The twenty-first century has introduced many changes and transformations to the landscape of our society. Some of these changes may be considered as socially, culturally, and economically constructive, while others remain to wreak havoc on the foundations of our society, in this case, physical and moral devaluation. I personally believe that capitalism, modernization, and the dominance of the Western culture brought about by globalization, have collectively contributed to the negative and unconstructive results or outcomes which are plaguing the moral fiber of our society at present time.
(Long, 2000 & Holton, 1992) The once solid lines that have clearly defined our freethinking, objective, individual, and even liberal concepts of humanity and morality were blurred by social, cultural, economic, and even political manipulation, influence, and ascendancy. Under these pretexts, the remainder of this discussion shall focus on the effects or influences of the Western culture and capitalism through media on the beliefs and ideologies of people on feminine beauty and aesthetics.
According to Judith Butler in her work “Gender Trouble,” a discussion tackling “feminism” and the “subversion of identity,” not only did the dominance of the Western culture and capitalism, through the media, destroy the moral fiber of society, but have also destabilized how women define their identity because of the presence of false realities. Butler also discussed how gender identities are constructed by these false realities which define how people should act, behave, or perform, think, and even look.
(Butler, 1990) Moreover, Butler (1990) said that the “abiding gendered self will then be shown to be structured by repeated acts that seek to approximate the ideal of substantial ground of identity…,” revealing the “temporal and contingent groundlessness of this ‘ground. ’” Standards or measures set by society will therefore become a false and contrived self-fulfilling insight or ideology that constitute the identity of women and the concept of feminism despite the fallacious nature of setting these guidelines and limitations through “stylized configuration” (Butler, 1990) of actions and ideals that women, in this case, are bound to follow.
We have reached a point in time when people do not seem to be in control of their lives anymore. We do not know if we are truly living the lives that have been presented to us, or if it is owned by other people who set standards on what life should be about under their terms and defined by social institutions or organizations who dictate what our life should constitute. The standards of beauty or aesthetics, for instance, which rule society in the twenty-first century, will teach us how deep the influences of the Western culture, modernization, and capitalism are, through the reach and power of the media.
The lives of people have become bounded to the subjective standards set by influential people or institutions. The physical appearances of women have been circumscribed to beauty as a trade name, beauty as a trend, and much worse, beauty as a standard. These contexts of beauty have stripped away our personal and liberal views on beauty and aesthetics which set the stage for a life chained and restricted to visual measures.
Beauty is defined as to wearing a Balenciaga dress with Christian Louboutin strappy heels and an Yves Saint Laurent bag, following trends such as a short cropped hair, metallic frocks, or skinny jeans, and the most terrible standard of beauty – that is surgically altering one’s natural physiological features in order to achieve set measures of beauty through plastic surgery (Balsamo, 1996). DEFINING PLASTIC SURGERY Sullivan (2001) surmised how the Western culture, particularly the American culture, values looks or physical appearance because these social constructs denote status and position in society.
Moreover, research studies conducted on the issue have revealed how the quality of a woman’s looks determines her innate talents or characteristics. For instance, being beautiful seems to suggest wisdom or intelligence, and other admirable behavioral qualities. On the other hand, individuals who do not meet set societal standards on beauty would have to endure negative criticisms or attributions to their personality and way of life just because of the way that they look or appear to other people.
Due to the injustice or unfairness experienced by individuals who suffer from physical deformities, and such, plastic surgery was developed. Although plastic surgery was initially introduced as a medical procedure to address physical problems due to congenital deformities, accidents, etc. , its reemergence in the nineteenth century was detached to its primary vision of diminish unfairness and inequality that physically disabled individuals experience in the past.
Plastic surgery is also considered as cosmetic surgery at present time because it does not only resolve cogent medical physiological problems, but also seek to address aesthetic problems. During the early twentieth century, people, mostly constituted by women, visit plastic surgeons in order to avail of various surgeries or procedures that alter their appearance. These surgeries and procedures include the injection of various chemicals or substances in order to lessen facial wrinkles, age spots, and such, or the injection of other elements to enhance female breasts according to the liking of clients.
