As the phenomena of plastic surgery grows in popularity, does its newly attributed empowerment rhetoric work in confluence with its domination of the famous world?
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and picked out something you disliked about your physical appearance? Maybe you don’t think your nose is quite in proportion with the rest of your face, you wish your jaw was a little slimmer, your lips a little fuller? If so, you certainly are not alone.
According to the National Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, 2,314,720 people in the United States had cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2020, a 14% decrease from the 2.6. million people who enhanced their looks the year prior to the pandemic in 2019. Plastic surgery has grown increasingly popular in recent years, a fact most commonly attributed to social media. Despite the number of cosmetic procedures performed in a year has increased by 22% since the turn of the millennium, it remains different in evolution than its social taboo counterparts such as tattoos, the wider practice of plastic surgery has not equaled its normalization. As celebrities and public figures continue to aggressively alter their appearances and openly refuse admittance to cosmetic procedures, simultaneously a very interesting rhetoric has emerged surrounding the industry of plastic surgery.
The theme of “empowerment” has been commonly used by advertisers to sell everything from women’s razors to credit cards. The term itself is very vague in its definition, however, generally surrounds the idea of claiming one’s rights and the notion of regaining control of life. Empowerment’s association with plastic surgery is a relatively new concept, as typically in the past, women were shamed for divulging in their insecurities and spending large amounts of money to achieve something so shallow as a change in their physical appearances. But in recent years, the narrative has begun to shift to follow the guide of a more liberated population, the encouragement to “do what you want,” and the idea that a woman’s ability to choose what she does with her body is empowerment. The thinking becomes flawed though, when actions speak louder than words and celebrities deny obvious plastic surgery enhancements, despite its so revered “empowering” nature.
Lorry Hill is a popular YouTube creator with over 215,000 subscribers, she posts consistent videos that surround the overarching theme of plastic surgery. Her most popular videos analyze celebrity appearances and speculate the work they could have had done. Her top videos reach into the millions and cover celebrities, including: Black Pink’s Lisa Manoban, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Ariana Grande. The videos are nothing short of shocking in their entirety, as Hill breaks down all the believed services, details their procedures and recoveries, and totals the bill. Although all purely speculative, Hill credits her creation of these videos all in the attempt to show that beauty is attainable by anyone who desires it, while her commenters are quick to point out that money may play a larger role in the equation.
“More often than not, a patient’s primary goal with plastic surgery is to simply feel more like themselves, and it’s actually a decision that empowers them to live as they wish and makes them happier.” The Swan Center for Plastic Surgery heavily pushes the idea that plastic surgery is a means for women to achieve happiness and a feeling a self-fulfillment. Pushing the concept that women’s value and self-confidence is directly tied to their looks, however, is a controversial idea and typically a hard sell to those who point out that surgically altering one’s appearance to fit a beauty standard seems anything but feminist.
If plastic surgery were as normalized and “empowering” as people claim it to be, then there very likely would be no need for exposé YouTube channels or tabloid newspapers comparing before and after photos of famous people. Celebrities’ denial of such procedures implies plastic surgery’s very current and legitimized taboo place in society. Yet, this under the table existence does not stop its popularity, plastic surgeons are busier than ever as the numbers of those willing to surgically enhance themselves rises every year. In a world newly exposed to selfies, social media, and people who become famous overnight simply for being attractive; image is monetary and therefore image is everything. In regards to the view celebrities hold towards plastic surgery? To quote 1999’s Cruel Intentions, “everybody does it, it’s just that nobody talks about it.”