14 Jul 2010

Gender-blindness Is A Dangerous Condition

...especially when it comes to documentaries such as last night's The Ugly Face of Beauty on Channel 4. There seemed to be some good intention mixed in with all the mixed messages, but really it was a gigantic wasted opportunity to point out just why the promotion of cosmetic surgery is so hateful towards women. Instead, the programme focused on 'when surgery goes wrong', therefore neatly implying that having your breasts, stomach or face hoicked all over the shop by a surgeon is fine, as long as it's done right. Arrrghh.

While it's certainly criminal that there's so little regulation in the plastic surgery industry, and that cowboy surgeons are getting away with ruining people's bodies and lives, that seems to me to be an issue for Watchdog or Panorama - not an opportunity for a cosy pseudo-documentary on Channel 4 where on the one hand we can giggle at the maimed bodies of naive idiots who just wanted to look beautiful, and on the other still somehow fail to condemn the cosmetic surgery industry altogether. And why should it be condemned? Because, and I don't think this is too strong a statement, it is a form of insidious violence against women. Yes, women. Not a single case named on last night's programme was male. When the makers set up a 'fake clinic' in Essex city centre, luring customers in to sign up for surgical procedures with no advice, qualifications or regulation, everyone who entered the 'clinic' was female. Men were entirely absent from the documentary (apart from their presence as surgeons, of course), yet the makers seemed entirely blind to this fact and keep referring to 'people', 'patients' and 'the public' as being sucked in by the dubious tactics of the cosmetic surgery industry.
My mind boggles at this attitude, especially as it was screamingly obvious to me that the programme could and should have been titled "The Ugly Face of Beauty And How Women Are Affected By It". Without even needing to try, the programme showed in painful detail just how pressured, coerced and brainwashed so many women are into thinking that their breasts must resemble watermelons, their stomachs should be flat if not concave, and that wrinkled faces are a sign of evil which must be wiped out. It showed how the industry teaches women to hate and mistrust their bodies and believe that the answer lies in a surgeon's scalpel, and how ultimately proponents of CS wish to homogenise the ideal of beauty to the terrifying drag-queen-gone-wrong archetype described above. I can understand that gory scars and grossly misshaped breasts are more of a viewing pull than feminist analysis, but having lured the public in with the sensationalist maiming, couldn't the makers have at least made some kind of point about how the hatred the beauty industry perpetuates is clearly gendered? They clearly weren't afraid to criticise the cosmetic surgery profession up to a point, but chickened out short of proposing that perhaps one of the reasons surgeons don't seem to care if they botch a procedure on a woman's body, is that they have nothing but contempt for the female form.
It was particularly disappointing to see the presenter of the programme, Dr Christian Jessen, tell a lady who had been duped by the 'fake clinic' that 'there's nothing wrong with you wanting cosmetic surgery', but scolding her to make sure a doctor is legitimate and trustworthy first. To me, this is about as morally acceptable as telling a black person that it's fine to bleach their skin, just make sure you read the ingredients on the packet first. The point is not about information, regulation or any of that. It's about just how twisted and brimming with hate for women cosmetic surgery procedures are in the first place. But the makers of the programme seemed to be too worn down by the modern acceptance of contempt for the female body, to even consider that.


Chris said...

CS is just an industry like any other, the woman (people..) using it have made their own decision and understand the risks and procedures involved. And it's not like they can get it on the NHS. So who's your beef with? Besides, men and women both are free to walk in - the surgeons will operate on whoever's there, they don't care either way.. after all they still get paid.

Chas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chas said...

My 'beef' is with exactly the kind of attitude you've just outlined. To say that women 'make their own decisions' to get cosmetic surgery when this so-called 'choice' occurs against a background of a society that bombards them with messages that their bodies are ugly and disgusting and must be changed is naive and over-simplistic. Your statement that women always 'understand the risks and procedures involved' is also very dubious, and was in fact disproven by the very programme I wrote about, which showed cowboy cosmetic surgeons horrendously botching surgery on women and women signing up to a (thankfully fake) clinic without a smidge of concern about the qualifications of the surgeons, or the risks involved.

Yes, men and women are both technically 'free' to get cosmetic surgery, but the whole point of my post is that the industry is heavily skewed towards women - they are the majority (by far) of patients for CS procedures, and are disproportionately targeted by advertisers both for CS, and for the wider beauty industry in general that tells women their bodies need surgical alteration. What bothered me about 'The Ugly Face of Beauty' programme was that it failed to address this 'ugly' side of CS at all, and proceeded as if CS was something both genders participate equally in. It's not.

I don't really think 'not being able to get it on the NHS' is any kind of argument in favour of CS - it's just a factual explanation of why plastic surgeons are so keen for us all to utilise their services. Of course I don't expect the surgeons to exercise any more restraint in advertising and pushing their services on women than anyone else in a money-making industry, but that doesn't mean I have no right to object to it. Crack dealers may not 'care either way' who they deal to because 'after all they still get paid', but that doesn't mean I will ever approve of what they do or see this a reason not to speak out against it.