Overwhelming amounts of people spend most of their lives passing. Whether it is closeted homosexuals or first generation immigrants, many minorities suppress personal identities in hopes to pass as normal. I find it interesting in our discussion on Monday that these forms of passing were absent from much of the conversation. Even though the articles focus primarily on forms of cosmetic surgery, concepts of social and cultural passing should be considered as well. Kathy Davis describes the common reaction to the idea of ethnic cosmetic surgery as an uneasy feeling. Discussing eyelid procedures to create a ‘westernized’ look or skin bleaching to blend better with white America creates a tension between racial identity and individual identity. I have taken several classes that focus on racial identity and how many minorities have assimilated into American culture. Since taking these classes I have begun to notice countless ways the ‘other’ is forced to assimilate. In many parts of Appalachia, religious and racial minorities are shunned to the periphery of society. There is an expectation among many people that an American should speak English and practice Christianity. This idea falls on both sides of the political spectrum. I am not sure why passing culturally is not viewed with the same sense of uneasiness as passing because of cosmetic surgery. Both concepts can allow for social mobility and alleviate forms of suffering. Some might argue that surgical passing is a permanent change or health hazard but I would argue that assimilating into the cultural norm is just as permanent and hazardous. Many first generation Mexican immigrants avoid teaching their children Spanish in hopes that they will have more assimilated childhoods. Not only does this create an inability in communicating with other Mexicans, there is a loss of culture knowledge, which is replaced with normative American ideals. Should that not make us just as uneasy? Of course, both of these issues are critiques of a greater societal problem and not a critique on the individual. I think Davis’s argument that cosmetic surgery is a negotiation of one’s identity encompasses all forms of passing. Davis writes, “‘passing’ may not be so much about rejecting blackness (or any other marked identity) as about rejecting an identification with blackness that brings too much pain to be tolerated” (87). Therefore, passing is not a matter of appearance but rather a matter of societal and political problems.
Although I talked about the idea of passing, it is hard to discuss cosmetic surgery without discussing appearances. What types of procedures are normal in our society? While technically not a surgery, many youth go through the painful process of dental braces. In many cases, braces are purely cosmetic (although my experience with braces corrected a severe bite issue). We value straight teeth. In class, people expressed their aversion to pain as it relates to a cosmetic procedure. To put it simply, braces hurt! Years of metal ripping through gum as it slowly realign your entire mouth is somehow seen as an acceptable cosmetic procedure. Moreover, this is an expensive process that is limited to middle and upper economic classes. I think Davis’s critique of passing in Western society is accurate in that negotiating an identity allows for social mobility and a rejection of personal suffering.