Plastic surgeries are turning people into freaks.
At least, that seems to be the prevailing sentiment directing the recent discourse on cosmetic surgeries. Both Mary McNamara's recent piece in the LA Times and Mimi Spencer's piece in The Guardian say it: too many plastic surgeries are making people look weird. And readers agree. McNamara's piece engendered so many responses that she wrote another piece about the responses - which ranged from expressions of relief and gratitude for her willingness to finally discuss the elephant on the TV screen to knee-jerk responses like this one from "Frank:"
I think the shows, movies and media should humiliate and lable these cosmetic surgery freaks to encourge that you have problems if you change your apperence. They should point out that those people are fake. All the shows are doing is encourging comsmetic surgery buy not pointing it out to the public. [sic]
It's this kind of response that misses the point. Humiliating people, labeling them as freaks and weirdos, insisting that their appearance adhere to one culturally determined norm - all of these behaviors are what led us down the plastic path in the first place. Elective cosmetic surgery rates only skyrocket among people desperately afraid to be "freaks," "weird," "fat" or "ugly," and we can only try not to be those things if we know what they look like - and if our culture relentlessly tells us that they are us. Rather than let the discourse devolve into simple binary oppositions - ugly vs. beautiful, freak vs. normal - we need to see that setting up those binaries is what causes the damage.
As McNamara acknowledges, our discourse needs to move beyond the gotcha of "did she/didn't she? So much of this discourse assumes that surgery is simply a matter of a woman's choice in an environment that endeavors to remove her choice in the matter altogether by casting beauty (specifically, the kind achieved through cosmetic surgery) as health, thus casting aging, or its visible signs, as sickness or disease - which of course can be "cured" through cosmetic surgery. Physical idiosyncrasies or deviations from the ideal are also recast as congenital defects (viz. the's approval for breast augmentations for under-18-year-olds "in cases of congenital defects, including asymmetry") which can also be "cured" by surgery.
Perhaps rather than seeing these people as freaks, we should see them as wearing our culture on their sleeves - or more accurately, on their faces and on their chests. They quite literally embody our culture, having imbibed it and inscribed it on their skins. Far from being freaky, their behavior can be seen as a reasonable response to a culture of static categories, the romanticizing of perpetual adolescence, an inevitable result of exposure to ubiquitous airbrushed images and a capitulation to advertising's constant refrain of consumer inadequacy. Overdone plastic surgery patients like Priscilla Presley aren't weird; they're the pitiful result of all of the above. What's weird is a culture which denies plurality, mindlessly pursues profit and condones the constant promotion of an unattainable standard at the expense of our health and our selves.