” runs biweekly during the summer.Comments powered by Disqus
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