Monday, August 29, 2011

Is plastic surgery a form of self mutilation?

It wasn't until I had done research on Body Dysmorphic Disorder that I began to look at the idea of plastic surgery in a different light. Before then going under the knife seemed to be a glorified luxury available to the rich and famous, as I had only known one person to tell me her boobs were fake, a gift given to her for graduating high school... In my low-income, first generation college graduate mind I thought, "Where they do dat at???" I grew up in a economically challenged suburb of Chicago and until college had never been exposed to anyone who had enough cash flow to spend it on personal esthetics beyond the local MAC counter. Knowing nothing of her family's financial situation, I assumed girlfriend was well off.  With this experience, or lack thereof, my perception of cosmetic surgery was: it's an expensive permanent alteration done by the rich and famous, for the rich and famous. The thought of what I might change about my body with plastic surgery never entered my mind because I assumed I couldn't afford that type of operation.

If money wasn't an issue, my mother's strong Christian values put a halt to any inkling that nipping and tucking was okay. Like many others, my momma is a strong Black woman and I believe there are very few things if any that can shake her self-esteem. She has worked as a Registered Nurse, now Clinical Nurse Specialist, for most of her adult life. This type of background has surrounded her with many people in the medical field and so I have no doubt the topic of plastic surgery has come up in the hospital cafeteria or nurse's station. I have never asked her if she would change anything about her body physically, but growing up under her roof, I know what her educated and spiritual stance on the topic would be - God didn't make no junk! She has told me time after time that I should embrace who I am.  She does believe in living a healthy lifestyle, though. She always encourages me to be more selective of my food choices and to make time to exercise... I have yet to comply with these wishes... Mom I promise, I'm getting to it... :-) It wasn't until I started doing makeup on other people that my mom wanted me to make her up. I believe it has been more of an effort to support me in my hobby of interest more so than the desire to be bothered with all this beauty stuff. In fact, when I lived with her she would complain about how long it took me to "put my face on" in the mirror saying, "Come on, you always make me late for church!" I'd shut the door in the bathroom and pretend I'm peeing to get a few extra minutes to perfect my look. (Maybe that was too much info... Sorry!) Even though I had made her late for church spending an hour or more doing my makeup (a slight exaggeration, though she'd beg to differ) she'd always take the time to say something positive about my appearance. A simple, "You look nice", even though I may have complained about my thin eyebrows and how I should have filled them in a little thicker. Her opinion mattered way more than any of the messages coming from the media.

In college I was an avid fan of Nip/Tuck and got hooked on the series late so I would often stay up at night to watch old episodes. I still watch them from time to time because the drama of the storyline is crazy and frankly I found it entertaining. Some of the outrageous procedures they did on these patients, though not real, really seemed superficial. Of course, there was a little truth to the scenarios. It opened my eyes to the fact that 1. surgery is painful, 2. that kind of beauty comes at a price, I had already figured that much out, but most shockingly 3. the patients coming in to see them were usually battling an issue with self and society. The patients the surgeons consulted with were often doing things to their bodies to be accepted in their social environments. To me that screams self hate. For me, I am more concerned with what doctors are finding out about their patients during the consultation in regards to self concept. I do agree that there are several exceptions when it comes to plastic surgery that aren't done to prevent the appearance of aging or with superficial reasoning, but rather to make their quality of life better, such as nose jobs to better someone's air passageway for breathing. Couldn't all patients argue that plastic surgery is done to better their quality of life? True, to a certain extent.

All plastic surgery is done to remove some psychological element. When someone looks in the mirror and they are not happy with what they see they immediately want to cover it up or remove it. For the person who looks in the mirror and says, "Man, my pimples remind me that I have oily skin", I'd like to say it could be worse... You could be looking in the mirror at a scar from a domestic violence incident. That type of physical reminder is seen everyday of a horrible life altering event. My aunt has a glass eye after being shot at a college party. I see a difference in these decisions to get cosmetic surgery. In some moderate cases, I believe there are other ways to deal with a perceived flaw(s).  Perhaps there are some other issues that need to be addressed prior to surgery or that can be overcome and accepted without surgery. In these cases, I only pray that resources are being made available to these patients. Changing a person's self perception from negative to positive is a much greater service to provide.

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