The idea that you would wish to transform yourself physically for purely aesthetic purposes makes many feel uncomfortable. To me, however, it seems as if ambition itself is under fire.
Personal makeover is commonly seen as a desirable if not vital activity for the individual to engage in. It is a global industry with countless theories, techniques and proponents. Whereas previously, us westerners trusted religion, education and philosophy, we now have methods like neuro-linguistic programming, emotional intelligence and meditation. I would explain this as a move from the acquisition of knowledge to the manipulation of the subconscious as the basis for personal transformation.
No matter what its shortcomings or benefits this shift to the manipulation of the consciousness may have, it does allow the idea that personal change is both achievable and beneficial. The new ‘mind' based approach, however, has at its heart a contradiction that appears to encourage the sentiment that bodily change (in this case, our external appearance) is undesirable.
A substantial number of new strategies and approaches that address personal transformation have at their heart the notion that one should ‘be yourself'. The idea that there is such a thing as an irreversible self that the individual should adhere to, is fundamental to the incongruity that is present in the concept of personal change. So, on the one hand, we are encouraged to take personal transformation to our very essence and on the other be ‘true to ourselves' and keep this ‘genuine' self pristine.
To change or not to change? That is the question.
This puzzle to personal change is often played down by critics of the personal transformation industry. I strongly believe that it is essential in clarifying why cosmetic plastic surgery is frowned upon. When we apply personal transformation to the body, in the form of plastic surgery, we are immediately inconsistent with the notion of ‘authenticity'.
A Negative Self Image?
A good example of the negative thinking towards the benefits of cosmetic surgery that seems to originate from the authenticity dilemma highlighted above, is that of ‘Self Image'. It is often believed that if I choose cosmetic surgery then my sense of self worth is too closely tied to that of my physical appearance and that, consequently, is a negative thing. Having a self image that is married to my physical looks is viewed as vain or shallow.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our (comprehensible) disapproval of the individuals that appear on ‘The Housewives of …' programmes that proliferate on day time tv. Accusations of vanity, frivolity and a strong dose of disbelief can not be helped in regard to the show's personalities. At the top of the list of objections, we have the fact that the programme's participants plainly have cosmetic surgery treatments.
I would suggest that ‘The Housewives of' trends covers up the benefits of cosmetic surgery. In parallel with medical science, cosmetic surgery has improved significantly and continues to do so. The procedures continually become more secure, more precise and more adaptable.
A New Attitude to Cosmetic Surgery.
It is fascinating to note that a significant number of aesthetic operations are undertaken to help women regain their figures after pregnancy. Perhaps more significantly, cosmetic surgery has reconstructed women's breast after breast cancer, helped burns victims and those with physical impairments.
I think that the wish for cosmetic surgery is essentially aspirational and is an entirely valid form of self improvement. I feel it is the aspirational aspect to cosmetic surgery that its critics find so vexing. We should stop knocking aesthetic surgery for the excesses of the few and celebrate the benefits of plastic surgery for the modern-day marvel that it is.
Sophie is a writer based in London and contributes to many sites about LGBT issues and self image.