Everything, now. Recently I have been watching Ryan Murphy’s Nip/Tuck while simultaneously reading Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Although one is a contemporary television show and the other is a dystopic sci-fi trilogy (turned tetrology), they both have an underlying theme: body image and plastic surgery. I may also be about 10 years behind on both of these, but they still hit hard.
In case anyone else has been living under a rock, Nip/Tuck is about two plastic surgeons who live in Miami, Florida. And like any good series, both surgeons are in the business for two different reasons. Christian Troy is the sexy one, who sleeps with insecure thirty- (or forty- or whatever- really) somethings to bring in business while Sean McNamara is the do-gooder family man who only wants to help people be the best they know they can.
Now I never watched this show when it was on because of what it was about. Two male plastic surgeons red-penning mostly women’s skin, pointing out each and every one of their imperfections. Even worse, they have scenes dedicated to the surgeries. I don’t do well with fake blood, and Ryan Murphy does not embellish or leave anything out. Unfortunately for me, the first time I watched, I was eating some cheese pizza. So while I am enjoying my meal, scenes of cutting up people’s faces, breaking nose bones with hammers, and sucking fat from stomaches blotched my computer screen causing me to immediately lose my appetite. Well, not lose my appetite, but did make my pizza a bit less desirable.
Half of the surgeries they do are for young, already beautiful women who don’t need any work done. As for most of the men who want surgery, it’s nine times out of ten so they can get laid (e.g. third nipple removal, moob removal, circumcision, penis enlargement…). Although they do do some pro bono work, most of their cases are for unrealistic wants, showing how crazy some people can be in going under the knife. One episode, they did a breast reduction for a woman who had Dissociative Identity Disorder (or split personality disorder) and one of her personalities was an eight-year-old girl who was the gatekeeper to the 20+ other identities she had and wanted them reduced so she wouldn’t be picked on. And if she didn’t get it done, she would unleash the floodgates of crazytown upon Miami.
I know that these are supposed to be unrealistic to keep the show interesting, but come on. And when a serial rapist starts cutting up models and beautiful people, the wonderful doctors at McNamara/Troy decide to fix the beautiful people’s faces pro bono! But when a severely depressed and overweight woman asks to get The Swan treatment done before her high school reunion, they tell her she’s too unstable and refuse her the surgeries. Although it did end with her killing herself, I feel like giving her some kind of surgery — even if it was something small — could have helped her with her dilapidating self image.
And seeing all of these people cut themselves up for a straighter nose, bigger boobs, or facelift really gets me thinking. But more importantly, watching what is actually done to a person when they get a facelift or liposuction really makes me never want to do any of those things ever. And the fact that they start almost every episode with them asking their client what they don’t like about themselves really can be damaging to one’s self-esteem.
Moving on to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, we meet fifteen-year-old Tally. Tally is ugly in her society’s eyes. But like all boys and girls before her, she can’t wait until she turns sixteen. Because that is when she gets to be pretty. In Westerfeld’s series, when you are born, you are a Littlie until you are twelve. Once you’re twelve, you are taken away from your parents and move into Uglyville with all the other Uglies. But when you turn sixteen, you are allowed plastic surgery to turn you pretty. And then you get to move into New Pretty Town — which is basically a giant party at Pleasuretown. But when Tally meets Shay, a girl who doesn’t want to turn pretty, her world changes. And when Shay runs away and Tally is threatened with never turning pretty if she doesn’t help find her, what is she to do? Betray her new friend or risk never being what she has waited her entire life for?
I think Scott Westerfeld suffers from writing brilliant works too soon for their time. Uglies, as well as his series Peeps, just misses other literary trends. He missed the dystopic boat by about three years with The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies; Peeps, a novel about humans contracting a virus that turns them into cannibals — like vampires — although published the same year as the Twilight phenomenon was glossed over. But Uglies has real-life issues buried underneath the sci-fi world that still rings true. Our society now has their ideas on what is beautiful. Just open any magazine or watch any television program. These ideals are subliminally flashed upon us like a scene from A Clockwork Orange almost daily. The fact that it makes news when companies such as Dove and Aerie have ad campaigns using real women without photoshop says something about what our society pressures are. And Uglies has a fifteen-year-old protagonist who at first wants nothing more than to get plastic surgery. Girls shouldn’t have these body-conscious insecurities at such a young age. And since I believe young readers usually read novels that have older protagonists, twelve-year-olds were subjected to these ideals.
But where Westerfeld diverts from social norms is when Tally learns about what being pretty really does to you. Being pretty doesn’t only change the way you look outside, but your personality as well. The surgery makes you easily manipulated and controllable. You become vapid, lazy, and entitled. Which in a way, isn’t it kind of like that now? Hasn’t Dr. Drew Baird and The Bubble from 30 Rock taught us anything? How many pretty faces have to call a tennis racquet a fart and a woman who correctly plays tennis a bitch until society stops being lenient on pretty faces? Even now with the most recent “hot” James Franco hitting on a seventeen-year-old girl incident. How nonchalantly society forgave him because he’s attractive. When coincidentally, just a year ago my old high school teacher was arrested — and sentenced 10 years — for having sexual relations with a student who was at the time a minor.
As usual, I digress, but in the Uglies series, once Tally discovers what becoming beautiful means, she does everything in her power to stop it. Although I am only halfway through the series now, it was tough for me to read the first book. Tally does make a complete 180 in her ideas on body image and self-worth, but in the beginning it was heartbreaking to read. Listening to how Tally’s society functioned — giving Uglies nicknames pointing out their imperfections such as Nose, Skinny, or Squints — was too much. The idea of a good time for Tally as an Ugly was taking selfies and scanning them into her computer so she could play with her face, and see what kind of changes she could get with her surgery. I just felt that it was so close to accurate for today.
While watching Nip/Tuck and reading Uglies, I couldn’t help but think about myself. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am no supermodel. To quote Mindy Lahiri, the second half of my Liz Lemon/Mindy Lahiri spirit animal, I fluctuate between chubby and curvy. And growing up in this fluctuation was difficult. Constantly being reminded of my size by media, peers, and even family didn’t help my self-esteem. For years I coped with food, which only made it worse. Now I accept my love for food, and try to use portion control instead of comfort eating.
Besides, I like who I am. Sure, I could lose a couple pounds, but that’s doable. With controlled diet and exercise — as well as a complete brain switch for that matter — I can do it. I have done it. But my big butt and bump in my nose makes me who I am. My spoon thumb and stubby legs are not ideal, but they’re mine. Because I love myself, I love my imperfections. And what makes them imperfections anyway? They all come together and combined with who I am on the inside, make me who I am. So by my standards, there is never anything wrong with that.