Cosmetic surgery and feminism

(62 Posts)
LadyBuffOfBuffdonia Mon 03-May-21 08:55:10

Can cosmetic surgery ever sit comfortably with feminism? Branching off from a poster's comment on whether feminists would support NHS funded cosmetic surgery.
Myself, I consider cosmetic surgery to alleviate pain (is. breast reduction) to be ok if it improves the patients' quality of life. I agree with the use of Botox for medical reasons, ie. alleviating cerebral palsy spasticity. Restorative plastic surgery from burns for example I think is a good use of the surgery.
However, I do consider plastic surgery for vanity reasons to be bad for a number of reasons:

It reenforces an unrealistic beauty standard
It reenforces the importance of the male gaze
It's difficult to teach our children to love themselves when we've passed on features we ourselves 'fixed'.

Where does everyone else draw the line and does your view of cosmetic enhancement compliment or clash with your feminism?

OP’s posts: |
BlackForestCake Mon 03-May-21 09:04:38

Take a look at how many (few) men feel a need to have cosmetic surgery, and there's your answer.

ArabellaScott Mon 03-May-21 09:13:18

I think it's a symptom of a far deeper problem. Women feel they need to adapt, adjust, alter themselves because the patriarchy and rape culture is so overwhelming and impossible to escape.

midgedude Mon 03-May-21 09:15:13

No one will admit to it for pure vanity though

It will "help their mental health", "enable them to feel confident to live a normal life"
Often whilst not addressing the underlying issues around expectations of female beauty. Which are so deeply entrenched in some people that it does affect their mental health

And it feeds the capitalist system so it's hard to remove the pressure to look good which comes at you from all angles

And men don't do it much yet, but like face creams and slimming aids, the industry will target them at some point when they reach market saturation

Branleuse Mon 03-May-21 09:17:11

I think that while it isnt a feminist action in itself, I think that plenty of really active feminists might consider it in the same way that they might wear lipstick or colour their hair. I guess it depends on all sorts of variables. I certainly dont think it makes you lose your feminist card

GNCQ Mon 03-May-21 09:23:02

I agree that certain cosmetic procedures are necessary eg for restoring burn scars or other body damage but for vanity it becomes "problematic".

For a start it's only available to wealthy people so even if everyone agreed cosmetic surgery is great, there's a huge class divide. In fact the crux of it to me is that you end up with wealthy women looking "beautiful" and "lifted" in the "right way"
(apologies for all the speech marks it's just I'm not fully on board with the notion of beauty standards in the first place)
Then everyone else looks basically natural so then the fact you're poor stands out a mile because you don't have a Botox face.

ikeairgin Mon 03-May-21 09:26:42

I've had corrective surgery on my eyes three times in my lifetime to correct a squint

The first time as a child it was done for medical reasons, they hoped to ensure I grew up with binocular vision, unfortunately that wasn't a sucsess, I then had a further correction as a teenager for cosmetic reasons and again in my late 30's after two children had caused my squint tp become really pronounced again

The squint was very noticable both times I had it corrected and it affrected my self esteem and still does, I have this terrible tendancy to not enjoy eye contact as I am self concious about it.

Where would you draw the line ?

(Both my corrections were carried out by the NHS btw)


ikeairgin Mon 03-May-21 09:27:37

OMG the typo's sorry

Justhadathought Mon 03-May-21 09:33:48

Human beings are social creatures, and it is is inevitable that they will care to some extent about their appearance. Social life is all about presentations of the self.

I've long considered breast reduction/lift surgery, but have been too scared to proceed, because of the idea of slicing and cutting, and scars etc. The reason I'd want this surgery would be primarily for aesthetic reasons ( although bra straps that leave marks and dig in etc would be another reason), as I think clothes would sit better, and I'd feel more confident in my body. It is a pain in the arse having to think about my breasts whenever I choose or try clothes on.

I'm too old for the male gaze, but my own sense of aesthetics is important to me.

LadyBuffOfBuffdonia Mon 03-May-21 09:35:59

I agree it's a class, capitalism and sex issue.
I know it's at the extreme end of the sliding scale of beauty standards, but for me it feeds into propping up the patriarchy more than say make up does.
This is because make up can be an artistic expression or a way to showcase your personality. Punk, cosplay and Kardashian make up all have very different goals. And going to the gym to sculpt your body will mean a better instrument for sports and general health. But something like a breast enlargement has no physical or artistic advantages, it just plays into the set standard for beauty.

OP’s posts: |
RufustheBadgeringReindeer Mon 03-May-21 09:37:11

No one will admit to it for pure vanity though

I will

None of my friends had noticed or said anything, none of my family said anything, I didn’t like the way i looked so i sorted it

BUT i do think that it can be addictive and doesn’t necessarily’fix’ other issues

And yes, some people absolutely do come up with excuses as to why the ‘need’ it when really they just want it

LadyBuffOfBuffdonia Mon 03-May-21 09:40:27

I'd put a squint in the same catagory as Botox for cp. There are a few physical reasons for correcting an unusual gait, such as strain on the hips, but another reason is so they can have a good walking pattern so not to stand out.
However, I realise some people might say similar of breast enlargement, but as someone with an a-b cup I consider small breasts perfectly natural and not in need of fixing.

OP’s posts: |
queenofthenorthwest Mon 03-May-21 09:42:19

I didn't need any of what I have had done but I wanted it for vanity. Doesn't make me any less of a feminist.

Branleuse Mon 03-May-21 09:45:44

Is breast reconstruction after cancer anti feminist.
Or a breast uplift after breastfeeding children makes the woman feel disfigured?
Is getting a brace on your teeth antifeminist?

