I agree with Tina Fey. Beauty is not synonymous with white. I certainly understand that there are historical and social motivations for some to pursue a more “westernized” look, and I understand that beauty standards at times do mean “white”. But measures people pursue for beauty is a problem that cannot be reduced to race. If what Fey says is true, that beauty has become an amalgamation of ethnicities, then everyone could be deemed ethnic/racial traitors for wanting what the other has. The white woman is not exempt. Judging solely by appearance, I am a white girl. Besides faint freckles and hairiness there is little about my looks that indicate any sort of ethnicity besides white girl. When I cover my freckles with makeup am I betraying my irish heritage? If I bleach my mustache am I saying that my distant puerto rican ancestors are somehow an inferior race? Or do both of these self-inflicted alterations suggest that I am trying to conform to ideal beauty standards? Personally, I feel strongly that it is the latter. In 2011, it is acceptable, even celebrated, to have a Jamaican dance hall ass. It is not acceptable to be hairy. Beauty seems to have the more powerful hand. To suggest that alterations to the body indicate racism, or devaluing one’s own ethnicity, diminishes not only the power of beauty ideals, but also the ethnic pride present in many individuals.
In “Surgical Passing: Or Why Michael Jackson’s Nose Makes ‘us’ Uneasy,” Kathy Davis discusses what medical professionals call “ethnic cosmetic surgery,” or surgery that eliminates racial markers, and the apparent unease that it causes in comparison to plastic surgery that does not have any racial links. She argues that “politics of the body cannot be reduced to either gender or race,” which is I think her most important point (85). Reasons behind seeking cosmetic surgery can come from multitudes of places, but it seems that ultimately they represent an intent to change one’s identity by becoming less ethnic, less scared, more successful, more feminine, etc. It all depends on which aspect of oneself the patient deems least desirable. In the end, all of the reasons are tied to ideas of beauty. I don’t feel that any of these reasons should inspire less unease than the next.
Davis seems to agree with me on this. Cosmetic surgery is an uneasy topic all around. She acknowledges exclusionary ideologies that spur the uneasiness associated with ethnic cosmetic surgery, but makes sure to end with a comment on cosmetic surgery as a whole. She says, “our inability to sympathize, our lack of concern, or our numbness toward any individual or group embarking on the ‘surgical fix’ may be equally worth our critical attention” (87).
Most women change things about themselves. Whether it is achieved by means of surgery, cosmetics, diet, hair dye, hair beads, exercise, piercing, jewelry, or eating cornbread (for that Jamaican dance hall ass apparently) it changes the natural state. The heavy hand of normalized beauty is the culprit. As we said in class, can you blame the victim?