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On the Cutting Edge:. Cosmetic Surgery & the Technological Production of the Gendered Body by Anne Balsamo. Some Statistics. 90% of all cosmetic procedures are performed on women, 10% on men. 87% of Caucasians undergo some form of plastic surgery

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On the cutting edge l.jpg

On the Cutting Edge:

Cosmetic Surgery & the Technological Production of the Gendered Body

by Anne Balsamo

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Some Statistics

  • 90% of all cosmetic procedures are performed on women, 10% on men.

  • 87% of Caucasians undergo some form of plastic surgery

  • 6% of Hispanics (less than 1% of total population)

  • 4 to 5% of African Americans (0.5 % of the population – an increase, since new scar prevention technologies)

  • 3% of Asian(0.1 % of the population)Health Column 5/9/2005http://www.s2smagazine.com/CONTENT/healthcolumn/healthcolumn02.asp

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What is “gender”? How is it different from “sex”?

  • Balsamo says that even though gender is cultural, we tend to “naturalize” it (mistake it as being “natural” or “biological” (686).

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Gender Behavior as Performance

  • Judith Butler describes the gendered body as “a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance” (686).

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Feral Children (approx. 100 known)

  • Victor – raised by wolves when his family was murdered and found at age seven in Southern Russia by oil explorers – was never able to learn human behavior or language.

  • Kamala (8 years old) and Amala (18 months old) -- raised together by wolves in India. Amala died during the attempt at socialization, but Kamala lived and became fairly socialized.

  • Their physical bodies became much more adept at running on all fours—even after Kamala was socialized and her limbs retrained, Kamala would drop to all fours when she needed to run fast.

  • Oxana Malaya from the Ukraine was able to learn human behavior and live a “normal” life after being raised by dogs from age 3-8.

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An Experiment

  • For the next three days, walk around assuming that gender is a performance. What observations are you making about people’s behavior?

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Why perform gender at all?

  • If it’s expensive, painful, and time-consuming, why do it?

  • What are the consequences of refusing to perform or failing to perform to expectations?

  • To what extent are expectations regional? Class-driven? Etc.?

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Article’s central question:

  • What effects do biotechnological advancements have on culturally constructing the body? On gender?(685).

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Examples of Technologies Used to Reinforced Gender

Padaung women of Burma

  • The goal is often to increasefragility / instability of women(considered sexy) and strength in men

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“The Ideal Female Face”

  • White, Western

  • Nose: “The Model Triangle”

  • Source: The Nose ClinicJohannesburg, South Africa

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African Nose

  • African Noses (and those of other ethnicities) do not have the “model triangle”

  • Balsamo points out that Black faces are evaluated in terms of proportionsdetermined by the measurement of the Caucasian form (689)

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“Asian Rhinoplasty” “restores” balance?

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Asian Cosmetic Surgery

  • “Our goal is to enhance your appearance, while preserving your cultural identity. We never try to westernize the Asian face and body through cosmetic surgery. Instead, we aim to help our Asian cosmetic surgery patients attain harmony and balance.” www.asiancosmeticsurgery.com

  • Left: the procedure still known as “Westernization blepharoplasty”for “Correction of the Asian Eye”

  • Also, Asian Rhinoplasty, Jaw Reduction, Calf Reductionhttp://www.asiancosmeticsurgery.com/html/beforeandafters.html

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African-American Cosmetic Surgery

  • “. . . the goal of plastic surgery in African Americans is to enhance the natural beauty that brings out our individual ethnic traits.”(Unable to find web photo of before and after)Health Column 5/9/2005http://www.s2smagazine.com/CONTENT/healthcolumn/healthcolumn02.asp

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“Designer Vaginas” (vs. FGM)

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The “Medical Gaze” (read 686-C)

  • Carole Spitzack says:. . . the physician’s clinical eye functions like Foucault’s medical gaze; it is a disciplinary gaze, situated within apparatuses of power and knowledge, that constructs the female figure as pathological, excessive, unruly, and potentially threatening. This gaze disciplines the unruly female body by first fragmenting it into isolated parts—face, hair, legs, breasts—and then redefining those parts as inherently flawed and pathological. When women internalize a fragmented body image and accept its “flawed” identity, each part of the body then becomes a site for the “fixing” of her physical abnormality.

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Cosmetic Surgery: 3 Mechanisms of Control

  • Carole Spitzack suggests that cosmetic surgery deploys three main mechanisms of cultural control of the female body (686). What are they?

  • 1) Surveillance

  • Foucault model

  • 2) Inscription

  • (pathology & fragmentation:the female body is always seen as flawed and “needing repair”--691)

  • 3) Confession

  • (woman admits she is in need of surgery)

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“Divining” Truth (687)

  • Is age a disease?

  • Breastfeeding requires “reconstructive” surgery?

  • Anthropologists discovered that not all cultures view an adolescent body type as preferable / sexy.

  • Balsamo says the body is no longer thought to hold its own truths; “truths” become technologically constructed.

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Men vs. Women: Cosmetic Surgery Representation

What are some of the differences?

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From Cosmetic Surgery Consultants, London

“. . . cosmetic surgery is not necessarily all about desperate attempts at repairing faded glamour, but often essential in dealing with difficult health problems. With this shift in opinion, men in the UK have particularly benefited, taking a newfound confidence to the exploration of what cosmetic and plastic surgery can do to enhance their lives and, most importantly, improve their health.”

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Physical qualities as Signifiers

  • Quote on p. 692:“ . . . the meaning of the presence or absence of any physical quality varies according to the gender of the body on which it appears.”

  • Signification is largely determined by the power structures that socialize us

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Flesh Markets?

  • Balsamo’s conclusion: Gender (and ethnicity) norms are being marketed by the medical profession as “corrections” of medical conditions.

  • What drives the trend of the medical community to pathologize non-Western features?

  • Are there conflicts of interest when the medical community profits from pathologizing a healthy body? Is it an abuse of power?

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Questions to Ponder:

  • When people say: “I’m not doing this for other people—I’m doing it for myself,” is this even possible? Are there choices we can really make “for ourselves?”

  • “That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility.”

    (Judith Butler, Undoing Gender—3).

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  • Altar-ations

  • Pieces of Herself

  • Polystyrene Dream

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