We’re Supposed to Look Like What?!

Kaitlin Schuler wrote a beautifully eye-opening post about the way women are portrayed in the media.  It serves as my inspiration for this post, which partially responds to hers and partially takes this issue into different territory—Photoshop and plastic surgery.

Something in Kaitlin’s post that immediately grabbed me was her statement, “The way women are portrayed by the media is not something I ever questions.  And I should have a long time ago.”  I thought this was so powerful, and I fully agree.  The only times I’ve thought about how women are objectified were in classes that required me to think about it; once those times passed, it slipped my mind yet again.  I, too, was fortunate to grow up in a very supportive family.  For years I ran cross country and played soccer, and I always felt pretty confident about my body.  I had never given the pretty women gracing magazine covers much thought at all.

That made finding out that one of my closest friends was bulimic even harder.  I couldn’t understand how she could feel like that about herself.  She was gorgeous and had an amazing gymnast’s body, yet she wasn’t satisfied.  It made me so sad—and still does—that girls and women feel like they should be held to such impossible standards.

It reaches beyond women though, as men are often sexualized in the media, too.  I wish you could all see the tweets on my timeline from when the Calvin Klein underwear ad ran during the Super Bowl…girls objectify guys too, to say the least.  But I remember watching a video in class one time where they went through the Photoshopping of a male model.  They literally relocated his nipples to make his pecs look…better?  That was the goal anyway.  They made his muscles larger, his jawline more defined.  And let me tell you, he was hot to begin with—there was no need (in my eyes) for any of that.  It is ridiculous that the people we look at and think “Wow they look great” are not good enough for the media—they must be poked and prodded with the various tools of Photoshop.

I find it so inspiring when celebrities release their original, un-Photoshopped photos to send the message that there is no “perfection” and that they, too, are normal people with flaws (flaws that wouldn’t even be considered flaws to most of us).  Buzzfeed had a really interesting page of gifs comparing pre- and post-Photoshop pictures.  Check it out.

In addition to Photoshop—the virtual side of things—there is also plastic surgery.  This is where things get a little dicey.  While I agree that there is a problem with the objectification of our bodies, I find that I have become much more accepting of people undergoing cosmetic procedures.  Does this make me wishy-washy?  A hypocrite?  I’m really not sure.

This probably has to do with the fact that I shadow a plastic surgeon, and he is someone for whom I have immense respect.  Yes, he performs breast augmentations and facelifts.  He also does his best to fix the sometimes gaping holes left from skin cancer removal, rebuild breasts (and confidence) following mastectomies, and provide the best care for his patients, whatever their needs may be.  Plastic surgery tends to carry a negative connotation, as people often picture the over-the-top, botched surgeries we see on TV, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  The people I see coming into the office—men and women—see something they don’t like about themselves, and they want to fix it.  They aren’t asking to be “perfect” and they aren’t hoping to look twenty years younger.  I don’t mean to say that I am in favor of everyone going under the knife to fix any and everything, but I certainly don’t hold the same negative feelings towards plastic surgery as I do towards the media’s obsessive use of Photoshop.

I think it has something to do with the media’s objectification of our bodies and the inexorable tie to Photoshop.  Photoshop creates ideals that are impossible.  Plastic surgery can help to change things, but it is never perfect and it doesn’t make that claim.  It is also true that in this part of the country, plastic surgery tends to be less extreme—I’m sure I would feel differently in L.A.

I think what it really comes down to is building confidence in people and making sure that the choices they make about their bodies are well-informed.  There is a difference between wanting to change something about your look and idolizing an unrealistic image of “perfection.”  Understanding that there are so many pictures of beautiful is the first step.  There shouldn’t be a standard for beauty, especially one so unrealistically created by throwing images at us everywhere we turn.  I heard a quote from an anti-bullying video that recently went viral, and it really stuck with me: “If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.”

I’m curious to see what everyone thinks about all of these issues.  There are definitely a lot of ways to look at these problems and how our society handles them.  What do you think?

4 thoughts to “We’re Supposed to Look Like What?!”

  1. Melissa, I really liked your points about plastic surgery in this post. While I do think that no physical “deformity” needs to be surgically corrected, some people gain some confidence when they can get something fixed that has bothered them for a decent amount of time. I have a friend that had a dark mole on her face her entire life, and when she got to college she had made the decision that she did not want it anymore. I felt it defined her, but once she got it removed, she turned into a much more confident woman and it was important that she felt comfortable in her own skin. Sometimes people need that, especially with things like mastectomies that completely change how a woman has looked for most of her life.

