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Davis, California

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Column: Paper bag or plastic?

During last Thursday’s episode of “Good Morning America,” a seven-year-old girl from South Dakota got her four minutes of fame. She didn’t rescue her baby brother by calling 9-1-1 or have a dog save her from a burning building.

The first grader was followed around by a camera crew to document her plastic surgery. Because she posessed a set of ears that stuck out, called “cup ears” (think Will Smith or Kate Hudson), and a right ear that folded over, her parents wanted her to have her ears surgically reshaped. Like any loving parents, they didn’t want their daughter to be bullied due to her appearance.

Over the last decade, the number of minors getting plastic surgery has increased by 30 percent. Some parents find it cruel to give up an opportunity to save a child from years of possible ridicule. Other parents might think it would be irresponsible to put your child through the physical pain of recovery and the risk of having surgery that doesn’t have a strictly medical purpose.

How we treat cosmetic plastic surgery can say a lot about our culture. 55-year-old Cindy Jackson, who holds the world record for having had the most cosmetic procedures performed on her body, wants to look “natural.” As a part of a seemingly endless quest to look younger, her 52 different procedures, 14 of which have been full-scale operations, have cost her $100,000. When an ABC News reporter told her she was messing with nature, her response summed up feelings pretty well: “Nature messed with me, so I don’t have any problem messing with nature.”

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Lady Gaga going on a tirade against plastic surgery in the May 2011 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. When the interviewer asked her about the new bone-like horns that she sports on her cheekbones and forehead, she defended her new look as artistic expression.

“I have never had plastic surgery, and there are many pop singers who have. I think that promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification,” said Gaga.

Is the choice to get cosmetic plastic surgery a question of curing insecurity or reinforcing the ideas of perfection and the disadvantages of being ugly? A recent survey by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery shows that America is split on this question. Fifty-one percent of all Americans approve of the use of cosmetic plastic surgery. In the United States last year, almost 9.5 million cosmetic procedures were performed.

I personally don’t see the point of cosmetic procedures that are performed without a medically pressing reason. Facts of life: we all look different and we all get old. Embrace your giant forehead and your crow’s feet. If you’re going to get botulism, at least get it from some tasty food instead of from too many Botox injections.

But I hold this viewpoint without having ever been picked on for having “odd” ears or having difficulty finding glasses due to an “odd-shaped” nose. Our culture sets a norm for everything: straight teeth are normal; blemish-free skin is normal; having webbed feet or six fingers on one hand makes you a freak. Most people get cosmetic surgery so that they can finally be “normal” or even “beautiful.”

In a perfect world, we would all accept each other for what we looked like. There would be no “Plain Janes” and the word “ugly” would only refer to personalities. But alas, we are still stuck in the pre-utopian present. Cosmetic surgery is possibly on its way to becoming the new norm.

Going through a few days or a few weeks of painful recovery in order to avoid years of being self-conscious makes sense to some people. If your career is reliant upon your looks, spending a few thousand dollars to keep up your appearance might make you money in the long run. The decision to get surgery is a personal one, full of a variety of factors.

I think it all just boils down to happiness and comfort. If standing out in a crowd isn’t your thing, then go get those pre-mature wrinkles removed. If you want to blend in with the people around you, be proactive and make your nose smaller. I’ll be the one perfectly content with what my momma gave me.

After dissecting a pig in high school, CORRIE JACOBS decided that she would never be a surgeon. Tell her she made the right choice at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.


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