A whole thread on LP about the social insecurities that lead to the cosmetic surgery makeover culture has been derailed by some men who are insisting on reframing it as women’s individual sexual insecurities about their looks, and how if women could only understand that the men in their personal lives don’t care whether they have surgery or not then the problem would go away. There was also a lamentable zeroing in on fringe procedures such as labioplasty with an obvious sexual relations component instead of the most common procedures such as breast enhancements and face-lifts, which are rather more complex.
There was a growing tone of Those silly women! They just can’t get it through their heads what men really want, so they waste their money on unnecessary surgery!
Now, I’m as big an opponent of the cosmetic surgery industry as the next feminist, so don’t take this as in any way defending or supporting makeover surgery in principle, nonetheless I do want to defend the women undertaking cosmetic surgery from the accusations that their decision is (a) pure consumerism, (b) solely based on personal vanity, and (the big one) (c) stupidly misunderstanding what males want from their personal sexual partners.
There is a fundamental disconnect on (c). If the women are getting surgery even when the men in their personal lives don’t want them to, then perhaps, oh just perhaps, the reason they want surgery has nothing to do with their personal relationships and everything to do with other aspects of their lives. Fancy, women have goals in life beyond their personal sexual relationships!
As to (a) and (b): the sad fact is, for women, especially young women, social status and “looks” go hand in hand. “Sexy” gains social attention, women who aren’t “sexy” (whether naturally or deliberately) are socially invisible, unless they have a powerful husband/father/patron. (A very few exceptional women prove this rule – have some fun in comments naming the ones you know.)
As our society rewards people largely based on whether men pay attention to them or not, this means that women feel compelled to include “looking sexy” in their social calculus: being overlooked and ignored is social (and most crucially, socioeconomic) death. Actual sexual relationships are only a minor consideration. Yet way too many men persist in believing that female competition for male attention is primarily a sexual competition based on individual anxieties about finding/keeping a man.
I reproduce my comment (responding to a rant responding to an exasperated critique from another poster) on LP below:
you seem to be extrapolating an awful lot of extra baggage from PC pointing out that your proffered panacea of “sensitive partnering” to make a large-breasted woman forgo surgery for a condition that causes chronic pain is condescending crap, and that there are indeed many ways that women view their breasts that have nothing to do with men. I also don’t see where PC is defending the conspicuous consumption aspects of cosmetic surgery – it’s possible to have a negative view of both the cosmetic surgery industry and of your comments in this thread.
If you don’t want to get challenged for writing condescending crap, then don’t write it.
Looking good, looking “sexy” even, is not all about women doing it for the menz, or about actual sex. Indeed, as many other men say, many/most of you certainly don’t demand that women surgically alter their bodies. The problem is that this disconnect gets framed as women being confused about what men really want (the silly dears) – do you guys really think that women don’t understand that the actual men who like them personally don’t really want them to go under the knife? More condescending crap.
From the book review that Kim urged everybody to go and read:
And more and more, plastic surgery is viewed by both surgeons and patients as an investment in the future, a way of keeping one’s major asset in the new global and flexible economy: one’s youthful look. Looking tired, showing one’s advancing age does not play well in the new labor market. Experience no longer matters as much as it used to. However, what matters is being flexible, being able to embrace change positively (Who moved my cheese!!). One is more likely to convey such notions through surgically enhanced looks. After [all], we all know since Goffman, that impression management is a crucial interactional dynamic.
The celebrity culture has made a certain youthful look socially desirable (verging on mandatory), and if one doesn’t attempt to look sexy in middle and even old age one is denigrated for letting oneself go, no matter whether one wants to attract the opposite sex or not. Women over 25 know this well: if one don’t groom oneself to look at least a little “sexy” then one will be ignored entirely by most men in a room, even in a workplace situation, even when one is the team-leader. That’s not a very good way to get a further promotion, even if one wouldn’t want to shag one of those male co-workers for a million bucks. (This mandatory youthfulness is starting to hit men now, too).
It would be really nice if we could lift the focus above alleged purely sexual insecurities and look instead at the social insecurities that Kim emphasised in the post.
The social insecurities are of course fostered, nurtured and exacerbated by those who make money selling products to fix those flaws which are holding one back from social success (only part of which is about getting laid). There’s of course a wide range of threads to untangle there, but the framework on which it is all laid is social approval, and whose social approval has the cachet to convey broader social acceptance when it is seen to be conferred.
Which leads me to the following –
Proposition: women seeking male attention socially is often less to do with attracting a potential sexual mate than it has to do with avoiding the social humiliation of being entirely ignored by men.