Summary: It’s easy to look at celebrities undergoing plastic surgery and poke fun. After all, they’re celebrities—they sign up for a certain amount of public scrutiny. The problem is that those same judgmental attitudes will inevitably also apply to the woman typing “best Milwaukee plastic surgery” into Google. In other words, it’s difficult enough for plastic surgery to escape the grasp of damaging stereotypes without plastic surgeons themselves coming out after every red carpet to evaluate the effectiveness of this celebrity’s blepharoplasty or that celebrity’s facelift. The patients of plastic surgery deserve better than that.

Plastic Surgery Attitudes Haven’t Changed Enough

In the wake of the mostly negative and judgmental reactions to Uma Thurman and Renee Zellweger, both of whom stepped out into the spotlight looking a bit different from their usual selves recently, has made me realize something about plastic surgery. We haven’t come as far as I thought we had. It’s not necessarily that conjecture over this celebrity’s plastic surgery or that celebrity’s Botox should be off limits. But as was the case with both Thurman and Zellweger, there seemed to be a particularly negative association with the conjecture, even though many plastic surgeons were themselves consulted. What Zellweger and Thurman couldn’t shake was a sense of “Why did they do that? They looked beautiful before and now they don’t.”

Which is, as I said, judgmental. And now comes news that a Vatican report has essentially called plastic surgery, “a burqa made of flesh.” A burqa, by the way, is a face-covering robe worn by women, in particular women of the Muslim faith. Putting aside for a moment the general religious insensitivity of this term (indeed, there are many women who are quite fond of their burqas), the phrasing is quite, well, grotesque. And it’s meant to illustrate plastic surgery as something that is oppressive and restraining. We think the Vatican’s basic idea was that plastic surgery is a symptom of a world where all women are pressured to look alike.

The Plastic Surgery Attitudes of the Vatican

Of course, the Italian version of this message was delivered by an actress, who herself looks like that stereotypical “one woman,” and who is herself married to a plastic surgeon. The irony should be, well, palpable. So the message is problematic. But I’m still afraid it’s one that resonates with a lot of people. Those who get plastic surgery, to many, seem shallow, stupid, and vain. They seem to be blindly following the social norms.

Of course, if you talk to any patient of plastic surgery, that’s not even close to reality (and plastic surgeons will generally back that up as well). Thank Goodness for the article in The Daily Beast a week or two back called, “We Need to Shut Up About Plastic Surgery.” In this article, Grace Gold does an excellent job of defending plastic surgery and an even better job as painting the judgment generated by plastic surgery as the real oppressive force here. Gold, in her article, articulates how she simply wants control over her body. She’s not particularly taken with the argument that such a desire for control constitutes being oppressed by social pressures—or, rather, a kind of mindless following along. Gold acts with agency, and that, of course, makes a huge difference.

Combating Damaging Stereotypes

Of course, you’re free to disagree with that. But it’s hard to dismiss the notion that many plastic surgery patients—both men and women—feel compelled to keep their procedures quite secret. For men, it can lead to a kind of questioning of their masculinity (even though most of these procedures are designed to enhance masculinity) and bring with it allegations of femininity—the kind of “only girls do that” nonsense you thought was left behind on the playground. For women, it can be worse, with the admission of having plastic surgery conjuring judgments of shallowness, stupidity, and vanity, if not selfishness. It doesn’t matter to those doing the judging what the actual reasoning may be, and this can be especially damaging in, for example, the work place.

All of which is a long way of saying that I think we can’t forget to keep fighting for a change in attitudes. Plastic surgery is an immensely popular set of procedures. Millions of people undergo these procedures every year (and according to a recent survey, even more people are actively pursuing such procedures). Which means that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss. As a society, we’ve got to keep working on that. It’s okay that it’s not perfect right now—it probably never will be—but we’ve got to keep working.

Plastic Surgery is All Up to You

So the next time that some celebrity undergoes plastic surgery, and you’re tempted to say something like, “why would she ruin her face like that? She was beautiful before,” think twice about it. Those kinds of statements are shaming in nature (and, frankly, the same could be said about anyone undergoing plastic surgery). It’s important to remember that plastic surgery isn’t about looking good to anyone but yourself. It’s about meeting personal expectations of beauty, and no matter what we might think about Uma Thurman or Renee Zellwegger’s new look, we should remember that our opinion doesn’t really matter. What’s more important is how they feel about themselves.

The same will be true of your own plastic surgery. Whatever people say—the only thing that matters is how you feel with your own results.

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