    However, I do feel that the extensive use of Photoshop in the media has a direct correlation with the amount of plastic surgery going on in today’s world. The media creates these ridiculous images for both men and women that causes a lot of people who may not have had the most supportive upbringing to go under the knife. I loved your line about there being so many different visions of beautiful, because it’s true and I wish the media would acknowledge that. I know some companies like Dove are trying to (with their Real Beauty Campaign), but it is not nearly enough. Like T said in class, I really do think that this is an issue that women and men need to be aware and proactive about.

  2. Thanks for the thought provoking posts, girls! I definitely agree with what both of you are saying. I think that over-edited magazine covers set unrealistic expectations for women (and men), and define “beautiful” as something unnatural or unobtainable.
    I’ve never really been opposed to plastic surgery. I think that if someone is insecure about part of their body, and they want to have plastic surgery, then they should be able to. No one would tell a woman who has had a mastectomy that she shouldn’t have reconstructive surgery if she’s insecure about her body. A woman with small breasts might also feel this same insecurity. Who are we to tell her that her motivation for wanting a surgery isn’t “legitimate”? There is a fine line here, and it certainly is not mine to draw.
    While I’ve always felt pretty confident about my feelings on plastic surgery, before reading these posts (and comments), I’d never thought about the connection between photoshopping and cosmetic surgery. I definitely agree that if magazine covers stop photoshopping covers and show real women (and real men, too) then maybe we’d see fewer people who feel so insecure they want surgery.

  3. I think this is a great topic of discussion. My aunt is a plastic surgeon. She became a plastic surgeon because when she was little, her mother was in a horrible fire that scarred her face and body with severe burns. She had some reconstructive surgery, but her face was never completely back to normal. My aunt made it her mission to be there for patients like these–people who had been through severe traumas and wanted their lives, (and their faces/appearances) back. And one of her top priorities has always been to be very honest with her patients, even in the consulting phase. As expected, women come in every day and ask for breast implants. My aunt says she is honest with every patient about the risks of the surgery, the expenses, the “needs” to operate, etc.

    I think it must be interesting for plastic surgeons to have two very different primary groups of patients that they operate on: 1) those who really “need” it, and 2) those who simply “want” it. It must be a surreal experience to operate on a patient whose biggest problem is that they just lost everything in a fire, only to turn around and operate on a patient whose biggest problem is that they really wish they wore a slightly larger cup size bra.

    Don’t get me wrong–I judge no one for their decision to get cosmetic plastic surgery if it makes them happier. It’s a tough world out there- looking your best and feeling your best makes it a little less tough.

  4. “The only times I’ve thought about how women are objectified were in classes that required me to think about it; once those times passed, it slipped my mind yet again”. What you said speaks directly to me. I only find myself pondering on the thought of how women are treated in the media when I have to: have to read blogs that express the reality or have to take classes that focus on topics of femininity in its social mind. This is sad, and you should see my face as I’m actually typing this right now. I feel hurt. Not because the women whom are portrayed in the media have no complete control over it, but because I finally feel that the media is portraying me as well. Since when did we decide what we wanted to look like in the media? Since when did we as women say, “oh, yes, all of the great things about women, I can relate to, but the horrible, negative things, NOW that, has NOTHING to do with me”. Wrong! It does. It has something to do with all of us, and no matter how much we deny, forget, or blow off the topic of negative portrayal of women in the media, the more we’re digging holes for ourselves to climb out of. We’re distancing ourselves from who we connect to. Our races, religions, class statuses, are all being portrayed when we see a photoshopped version of our favorite singer or comedian. Our education, successes, and beauty tips are hindered when we watch our favorite actress be modeled in such a way that takes from who she is. I know I’m rambling, and may have gotten just a tad bit emotional with your first paragraph, but I think that the only way to remember what we’ve learned about this topic is to somehow connect with it. We have to see ourselves in these women, even if don’t want to. We have to pick up the pieces where the media has cut out. We have to stand up for our races and ethnicities. We have to come together as women, and I think this is just what your and Kaitlin’s blogs are doing.

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