Vampire Skin, Karl Marx, & EmRata
The Don't Buy List: Issue #40
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome to another edition of the The Don’t Buy List! I was watching Dr. Phil with my mom the other day (she loves Dr. Phil) and his first guest was an alcoholic, his second guest was dealing with “emotional incest,” and his third guest was a 40-something woman concerned about her wrinkles. Dr. Phil's wife gifted her an entire line of sponsored skincare products. So yeah, if you’re wondering why a “crisis” of the skin often feels like a crisis of the self, why aesthetic “issues” often feel like emotional issues… here’s one reason (of many reasons) why! Because the media, “medical” figureheads, and beauty industry marketers present aging — an exceedingly normal and healthy process! a biological inevitability! another word for “living”! — as a problem on par with alcoholism and incest.
I really enjoyed Haley Nahman’s essay “On cosmetic procedures and the limits of ‘destigmatization’” and the follow-up discussion “Re: getting work done.” The latter addressed a new podcast episode from model Emily Ratajkowski entitled “Can You Be A Feminist and Get Plastic Surgery?” Surprise: EmRata believes the answer is yes. I commented on the convenience of cisgender women claiming aesthetic enhancement as a feminist act in Haley’s discussion thread, but I figured I’d share my thoughts with Unpublishable readers as well. Here’s my take:
When you actually define “feminism” — a political movement toward collective liberation — it’s clear that cosmetic surgery is not feminist. It doesn’t collectively liberate. It’s an individual “solution” to systemic issues — one that, in most cases, reinforces said systemic issues. That said, I don’t think every single action we take in our lives must be an explicitly feminist action! The most harmful thing about the “aesthetic modification is feminist” argument right now (IMO) is the impulse to recast our every individual behavior as “feminist” and therefore absolve ourselves from critique. It waters down the collective understanding of feminism, it minimizes the work and sacrifice that actual feminist practice takes, and (for many) it replaces the urge to do the actual work of feminism because we already feel politically active from getting “work” done on ourselves. I think the people who make this argument are, at their core, unwilling to give up standardized/industrialized beauty as a form of power (because it’s one of the few forms of power we have) and are instead trying to manipulate it into something radical when it’s not. Also, not everything that makes you feel “good” and “empowered” and beautiful is feminist! Lots of beauty behaviors only feel “good” or “empowering” because a shitty system of oppression made sure you felt bad and stripped you of your power first, in order to force participation. Like if we can't stop perpetuating oppressive beauty standards via cosmetic treatments, can we at least stop perpetuating the idea that they're feminist?
The other thing about influencers acting all virtuous as they start to practice “cosmetic transparency” is that everybody already knew they were getting Botox, fillers, and surgeries anyway. It is very obvious! What’s more, studies show that understanding how someone has artificially manipulated their face or body to meet an impossible physical ideal doesn’t lessen the pressure to adhere to that impossible physical ideal. “Destigmatization” and “cosmetic transparency” aren’t really helping anyone — except, of course, for the influencers and celebrities detailing their procedures, who get social credit for being “honest” about the ways in which they perpetuate physically and psychologically damaging beauty standards, and the aesthetics industry, which gets a boost in revenue from “destigmatization.”
Case in point: “Patients are now 10 years younger as compared to pre-pandemic, and are coming in their mid-30’s instead of mid-40’s,” a PR representative for plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Schwarcz revealed in a recent press release. “This shift is due to social media, reality TV culture, and the stigma around plastic surgery quickly evaporating.”