We all know what the basic premise of plastic surgery is: to change your face.
To look better, and to look more beautiful. Or, at last, to look more like whatever the definitions of those words are in your eyes.
But for some people, looking ‘better’ and ‘more beautiful’ also means fulfilling a Westernised beauty ideal.
For some, plastic surgery isn’t just about changing your face – it’s about changing your race.
Removing distinctive racial features is an increasingly common request for plastic surgeons, and has been dubbed ‘de-racialisation’. The topic was explored in a documentary on the SBS earlier this week, and followed Chinese-Australian actor and television presenter Anna Choy as she tried to find out why so many Australians are going under the knife in an attempt to become more “Aussie looking”.
It appears that even in a multicultural society, “Aussie looking” means one very specific thing: Tall, tanned, blonde, and white.
‘De-racialisation’ is now a booming industry in South Korea, where one in five women will go under the knife. In the Gangnam district (yes, like the song) there are over 500 clinics where women can go to change their appearance to a more Western ideal.
In a country like South Korea where beauty is highly valued, whether a woman has had plastic surgery can be seen as an indicator of whether or not she is ‘trying’ – and can even affect employment opportunities.
The procedures available also go far beyond your standard nip and tuck. Choy talked to cosmetic surgeons in the country, who gave her an idea of the procedures they might offer her.
They included: skin bleaching, extreme facial contouring and double eyelid surgery, and calf reduction. Because, as one cosmetic surgeon put it, ‘Asian women have shorter and thicker calves than Western women’.
Women will shave whole centimeters off their jaw, in order to have a more heart shaped – and Western looking – face.
In Australia – where billboards (and magazines, and our television screens, and… you get the picture) are plastered with images of Amazonian, Anglo-Saxon blonde beauties – there is still a lot of pressure on people who look ‘different’ to conform.
16-year-old Kathy, a Vietnamese Australian, has had eyelid, nose and chin surgery – at the request of her own parents.
There is no doubt that the Western ideal of beauty is pervasive – even those who already fit the mould can feel pressure to change the way they look.
But when this ideal is so all-encompassing that people are willing to have surgeries that will change their genetic inheritance – the cultural history that is told through their face, their eyes, their lips – maybe we need to question why the Western ideal is the only ideal.
Maybe we need to start putting people who differ from the typical “Aussie looking” beauty on our billboards, in our magazines, and on our television shows.
Maybe we need to start promoting all definitions of beauty – not just the one, very narrow ideal.
Are you worried about the pervasiveness of the ‘Western beauty ideal’, and that young women think they must meet it?