Why plastic surgery is a blessing in disguise.
Even after seeing her for a million times, as I sit down to begin our interview, I am struck by Maya’s eccentric beauty. She does not have a forgettable appearance. Upon first glance, you might notice her hi-lighted hair, the way it twists and dances around her angular face, as if it had a life of its own. You might observe her multiple piercings, the little glittering gems that shimmer along her ear. You may even take note of her unusual eyes, pools of yellow and green, which are emphasized by dramatic, cat-like eyeliner around her lids.
All of these little added details — the hi-lights, the jewelry, the makeup — call out for attention and create a completely unconventional allure. They make her different; they make you notice.
One thing I am certain you would not take notice, however, is her nose. This is because Maya has a perfectly straight, and utterly ordinary nose. Maya knows this about herself, and, despite her claim to reject anything she deems “boring,” she likes it that way. In fact, just last year, the summer before college, she spent thousands of dollars and endured weeks of pain to make it that way. That’s because last year Maya underwent rhinoplasty; she got a “nose job.”
Today, plastic surgery is more popular than ever. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans underwent 1.6 million cosmetic procedures in 2012. Of those, rhinoplasty was the second most common. While the average American income continues to fall, Americans continue to spend on cosmetic surgery, spending 11 billion in 2012.
Initially, the increasing use of cosmetic surgery seems harmless. Americans certainly think so; according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons 69 percent of individuals ages 18 to 24 approve of cosmetic procedures.
However, I’m not so sure. There’s something unnerving about the idea that Americans are becoming more and more comfortable with changing their appearance. What is driving the popularity of surgery, and of nose jobs in particular? And, more importantly, should we be worried about this obsession with appearance?
One could easily point to the media as the cause of this drive for perfection. Women in magazines are habitually photo-shopped and edited, diffusing an unrealistic image of beauty. Many models and actresses undergo cosmetic procedures themselves, selling a face that is not truly their own. The media normalizes the act of cosmetic surgery, helping individuals to see it as acceptable. Tabloids feature stories of stars undergoing surgery. Nip/Tuck, a series on Fox in 2010, had a plot entirely dedicated to horrifying and entertaining tales of cosmetic procedures.
What’s troubling to me is that this media tends to target teen girls, thus exploiting the insecurities of those in their most vulnerable and self-conscious years.
Maya and I first met when we were 13. We were both trying to figure ourselves out, make new friends, and navigate middle school. I was not surprised to learn that this was when Maya began thinking about her nose. “It was a transitional period,” she said, pausing as if momentarily transported back. “A lot was changing around me; I was changing, and I started to become aware of my appearance. I was growing up, and there was an image of beauty around me that I wanted to grow into.”
Part of me wants to believe that the desire to change our appearance is just human nature, that with or without the influence of the media, we would do what we could to make ourselves “beautiful.” In the 19th century, the Chinese bound their feet to make them smaller. For the past 300 years, the Kayan people in Burma have used rings to artificially stretch their necks. The Fulani Tribe in Nigeria increases the size of their earrings until they are left with gaping holes in their earlobes. From this perspective, then, plastic surgery might just be viewed as science’s ability to safely and medically fulfill an impulse that has been with us for centuries.
I become even more convinced of rhinoplasty’s benefits when Maya makes it clear to me that the mental anguish of insecurity is just as real as a physical disability, and is worth treating with surgery. When I first met Maya, I would never have noticed that there was anything unusual or unappealing about her nose. Yet, to her, it was a daily point of anxiety and torment. “When I looked in the mirror — or me, my nose was the only thing I saw. I fixated on it. And I just couldn’t do it anymore…[Getting a nose job] did benefit my life. It’s kind of sad that that mattered to me so much, but it did — and it did for a long enough time that I wanted to change it and do something about it.”
To me, this relief from suffering that Maya describes, more than anything, seems like a compelling reason to support those who undergo plastic surgery. Whatever its negative implications, plastic surgery is a choice and those who make it should not be looked down on, but should be supported, as we would support any individual in an attempt to better his or her life.
When I ask Maya if she ever regrets the surgery, she answers with a sense of confidence that hasn’t always been there, a confidence that validates her decision more than any words could: “Regret it? I feel like I’m more myself than I ever could have been before. Regret it? Nope not at all, not for a second.“
Eloise Lynton ’17 (eloiselynton@college) likes her nose the way it is but wouldn’t mind a facelift to eliminate those pesky wrinkles.