Despite recent conversations regarding how beauty has acquired the undertone of body positivity, the number of cosmetic surgeries performed in the United States has increased by 200% in the last two decades. This is no surprise considering the power that social media has over our everyday lives. Now more than ever, there are plenty of methods to transform our appearance, which include thousands of makeup options and plastic surgery procedures to acquire Instagram-worthy aesthetics. However, there is a presumption that this obsession with appearance is rooted in low self-esteem and, for women, being considered beautiful by the male gaze. Therefore, it seems that when a woman decides to tweak her looks, she is lying to or deceiving men. However, the truth may be that the pursuit of beauty has little to do with romance and more with personal success. Good looking people are more likely to be hired and have a higher income than those on the lower rungs of the beauty hierarchy. Human beings are naturally wired to be drawn to beauty, which translates into financial success in a society driven by capitalism. Nevertheless, the general public maintains a love-hate relationship when it comes to “fake” bodies and faces.
The Kardashians are the best example there is when it comes to the debate over what kind of beauty is desired. They have capitalized on their seemingly natural good looks, and they have created careers for themselves based on their beauty. Although it is evident that they have transformed their bodies in order to maintain their profitability and relevance in popular culture, they continue to deny it. Their disembodied limbs are criticized and called grotesque because they have taken the hourglass shape, encouraged by our society, to the extreme. As the Kardashians have taken their faces and bodies to these extremes, they have surpassed our parameters of what is natural, and they have become objects of ridicule. The Kardashians are deemed “plastic” and “fake” as if appearance modification renders them less real. In addition, their use of contour and the silicon distortion of their natural features have diminished the value of their beauty.
Most people would argue that the problem with makeup and plastic surgery is that they promote an unrealistic image of how you should look rather than accepting you for who you are. When arguing in favor of a more “natural” look, the evidence people tend to use consists almost entirely of examples of people who are extraordinarily good looking. The reality is that the majority of the population does not adhere to beauty ideals. Instagram models appear to do so effortlessly, but the truth of an incredible amount of production behind them is always hidden. The natural beauty we are so accustomed to is manufactured. Deep down we know that the bodies we see on Instagram are not entirely a result of squats and they are more the result of fat injections, or that perfect skin is achieved with a little bit of concealer and good lighting. Yet we like to believe in the fantasy these images are trying to sell, while condemning the likes of Kim Kardashian for crossing the line of what can pass for natural. Makeup and plastic surgery allow women to achieve the looks that they believe make them more desirable to society. Unfortunately, the end results of these alterations are mostly received more positively than their original appearances.
Our country loves makeovers while at the same time condemns any kind of artificial form of beauty as “cheating” and rooted in low self-esteem. We like “The Ugly Duckling” story because the duck transforms into a swan “miraculously.” When resorting to tools meant to enhance your appearance, they must be used seamlessly and be intended to emphasize your “natural” beauty. Over-produced faces are constantly criticized and undesired even though long lashes, big eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and flawless complexion are still encouraged. It is a Eurocentric ideal of beauty that feeds in its inherent exclusivity. Makeup is seen as a mask and the process of removing it is presented as exposing your true self, but society does not want the true self — it wants perfection.
Cosmetic surgery is a quick route to reach perfection for most women. Nonetheless, if makeup is discouraged, then the scalpel is prohibited. Countless shows have made a profit on displaying plastic surgery wrecks. Almost as if a freak show, they parade people with body dysmorphic disorder who have transformed their bodies to the point they give the impression of bleeding silicon. Bodies that have undergone extreme surgery are mocked and showcased as lessons for not being able to accept yourself. It is rarely recognized that plenty of people, especially women, have gone under the knife in their never-ending quest to meet unrealistic standards of beauty. Botox, lip fillers, breast implants and liposuction are some of the most popular procedures everyday women, and increasingly men, request. Plastic surgery is not as expensive and dangerous as it once was, but similar to makeup, society continues to look down upon it.
The natural beauty social media and the entertainment industry constantly promote is unhealthy for the general population. The prevalence of makeup and plastic surgery is due to an unrealistic beauty standard. Although social media figures preach body acceptance, they still showcase beauty as a synonym for success. Our society has perpetuated beauty ideals meant to capitalize on our fixation with perfection. Natural is not always the best form of beauty because rather than accepting all bodies, society tends to only accept certain traits. The precise mold of “natural beauty” can only be fulfilled by the few, rather than the masses.
Instead of telling young girls to “accept yourself,” we should start telling them “you are more than your appearance.” It is part of our DNA to be drawn to beauty, but we have superimposed a cultural value to beauty. There is more complexity to human beings than their exteriors. Social media and Hollywood have brainwashed us into believing our worth and our successes are the result of our looks. It is important to realize that those depicted by social media and Hollywood are just glamorized versions of our society. Beauty is meant to be aesthetically pleasing, but it is not meant to define one’s worth or success in everyday life. More than anything, we need to remember that our bodies are intricate machines that are meant to do so much more than just to be stared at.