When we agree with a great deal of feminist theory does that make us feminists or do we also have a responsibility to dress in a feminist way.

lazylinguist Mon 03-May-21 09:50:57

I'm not a fan. At all. But tbh what is the point of criticising or vilifying women's choices to have cosmetic surgery when we know that those choices are not made in a vacuum?

However much someone may claim that their boob job or fillers are their decision and to make them feel good, rather than to live up to others' expectations, that can never be 100% true, because if society saw it as desirable to have small or uneven boobs or thin lips, they wouldn't be having that procedure. None of us are immune to society's ideas of what's beautiful. Even if we choose the opposite look, it's still a reaction to the same ideals.

I cannot imagine having any surgical or intrusive cosmetic procedure unless I had been in some way disfigured by an accident etc. Quute apart from my principles, the safety risks and discomfort alone would put me off, never mind the waste of money and the fact that I inevitably think people look better in their 'before' photos.

MissBarbary Mon 03-May-21 10:00:31

I've never had cosmetic surgery and never considered it but I really dislike the OP's hectoring tone of "I'm a female and I'll decide what is acceptable surgery and what is just vanity"

I'd also take issue with the assertion that it’s only for "the male gaze". I would imagine that in cases of say a huge nose / sticky out ears it’s solely for the benefit of the individual.

As for the suggestion that men don't bother- I've never had cosmetic surgery but my husband spent several thousand pounds on cosmetic dentistry. I didn't see anything wrong with his teeth but it was his money , his choice and I certainly wasn't going to lecture him about why he should not do it.

I must ask him if he was motivated to do it because of "the male gaze".

ArabellaScott Mon 03-May-21 10:00:34

'The most popular cosmetic surgery among women in the UK in 2020 was breast augmentation with over 4.6 thousand procedures, while breast reduction was the second most common surgery with approximately 3.1 thousand procedures.' (

MissBarbary Mon 03-May-21 10:01:12

Sorry meant "I'm a feminist and I'll decide what is acceptable surgery and what is just vanity"

AlexaIWillNeverSayDucking Mon 03-May-21 10:02:01

I think there is a difference between fixing features that are outside the norm, and changing a feature due to a preference. I feel the former was used to sell cosmetic surgery to a wider audience, by making it the subjective "I don't like my breasts," which can be everyone, rather than the more objective "my breasts are different sizes and I'd like them to match," where there is something unusual to feel self conscious about.

It would be great if we could feel comfortable with unusual features, but I think it is too big an ask to make someone live that way in an attempt to normalise them.

I might be biased, as I had a colostomy bag reversal, which was entirely cosmetic - no health benefits. I hated having a stoma and it really affected my life (I was young at the time, as someone now in their late 30s, I'd cope okay).

I do however, think that these feelings of hate towards a body part should be investigated further if the body part is perfectly healthy and normal. So I would have differential treatment pathways for cosmetic surgery that brings an outlier within normal bounds, and for treatment that just moves someone within these boundaries to a slightly different place. The latter, I think, is more entwined with a deeper issue and the dissatisfaction will just move on to a different body part .

MissBarbary Mon 03-May-21 10:08:33

These photographs are on the Internet so I think it's ok to link them.

Personally I think if any "feminist" adopts a moral high ground about telling this young woman she shouldn't have had the surgery my reaction would be "bore off and mind your own business"

LadyBuffOfBuffdonia Mon 03-May-21 10:19:00

I'm not lecturing, that was not my intention at all. Was just curious about where everyone's line in the sand is.
Two things for me make it a no. My ears stick out and i was bullied for it. I wanted them pinned back but my parents wouldn't let me. I'm glad I didn't as my son has now inherited them and I wouldn't be able to give him the message he was beautiful if I had had them done.
The other thing is Ds might need surgery for motility down the line. Not everyone who has his issues has it done and there's obviously a risk. I feel very upset when I think of him having surgery. So I find it difficult that anyone would do it for a cosmetic reason.
I think it's ok to have an opinion on things even if it differs from others.

OP’s posts: |
Branleuse Mon 03-May-21 10:25:01

A boob job is not a feminist act.
Having visibly and noticeably unusual or damaged breasts and not giving a shit is likely much more of a feminist act than having surgery on them, and its good to talk about the implications of the pressure young women in particular are under to look and feel 'sexy', but its also reductive and unhelpful to pick apart womens reasons too much, without also maybe looking at the pressure young feminists can be under to eschew all beauty treatments and parts of the whole cultural mating dance type stuff when a lot of people get a lot of confidence and pleasure out of it too.

Ive actually had breast surgery quite a few years back due to my breasts ballooning so much in pregnancy and then shrinking. I hated them so much that it began to consume me, almost dysmorphia. Did I have a responsibility to normalise sagging crinkly breasts to other women? Did i have a responsibility to stay natural?
I dont think I did or do, but I dont push an artificial look as standard to others either, but I actually feel slightly ashamed of the fact ive had them in some circles, and yet for the most part, its just improved my own body image so much in a very private way and has not led to further surgeries or fixation on anything else.
I sometimes feel annoyed that breast surgery is seen as anti feminist yet teeth straightening or scar removal or certain other surgeries dont have the stigma.

MissBarbary Mon 03-May-21 10:27:59

I said "hectoring" rather than "lecturing".

You were prescribing what you considered acceptable and anything beyond your prescribed list was vanity.

If your son wanted surgery would you refuse it?

baldafrique Mon 03-May-21 10:28:01

Surely if your son is highly likely to be bullied for having sticky out ears then exploring surgery with him would be the kindest thing to do?

baldafrique Mon 03-May-21 10:29:31

I know a woman who was constantly bullied and abused for the size of her nose - by strangers - life shouldn't be that way but many people are absolute dicks. I think she completely made the right decision having a rhinoplasty before her self esteem was even more shattered and her mental health twatted.

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