That culturally defined notions of aesthetic are on shaky ground is attested by recent trends in cosmetic surgery. Once a preserve of Caucasian Americans, recent years has seen more and more blacks go under the knife. To an extent, popular TV shows such as Fox’s The Swan and ABC’s Extreme Makeover have shaped this trend. The influence of these shows is such that many Americans no longer think twice before visiting a plastic surgeon. Even blacks have joined the bandwagon, whereby they get “nipped, tucked, injected, peeled, plumped and plucked in an effort to preserve their youth, turn back the clock or change the face and body that time, gravity and genetics have seemingly abandoned.” To illustrate, in the year 2002 alone, there were “375,025 Black cosmetic surgery patients, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the largest plastic surgery organization in the world. Last year, that number jumped to 487,887–an increase of about 30 percent. They were among the more than 8.7 million Americans who reportedly had cosmetic procedures last year.”
Interestingly, the fastest growing market is that of black men. Black men, who had traditionally endorsed a carefree and macho approach to their looks are now undergoing a transition in attitude. So cosmetic surgery is no longer a secret affair not to be discussed openly for fear of ridicule or censure. It is spoken about freely among black families and friends. Previously, black Americans feared cosmetic enhancement for fear of coming out looking ‘too White’ or ‘too Caucasian’. There was also the issue of ethnic fidelity and pride. Elder members of the community felt that the surgical option is a symbolic rejection of one’s original ethnic identity. While this sentiment is still in currency, attitudes are slowly but surely changing, much to the prosperity of the $8.4 billion strong cosmetic surgery industry.
Hence, what we witness from the Chinese, Arab and Black American experience of recent decades is the serious threat to ethnically understood standards of beauty. Even worse, the rampant advertising and campaigning on part of cosmetic surgeons has created a feeling of inferiority among people from minority communities. So much so that people from Asia and the Global South are made to feel “aesthetically and even biologically inferior to white females”. In the postmodern, postcolonial, progressive of today, skin color continues to remain a privilege or burden depending on what its tone is. In this superficial milieu a fake tan scores higher than an authentic brown skin. Then there are “those flat noses, or big fleshy ones; thick lips (considered gorgeous on Scarlett Johansson but not on Whoopi Goldberg); short necks and legs; apple and plum shapes. What a lot of uglies we are, so far removed from the perfect womanhood of Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren.”
It is high time that men and women paused and thought critically about what is sweeping aside their traditional understanding of beauty. If they devote some time to critical thinking, they will realize that their changes in aesthetic sensibilities are more a function of money-muscled marketing campaigns and low self-esteem than any real substance. Once they realize the absurdity and superficiality of pop cultural currents, they will gain moral strength to appreciate time-tested and socio-historically informed idea of beauty – something which is more enduring and meaningful than consumerist fads.
• Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin. “Why Does Self-Hatred Afflict So Many Non-White People?” The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2009. Print.
• Davis, Kimberly. “Why More Blacks Are Choosing Plastic Surgery.” Ebony, August 2004, 100+. Print.
• Meyers, Yuvay Jeanine. “Skin Tone as the Signifier of Race: The Effect of Consumer Ethnic Identity on Targeted Marketing.” Academy of Marketing Studies Journal 15, no. S2 (2011): 77+. Print.
• Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun. “”Loveliest Daughter of Our Ancient Cathay!”: Representations of Ethnic and Gender Identity in the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Beauty Pageant.” Journal of Social History 31, no. 1 (1997): 5+. Print.
• Zohny, Josephine. “Sometimes, I Straighten: My Journey with My Hair Has Shown Me How Much Ethnic Identity Is Entangled in Aesthetics.” Colorlines Magazine, Winter 2005, 5+. Print.