(Sullivan, 2001) Under these pretexts, we observe how the definition of plastic surgery changed through time. It began as a means to address individual challenges brought on by social pressure to appear, act, and think normally based on set physiological standards, such as congenital diseases, physical disabilities or handicap, etc. Consequently, plastic surgery in the past has helped diminish the negative experiences that individuals with physical disabilities went through during that time.
However, as our society advanced and developed, some people saw the beauty as a promise that plastic surgery may fulfill. Plastic surgery nowadays does not simply function for reconstructive purposes and health reasons, but also for needless beauty or aesthetic motives. Under this context, plastic surgery may then be relatively defined as a medical procedure undergone by individuals who wish to rectify their physiological make-up either for therapeutic, reconstructive, or health reasons or visual development.
THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN PROMOTING PLASTIC SURGERY Most people nowadays see beauty not as a personal or objective construct that is free from control or restrictions, but rather a concept enforced within us by standards set by the dominant Western cultures and capitalistic perspectives. Moreover, the fashion and cosmetics industries have made the standards of beauty clear, not only from the features of the products and services they provide, but also in some marketing and advertising strategies that these organizations implement.
According to Sullivan (2001), “the pursuit of beauty” has developed a thriving business empire in Western nations that follow contemporary views, in this case, modernized perspectives on beauty and aesthetics. Business organizations that operate under the fashion and cosmetics industry relish the influx of profit and revenue from Americans who are willing to spend billions every year just to achieve the kind of look or appearance that they desire.
This extreme and uncontrollable lust for beauty despite its being ideally and rationally elusive or indefinable has been fuelled by cultural and capitalistic perspectives evident in the media. Numerous research studies and sociological analyses have proven how the media destroys the self-image and identity of women because of flawed and sometimes dissolute images and messages that seek to constrict how people should regard beauty.
For instance, print media has been dominated by thin models who are labeled to supposedly epitomize beauty; there will always be pornography or indecent exposure to certain degrees on television shows and movies isolating body images that are worth public viewing and those that are overshadowed by media preconception, and such. (Wykes & Gunter, 2005) These observations adhere to Butler’s views on the groundlessness of the extensive grounds on beauty and the female identity in print media, television, movies, and so on.
We see in magazines, billboards, and other print media how body image is criticized because of a woman’s weigh or appearance, and how natural physical attributes are disparaged because of how people behind these print advertisements and images regard aging or old age. Cosmetic companies produce numerous products which were designed to slow down or diminish the signs of aging for a youthful beauty, or treatments that will have the same effects such as facial or Botox treatments, and so on.
Moreover, business organizations take advantage of the high awareness or consciousness of women on weight and capitalize on offering various products and services that promises an “ideal” weight based on social standards and not on health guidelines. Restaurants offer food to support weight-loss, private gyms offer programs that assure fast and easy activities to shed fats and calories, fitness experts develop diets and write books about them, plastic surgeons offer various surgical and non-surgical procedures to address physical concerns and weight problems, and so on.
(Peach, 1998 & Grogan, 2007) Adesso & Reddy (1994) also emphasized how television constituting mass media has idealized the “thin female role model,” and due to the influence of mass media to reach and communicate to majority of the population, the idea of a thin body image has been integrated into the popular culture of society. The primary motivations for the media’s involvement in spreading subjective ideologies and perceptions of beauty and aesthetics is rooted on the desired growth and development through capitalism and the value that the dominant Western culture labels on them.
The primary purpose of capitalism in the fashion and cosmetics industry is to sell a concept of beauty to consequently establish a market population that patronizes goods and products provided by business organizations. Through marketing and advertising techniques, capitalists are able to develop a standardized but subjective view on beauty and work on expanding promotions and selling beauty to obtain revenue and achieve the primary goals and objectives of a modern capitalist society. (Walker, 2007)
As if false marketing or advertising is not enough, disillusioning women into accepting subjective standards of beauty, the motivation to become involved in plastic surgeries was intensified by the urgency that the media attributes to acquiring the set ideal standards instantly. According to Balsamo (1996), self-consciousness is heightened and the desire to achieve the kind of beauty or looks that society imposes becomes an urgent need leading some women to resort to plastic surgery that promises instant and sometimes permanent physical alterations or transformations.
