This post was written for the society series, a collaboration between Kat and I. Please check out Kat’s latest society series post for a really interesting and thought-provoking topic. I also just read a really wonderful post by Kelsey, who was awesome enough to participate in the series. The point is to get conversations going, so comment away! If you’d like to do a society series post, let us know. For more information on what the heck it is, read here.
When I read that a former Ms. Argentina had died from complications suffered during a seemingly routine gluteoplasty (i.e. butt implants), I was shocked. She was a mother to 7 year-old twins and a stunningly beautiful woman who had beaten out hundreds of other woman in a country that takes their beauty pageants very seriously, to become Ms. Argentina.
It is not unusual for Argetinian beauty queens to have plastic surgery prior to competing for the title of Ms. Argentina, or even Miss Universe. Surely, I thought to myself, if she thinks that she isn’t close to perfection already, then there truly is no hope for the rest of us.
Mostly, I wondered why this beautiful young woman, who, in her thirties, continued to model, and then opened her own agency, would want to alter her body in such a way. Perhaps it was cultural pressure, perhaps the Argentinian proclivity for cosmetic “enhancement” is to blame, perhaps it was her own struggle with her body image. While we can never know, I can’t help but speculate. Was her children’s loss of their mother worth a rounder backside? What would possess a woman of such dazzling physical qualities to undergo elective surgery of this sort?
Argentina, as well as much of Latin America has high rates of plastic surgery. One out of every 30 Argentinians has gone under the knife, and Argentina is one of the least expensive places for cosmetic surgery, making medical tourism a large industry. One could argue that this obsession with beauty and perfection is a cultural norm. Go to the Island of Tonga, however, and big is considered beautiful. The bigger you are, the more desireable, revered and worshipped. Being obese is seen as a sign of high social status and wealth. In Samoa and Polynesian culture, in general, the same norm exists- big is beautiful. It’s a sign of prosperity, as historically speaking, Polynesian kings were very obese. I will say, though, that these cultural norms are in no way exclusive to size. In Africa, tribal markings with tattoos and in some instances, scarification, have served many purposes and served as another cultural norm.
I want to talk about this idea of “normalcy.” What, exactly, is normalcy? I will spare you the statistics explanation. While normalcy is a somewhat relative idea, technically speaking, it is nothing more than the greatest average number. Anything failing to deviate far from this average, is defined as normal. Something like 70% of Americans are overweight. This has become a norm. I am certainly not condoning this. I am merely illustrating a point.
With this definition in mind, I wonder how, exactly, thin and anorexic models have become the aspirational norm for Western society, an influence that has far reaching affects. Western beauty standards are seen by many global societies as ideal. Asian women have blepharoplasty surgery to create eyelids and a more Caucasian look. A big deal is made when BMI minimums are imposed on models, but designers continue to insist that their clothes just won’t hang right on anyone bigger than a twizzler. Fashion magazines continue to employ primarily stick thin models and expect applause and accolades when they use a (plus) size 8 model once in a blue moon.
This illusion that it is normal for a woman to look malnourished or defy normal body proportions is in direct juxtaposition to reality for most women. Many are led to buy into a false norm. Whether or not we know what is “normal” or what the average woman looks like, we still continue to buy the fashions, struggle with our bodies, compare ourselves to each other and what we see on TV, in the magazines, etc. I think that many women have lost sight of what we should or can be because of what we are aspiring to.
What if we threw out this model? Why do we have to aspire to any “norm?” Why do we aspire to look like anyone? If we know that it is unhealthy to aspire to either extremist end of the skinny/fat spectrum, when will we acknowledge that just taking care of our bodies and letting them be what they were born to be is what we should be doing? Is this even possible?