Guest post: See the violence inherent in the system
Posted on December 12, 2011
This is a guest post by Polly
A few months back I was sat in the hairdressers and noticed a simply enormous frown line. Fuck, I thought, that looks really terrible. So passing one of those cosmetic surgery lite places I went in to inquire about Botox. Having beaten them down to match the price of somewhere cheaper, I went for a consultation with a somewhat slimy doctor who put me off the whole idea, by telling me how much more ‘confident’ it would make me and basically implying that having 150 quids worth of poison injected into my face would transform my life. I was insulted by this, mainly the suggestion that I wasn’t already full of myself as it was, not to mention his patronising manner, and decided to sack the whole thing off. That and on reflection I didn’t really fancy the syringe full of botulinum/paralysed face scenario.
Yes I am vain, and bothered by “the visible signs of ageing”, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll have to start acting my age if I look it. But hey, everyone thinks I look fifteen years younger than I am anyway, so I’ll do for now. I’m vain but I’m not daft. So my mid youth crisis was resolved by a simple note to self to think beautiful thoughts to avoid me frowning (admittedly hard under the current administration, but I manage by imagining Gideon being forced, Sisyphus like, to fellate Jeremy Clarkson for all eternity. Though Jezza would probably enjoy it.).
Nevertheless, having got hold of my address, the cosmeticians continue to stalk me with special offers. So I can kind of see the point of the muff march. But only slightly.
I decided by myself to have Botox, and then decided by myself not to have it. I am no doubt influenced by cultural considerations, but we all are to an extent. I have for instance several crowns and a bridge, having lost a front tooth. My cosmetic dentistry is partly functional but I don’t want to look like Shane McGowan either – or at least how he looked before he had dental implants. We nearly all modify our bodies to some extent even if it’s just cleaning your teeth and washing.
There’s no way on earth I’d have a facelift though. Or any kind of non medically necessary surgery. Which is why the idea of slicing up even more sensitive bits of your body makes me wince. I can’t imagine who on earth would have that done, and can’t help suspecting that in most cases it stems more from deep-seated personal issues than any kind of outside pressure. Women with obsessions with having a ‘perfect’ body may then take their cue from cultural images to fixate on the appearance of their labia, but I suspect that if they weren’t doing that they’d fixate on something else.
The organisers of the march seem to be conflating several different issues. Voluntary labiaplasty is not the same as female genital mutilation or construction of an artificial hymen to meet demands for ‘virginity’. The second is an out-and-out human rights abuse, and the third is a situation where women are under extreme pressure – usually from immediate family and their close social circle.
But although a large number of women may feel under pressure to remove pubic hair (which I acknowledge) and a very small minority may feel that they have to have labiaplasty (and have the several thousand pounds it costs), I don’t feel that anything is accomplished by portraying these as ‘demands’. Because they aren’t. Any more than there is a ‘demand’ to be size 8.
Cultural influence is not the same as a demand. And all women are not passive dupes, which is where I part company with the muff marchers. Because it really is as simple as just saying ‘no’.
There is little point in whining ‘stop oppressing me’, and expecting 21st century capitalism to take notice, it won’t. The problem with the muff march is that it starts from the position that 21st century western females are powerless in the face of porn and Harley street surgeons and the only possible course of action is demanding they cease their lucrative activities. Of course they’re not and of course they won’t. All it’s doing is just giving the impression they think women are weak and powerless.
The answer to this stuff is to point out what a bunch of extreme bollox (pardon the non pun) it is, or what was called “consciousness raising” back in the seventies. I’m afraid Alison the interior designer may never get the message, but some people are just beyond help. She is unlikely to suddenly get a socially useful job, or stop being an apparently humourless woman with more money than sense, let’s face it. (Ooh I’m in trouble now, the interior designers will be after me.)
It may seem uncharitable but I personally find it pretty difficult to see affluent middle aged women who are obsessed with having ‘perfect’ bodies as victims. I feel, frankly, like telling them to get a grip. I understand that eating disorders are a genuine mental illness, but simply banning pictures of skinny models won’t stop them, because that isn’t what causes them. There’s an issue with young children and advertising images, but that applies to all advertising images, not just images of women. I am, however, not sure that the increasing take up of cosmetic surgery doesn’t have as much to do with the over availability of credit, coupled with social trends towards individualism and narcissism as anything else. In other words, I blame Thatcher.
Women are not helpless infants devoid of critical thinking. Feminists – and the grauniad – need to stop pretending they are and start celebrating strength. How about a piece on the thousands of women who’ve recently joined unions for example? You don’t have to take this crap. You don’t have to sit back and relax. You can actually try changing things.