Has the ‘Knife’ become a Social Norm?

Over the past decade, an increasing number of women have resorted to surgery to shed the pounds. There is a growing UK market for surgical and non-surgical cosmetic treatments. In 2015, the BBC reported that the cosmetic surgery industry was worth ‘£750m in the UK in 2005, £2.3bn in 2010 and is forecast to reach £3.6bn by 2015.’[1] Yet, according to Naomi Wolf, ‘’[t]he surgeons’ market is imaginary, since there is nothing wrong with women’s faces or bodies that social change won’t cure; so the surgeons depend for their income on warping female self-perception and multiplying female self-hatred.’[2] Owing to the increasingly unrealistic body ideal and the over-commercialisation of surgery, going under the knife has become a social norm.

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Recent statistics confirm that ‘weight loss surgery is on the rise, with over one in five people, or 22%, saying that they would consider surgical procedures to combat their weight.’[3] The area that women would most like to improve is the waistline. In accordance with this data, in 2014 4,625 liposuction procedures and 2,713 tummy tucks were performed in the UK alone.[4]

Within the competition industry, it is difficult to become sufficiently lean while also retaining enough body fat to create the desired hourglass shape. One Cosmopolitan model  claims that ‘”the ideal today is a muscular body with big breasts. Nature doesn’t make women like that.”’[5] In order to conform to this ‘inhuman’ aesthetic, competitors must employ forms of artificial augmentation, commissioning padded bikini tops and even resorting to surgery. According to a survey carried out by The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, the top ten cosmetic surgeries of 2014 include breast augmentation, with 8,619 women choosing to enhance their curves.[6] With breast implants becoming the norm, both within the fitness world and the general population, natural breasts are increasingly judged against pert domes of silicone.

 

silicone breast implants micro textured and smooth surface isolated on black background

silicone breast implants micro textured and smooth surface isolated on black background

 

Of fifteen female competitors whom I interviewed, eight had breast implants and two had organised consultations with a cosmetic surgery provider. For those who had already undergone surgery, it was viewed as ‘an improvement to [their] physical appearance’ and in some cases, necessary: ‘I had a boob job 10 months before my first comp and wouldn’t have gone on stage without them.’ This feeling of necessity was reiterated by one coach, who revealed that ‘almost all of [her] female clients have had some form of plastic surgery (breast augmentation, lip fillers, Botox). A few admitted they ‘need’ plastic surgery in order to look better or to be more stage worthy.’

 

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As well as looking ‘stage worthy’, competitors admitted that they went under the surgeon’s knife with the hope that it would provide confidence. So powerful is the image of the hourglass ideal that those who do not conform can suffer from ‘low body image and embarrassment’. One woman stated that she ‘hated the way [she] looked’ prior to the operation since she perceived herself to be ‘a very prominent pear shape’: ‘my flat chest was a constant issue for me. I didn’t want to have large boobs, I just wanted to look balanced and normal.’ For some, transforming into a ‘balanced’ hourglass cured their body dissatisfaction since it enabled them to meet their idealised vision: ‘it was the best thing I ever did for myself as never had any major issues with my body since getting it done.’ Breast implants made competitors feel ‘more feminine’, ‘happier’ and ‘much more confident.’

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 Since it is now possible to drastically alter the body through diet, exercise and surgical procedures, the ideal has become increasingly unrealistic. We are led to believe, however, that we are perfectible: that the body can be shaped according to our will. Internet memes inform us ‘You are entirely up to you. Make your body. Make your life. Make yourself’; while capitalist industries perpetuate the myth that that the physical form is a blank canvas to be constructed, improved and enhanced. The body is no longer understood as ‘a biological “given” which we have to learn to accept, but as a plastic potentiality to be pressed into the service of the image-to be arranged, re-arranged, constructed and deconstructed as we choose.’[7]

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25986840 [accessed 09/02/15]

[2] The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (Vintage, London, 1991), p.232

[3] https://comparethetreatment.com/the-uks-top-cosmetic-surgery-trends-for-2015/ [accessed 09/02/15]

[4] Survey carried out by The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) https://comparethetreatment.com/top-ten-cosmetic-treatments-of-2014/ [accessed 09/02/15]

[5] The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (Vintage, London, 1991), p.266

[6] Survey carried out by The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) https://comparethetreatment.com/top-ten-cosmetic-treatments-of-2014/ [accessed 09/02/15]

[7] Susan Bordo in Feminisms, Kemp and Squires, p.452

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