THE EFFECTS OF MEDIA ON THE FEMALE SELF-IMAGE Perhaps the most substantial influence of the media on feminism is the degeneration of a woman’s self image, not only physically, but also psychologically and emotionally. Some of these negative influences include discontent on an individual’s physical appearance, consequently leading to anxiety and depression that sometimes manifest through extreme practices and serious psychological diseases such as bulimia or anorexia, and such.
Beauty has become a standard to follow rather than something personal and innate that everybody finds in all human beings, creating faulty beliefs and ideologies that make women believe that their worth is leveled to their physical appearance. (Wykes & Gunter, 2005) For this reason, some people are forced to rely on plastic surgery which promises aesthetic perfection and satisfaction. The image below taken from Vanity Fair online represents how the media portrays plastic surgery as something that is equivalent to beauty and aesthetics.
The image was taken by Justin Bishop for an expose by Melanie Berliet. Berliet wanted to explore the industry of cosmetic industry to complete a column for Vanity Fair online. Berliet admitted she has considered going under the knife but still continues to think about it. She wanted to weigh her options so she did the column requiring her to visit three professional cosmetic surgeons in order to obtain their opinions on which parts of her body needed surgery. The above image details what the three cosmetic surgeons she visited advised her to undergo.
Although Berliet’s column seems to dismiss partiality on either the thought of considering cosmetic surgery or to avoid one, this particular image published by Vanity Fair recapitulates previous arguments on how the media is allowing itself to be manipulated by capitalism and the Western culture consequently destroying the self-image of women. The hidden message beneath the image is comparable to Butler’s (1990) assumptions about self-identification and coherence that is most wanted by some women because of the “idealization is an effect of a corporeal signification.
” In other words, because of this image and others similar to its theme, women have become extremely conscious about their physical appearance brought on by illusory standards set by social institutions, particularly capitalists and the Western culture, about beauty and aesthetics. In the picture, we see a woman who is “five-foot nine, 120 pound 27-year old” (Berliet, 1990) who was judged by cosmetic surgeons to be in need of seven surgeries for reasons that are not even rational, such as having a bump on her nose or breast sizes that do not match, and so on.
The baseless standards of beauty that the cosmetic industry has developed resulted to “a reality that is fabricated as an interior essence” (Butler, 1990) because women adapt as something that they should possess or should become, and that “very interior is an effect and function of a decidedly public and social discourse. ” CONCLUSION Previous discussions have proved how the media is a strong force that determines feminine beauty or appearance, consequently influencing the moral fiber of society.
Along with the women’s loss of self-image or self-esteem is the devaluation of human beliefs and ideologies of what beauty is about. It has become an obsession and a cause of discontent and depression that threatens the lives of some women who decide to give in to psychological problems that lead to serious illnesses and undergo surgery in order to meet the partial standards of beauty being sold through the media.
Reference List Adesso, V. J. & Reddy, D. M. , 1994. Psychological Perspectives on Women’s Health. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. Berliet, M. , 2009.
Plastic Surgery Confidential. (Vanity Fair/Style) [Internet] Conde Nast (Published 2009). Available at: http://www. vanityfair. com/style/features/2009/02/plastic-surgery200902 Accessed 24 March 2009. Butler, J. , 1990. Gender Trouble, 2006 Edition. New York, NY: Routledge. Balsamo, A. M. , 1996. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Grogan, S. , 2007. Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women, and Children. New York, NY: Routledge. Long, D. S. , 2000. Divine Economy: Theology and the Market.
New York, NY: Routledge. Holton, R. J. , 1992. Economy and Society. New York, NY: Routledge. Peach, L. J. , 1998. Women in Culture: A Women’s Studies Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell. Sullivan, D. A. , 2001. Cosmetic Surgery: The Cutting Edge of Commercial Medicine in America. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Walker, S. , 2007. Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. Wykes, M. & Gunter, B. , 2005. The Media and Body Image: If Looks Could Kill. London, UK: SAGE.