Can Plastic Surgery Really Be a Feminist Decision?

Despite major societal shifts in attitudes towards plastic surgery and more body positive movements rising up in recent years, a woman often has to ask herself a number of guilt-laden questions when considering plastic surgery.

Am I doing this for the right reasons? Is there such thing as the right reasons anymore? What will my friends and family think? Does Googling questions about breast augmentation make me a bad feminist?

As the feminist movement continues to evolve and recognize its shortcomings over the various waves (the exclusion of women of color in leadership positions within the movement, slut-shaming, the exclusion of sex workers, and the acceptance of trans women), the conversation around plastic surgery falls within the larger discussion around bodily autonomy.

Additionally, there is more awareness around the idea that certain physical attributes and choices aren’t what make you a feminist, per se. For instance, wearing high heels or makeup doesn’t make you a bad feminist, and neither should plastic surgery.

The Right Reasons

Of course, most people will focus on the why behind the surgery. Am I doing this because I’m succumbing to the patriarchal beauty ideal, or am I legitimately doing this for myself? How can I actually know if I’m doing the latter but telling myself it’s the former?

In most cases, the women who actually go through with a plastic surgery (versus just think about it) are doing so for the right reasons.

“In my conversations with patients, I hear patients express their desires,” wrote plastic surgeon, Dr. Anu Antony in her article, In the Defense of Plastic Surgery as a Feminist Choice.

“Some wish to restore that which cancer took away. Some want to defy their genetics. Others want to undo the effects of pregnancy on their body. I have yet to hear a woman say she is acquiescing to societal demand for perfection.”

It can be helpful to consider the frame of mind a given person is in when they find themselves thinking about plastic surgery. Is it only when they’re feeling low and insecure? Or do they think about it when they picture themselves strong and happy in the future?

The COVID-19 Zoom Boom

Right now, a record number of both men and women are considering plastic surgery for the first time. A recent survey of 1000 people that had never had any sort of plastic surgery revealed that a startling 49% said they were open to getting their first-ever plastic surgery. If we look back a few years ago to 2014, a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that only 17% of respondents were in favour of plastic surgery, and 49% were flatly opposed to the idea.

What happened? First, COVID-19 struck. Then, most of society was forced to work from home and dial into video calls every day. And then, we all started to really hate how we looked on Zoom calls. This has had a very tangible impact on the plastic surgery industry that has been dubbed the Zoom Boom. 70% of surveyed plastic surgeons have reported an increase in business during the pandemic lockdown, with over 80% of those respondents attributing the growth to The Zoom Boom.

Both men and women are filling plastic surgery clinics across North America right now. However, there is no denying that men don’t have to deal with struggles on the same level as women, despite body image pressure being very real among many men. They don’t have to wrestle with the societal implications of their nose job or liposuction, and aren’t judged in the same physical way as women are, generally speaking.

Within the larger conversation about the need for greater bodily autonomy, as well as the dismantling of harmful societal and patriarchal norms around women’s appearances, isn’t it time that women are allowed to feel empowered (not ashamed) to make this choice for themselves?

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