// The Grey Area Of Body Love and Modification
When it comes to ‘body positivity,’ I think everyone is tired of hearing the phrase. However, it has been heavy on my mind when we discuss the rise in plastic surgery and the shame associated with having plastic surgery or the judgment we dole out to women who choose to go under the knife to alter their bodies in some way.
There is a side to surgery that is seen as the noble option, such as reconstructive plastic surgery over strictly cosmetic. We also like to presume that if women have plastic surgery they must know how to love or accept their bodies as they are.
So the real question becomes can women who get plastic surgery be body positive?
Though I have my own issues with the body positivity movement and think there is more to be learned when we speak of body love and self-confidence, let’s back up for a second and discuss what body positivity is and isn’t. The body positivity movement started as a way for marginalized bodies that were not seen in mainstream advertising or marketing to stand up, be seen, and say, we matter, too. Representation matters, and always will when we are talking about the diverse range of sizes, shapes, colors, and weights bodies come in. Especially for women, who are consistently told that “there are an infinite number of things that can be ‘incorrect’ on a woman’s body,” as Tina Fey stated in her book, Bossy Pants.
Body positivity has recently fallen out of favor as it became a catch-all for any and all bodies, and social media set up a forum for true examples of body positivity but also for socially accepted normal bodies to hop onboard because of cellulite, a side roll, or some stretch marks. It seems the original message has lost meaning for many involved, but there is still worth in trying to make with our own bodies.
Body modification becomes an issue in the body positive community before surgery every exists, with some posts proclaiming that they no longer go to the gym because they have accepted their bodies for what they naturally are or how miserable they were trying to get abs. I agree that going to gym solely to alter the body because you think you’re not good enough without abs isn’t a healthy place to begin, though I do not think being strong, capable, and having shapely toned body parts is ever going to be bad. As I mention later, the real issue is deeper than the body, and we have to ask ourselves what we are working out for, be honest about that process, and know peace comes from within. Also, as someone who values health, along with a sound mind, it is hard for me to think a person who works out “isn’t body positive” because their weight or shape might be (and probably will be) altered by exercising and proper nutrition. Strength training has actually been found to increase confidence in women and yoga was the only place I learned I was not my body. Yoga has a way of stripping away the idea we are our physical forms, and more so shows us what we are capable of, physically and mentally. And yeah, you might get a tighter core and stronger arms in that process.
Plastic surgery is a special space though, that we are fascinated by. We love to know who had work done and place some moral bounds on who has had surgery and what that means. Who is good, who is bad, who is honest or inspiring or not all because of what they choose to do to their own bodies. Part of body positive movement revolved around the idea ‘this is my body and I can do with it what I want.’ If plastic surgery makes someone feel better about their body, is that not also positive? Body positivity also deals with not shaming others for their bodies. Mull that one over as we continue this discussion.
My issues with plastic surgery usually come up when people do things for the wrong reasons. When you believe your worth is solely in your body or appearance, or that you will only be lovable or worthy if and when you look a certain way, you will forever be disappointed. Confidence and self-esteem are inside jobs. I also think when we place these potentially crafted bodies above our own or aspire to something that isn’t obtainable or doesn’t even exist, there are real consequences to how we feel about ourselves. Surgically enhanced bodies selling work-out programs are even more problematic. The lack of transparency in many of these situations continues to perpetuate the lies media tells us about what bodies should and shouldn’t look like, how to be ‘better’ through physical means, and why our worth is only in our bodies anyway.
When I originally addressed this topic, I was aware my following thought I was going to come down on plastic surgery and champion for accepting your body as it is, flaws and all. I am a huge believer of real bodies and how beautifully crafted they all are. I’m also a believer that we should be able to do anything we want to our bodies if it makes us feel better, including cosmetic surgery. More so, I believe we should stop obsessing about our bodies and the bodies of others. I wrote at length about my desire to stop the obsession with body here, but it never really caught on in any meaningful way as we are still so hardwired to value the visual, and bodies fall into that category.
