modified bodies



anthony bourdain quote

When I think about Dolly Parton, I think of someone who knows who she is, likes who she is, and cares about doing good in the world.

I think about Dollywood. I think about unnaturally large breasts on a tiny woman, and sunshine-blonde hair teased up to the heavens. That boisterous, jovial, irreverent twang.

I don’t think of someone who hates herself.

But I think that self-hate is probably something that a lot of people who are interested in liking themselves tend to think about when they hear the words plastic surgery. And Dolly Parton has had a lot of plastic surgery. As she herself says,

“If I see something saggin’, baggin’, or draggin’, I’m gonna have it nipped, tucked or sucked.”

This post by Kate of Eat the Damn Cake is what started me thinking on this in the first place. 

Thinking, that is, about the conception, in some circles, that one cannot possibly like oneself and undertake voluntary, non-”medically necessary” surgery, to make oneself look more conventionally beautiful.
But what constitutes medical necessity? And who gets to decide?
Is breast reconstruction after cancer okay?
What about cosmetic reconstruction after severe facial injuries?
Breast reduction to increase physical comfort?
Breast reduction to free oneself from relentless teasing?
Breast reduction to ease back pain?

If it’s not my body, it’s none of my damn business.

For each of the above items, I have an immediate judgment, so quick I can’t even catch it, about which of those surgeries imply self-hatred, and which do not. I then notice those automatic thoughts and remember that it depends on the person and the situation. And also the fact that, if it’s not my body, it’s none of my damn business. (That’s my feminist take on the matter. And I’m nothing if not a feminist.)
Depending on our culture and our viewpoints, we can form opinions about whether or not we find each of these procedures acceptable, palatable, justifiable, or necessary. Our opinions multiply quickly, wrapping like ivy around the facades of our bodies, creeping outside our own space, onto others.
What about the other ways in which we permanently or semi-permanently change our bodies? In some communities tattoos are the norm, while plastic surgery is generally taboo. In others, plastic surgery is expected, and tattoos are seen as disrespecting one’s body.
Because of who I am, where I live, and what I value, I unknowingly assume that most people get tattoos for reasons that have to do with liking themselves, not hating themselves. I enjoy seeing other people’s tattoos, and hearing the stories behind them. (I particularly enjoyed this piece on Lisa Congdon and her ink. And this one, about Helen Lambin.) Other people see tattoos as brands of self-hatred.

I wonder:

What about things like hair removal? Does it mean you don’t like yourself if you remove hair from your body? Or does it mean that the preferences of the mainstream culture in which you live are worth some pain? Or both?

What about dying your hair? Does it mean you hate yourself if you prefer something less natural than what grows out of your scalp? Or do you just like variety, or bright colors? Or is it, honestly, far more complex than that?
How about pierced ears? Pierced noses? Pierced tongues?
Are bikini waxes a sign of self-hatred? (They certainly feel like it to me, but that is neither here nor there.)
What about wearing makeup? What about trying to lose or gain weight? What about lifting weights to become stronger?
I don’t have any answers today. None at all. In fact, I think I have far more questions than when I began.

I’d very much like to hear what your take is on all of this.

Do you feel that certain body modifications connote self-hatred? Have you modified your body in a way that helped you to like yourself more? Or less? How do you feel about the body modifications of others, and how do you feel about the fact that you feel that way?

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