I am no stranger to plastic surgery. My plastic surgery story is one that centers around identity and healing. Though I have always been hesitant to even discuss it as by telling my story it seems as if I’m looking for a way to justify or make peace with my own plastic surgery while still damning or shaming others for theirs. However, I tell the story below to challenge you to look at how we all judge people who have had plastic surgery without knowing their stories or reasons. If I ever said, ‘yes, I had my boobs done,’ the instant retaliation would be how can you champion real bodies and have altered yours? The lens through which we see others is often skewed by how we judge ourselves and our own insecurities, projections, or unresolved issues.
For those of you who do not know, in my teen years, I had a life-threatening eating disorder that affected my health and body in serious ways. I was restricting and making up food-related rules for myself from the age of 10 or so when my friends told me I was fat, but the real issue was my feeling that I lacked control in my life, and took all my issues out on my body. Years later, around age 14-16, things hit a breaking point. I was 84 pounds at 5’ 8”, my heart was failing, and I had developed osteoporosis and osteopenia. The eating disorder also stalled all female development; meaning menstrual cycles stopped and any development in terms of breasts or hips. Everything stopped as my malnourished body fought to stay alive. After a stint in inpatient treatment, where we dealt with my real issues of depression and anxiety, my weight came back to a healthy place, but my hormones never really caught up. It was not until I was almost 30 that things returned to normal. The lifelong health effects of an eating disorder aren’t always talked about, nor have all eating disorders manifested so heavily, but just because someone looks healthy or is in recovery, does not mean damage has not been done internally.
Story time continues as I was in my early 20’s and made a self-deprecating joke with my step mother that the only way I would ever have boobs was going to be if I bought them. Her response, from a place of superficial desires and the assumption that everyone gets their boobs done, suddenly made something I had not thought about as an option, a reality. Though going through with the procedure was another matter. I spent hours speaking to my therapist. I cried. I debated. I journaled. I had fought to accept my body and learn I was more than a body, yet the way my breasts were reminded me of nothing more than being sick and all those years I spent going to bed and not knowing if I was going to wake up. Nothing about stalling your development felt healthy nor did having to move into the world feeling like an adult but struggling in training bras. I was sickened by the way my stepmother viewed a boob job as a rite of passage and I was there trying to make sense of who I was as an adult woman and what that meant.
Months of research later, I found a doctor who treated my concerns with care and sensitivity. I viewed the procedure as reconstructive and willed myself to go through with it. There was no new boobs party or whatever other types of celebratory things they do on reality tv shows when people get ‘fixed’ by plastic surgery. It was done, and I continued with my life as the person/woman I knew I was without having to be reminded of my eating disorder days so relentlessly by my own body. End of story.
My experience is my own, but the psychological work that was done before and after had everything to do with it. The same goes for people in the trans community who seek out body modification as a means to feel as they are inside. Cancer survivors, trauma or injuries, and numerous other things call into question how we judge cosmetic surgery and body positivity. Can any of these people not be body positive because they have had plastic surgery? Can I not be body positive because I had a breast augmentation? Does the rest of the work I have done to accept my body as it is and continue to live a balanced life where there are no diets and no body bashing habits disappear in the wake of my breasts? I think not.
The biggest takeaway I can offer for this topic is that you have to have these conversations with yourself. You have to know why you want to opt for plastic surgery. Explore the underlying issues, and make peace with your decisions, even if it is solely to chase outward validation through the physical. I also think we have to show the compassion and some discernment in how we speak about other’s bodies in general and what they choose to do with them.
In the end, body confidence and body love go far deeper than the physical. The mental games we play with ourselves day in and day out are generally a reflection of our environments, family of origin, peers, societal messages, and even trauma, mixed all together. Plastic surgery has been made to seem like a quick fix to greater problems and super normalized by popular culture. Body positivity has turned into an underwear photo shoot, and people are still obsessed with their bodies and beauty above all.
So can people who undergo surgery be body positive?
But is it also time we ask greater questions of ourselves, the basis of our judgments, and even the movements we subscribe to?
Being confident and self-assured, while being a woman, is hard enough. I encourage you all to lead out of compassion, for yourself and others, and be the change you'd like to see. That is bigger than plastic surgery, bigger than bodies, and yet serves us all in far greater ways.