This season, bandages are the new black

TV shows, films and now fashion magazines are dedicated to the latest style – plastic surgery

Emily Garber

We watch the TV shows: “The Swan,” “Dr. 90210” and “Nip/Tuck,” to name a few. We notice the gossip columns in People and Star magazines, speculating about whose breasts are fake, whose nose used to be bigger.

We’re obsessed.

Thanks to the media, we crave plastic surgery. The practice has gone from taboo to everyday, from an operation to a fashion statement. Department store aisles no longer offer us the beauty products we truly crave.

Whoever thought cutting up your body could be so stylish?

Beauty is only Skin Deep

The magazine Skin Deep declares itself to be the “ultimate resource to look and feel your best.” In short, it’s a magazine almost completely dedicated to the latest trends in plastic surgery. The St. Paul Student Center bookstore sells Skin Deep on its bookshelves, right next to People and Cosmopolitan.

The emergence of Skin Deep, and similar magazine New Beauty, demonstrates just how fashionable surgery has become. And it hints at the changing ways we perceive our bodies. The body no longer is just a canvas – it’s a slab of marble. And depending on how much money we’re willing to spend, we could be the next Michelangelo’s “David.”

Because it follows the exact same format as any other fashion magazine, Skin Deep claims that changing your body is like changing your shirt. Information on the newest procedures, just like eyeliner or the season’s best swimwear, can be delivered to your doorstep for only $29 a year.

“I suspect the increase in titles simply reinforces the growth of plastic surgery itself,” said Gayle Golden, a journalism instructor. Although she doesn’t know precisely why the demand for plastic surgery magazines is increasing, she said, “the publishers see a market and an ad base for it.” Surgery is trendy.

The testimonials in Skin Deep certainly reflect this growth of demand.

“Marianne” wrote a testimonial called “Lip Obsession” for Skin Deep, chronicling her search for the perfect pout. She was desperate, and wrote, “I must have more lips!” Just as other women might cut out magazine photographs to bring to the hair salon, Marianne described bringing in pictures of Pamela Anderson on operation day to show the doctors what she wanted.

And Marianne’s exaggerated grammar, lack of a last name and blurry profile shots suggest that Marianne might not really exist at all, except in the mind of a Skin Deep editor.

The issue of a doubtful source pops up in another article called “What Men Think about Breast Implants.” It’s a four-page spread with statistics, testimonials and horribly sexist photographs. In the entire piece, there’s only one reference to a woman who was unhappy with her implants – but no direct quote from her. There are no last names at all; the only true attribution is for the author of the introduction, Rebecca Cat Ridder. She’s listed as a plastic surgery patient and “Patient Advocate.”

It could be that this isn’t a magazine, but just one big news release. None of this matters, of course, in a sales-driven world.

“What Men Think about Breast Implants” is also a fine example of the articles one could find in Skin Deep.

One of the men surveyed, Vance, said, “I will always take implants over the real thing.” Another, Art, defends the practice, saying “look at the great works of art – paintings, sculptures, etc. – and the breasts look more like implants than natural breasts anyway.”

Like most fashion magazines, Skin Deep offers plastic surgery advice from a male perspective – it isn’t uncommon to find a list of ways to please your man in bed in Cosmopolitan or Jane. Plastic surgeons make up a majority of Skin Deep writers, and 13 out of 17 of them are men. But, of course, the magazine is marketed to women.

“Women have always been associated with the body, with the material,” said Kysa Hubbard, a graduate instructor in the department of cultural studies and comparative literature at the University. “It makes sense that plastic surgery is a gendered practice.”

In Skin Deep male doctors talk about the usual: face-lifts, tummy tucks, nose jobs.

But sprinkled inside are a few gems.

One doctor suggests surgery to remove the bone in the pinky toe so women can wear pointy shoes more easily. It’s modern-day foot binding. Hot.

Another surgeon describes a procedure to reduce the “ethnic” appearance of Asian eyes. A couple of pages after this article, there’s a feature on a Euro-Vietnamese restaurant owned by seven attractive, but unnaturally Caucasian-looking, Vietnamese women.

Anyone catching on yet?

“There are so many racialized forms of beauty,” Hubbard said. “An overwhelming goal of plastic surgery seems to be the Caucasianizing of women,” be it through nose jobs or face-lifts.

It’s curious to think how this magazine found its way onto campus – and if anyone actually reads it.

Gopher News, a magazine and book distributor in the upper Midwest, is the St. Paul Student Center bookstore’s supplier.

Skin Deep “just arrived one day,” said Chris Larson, the store’s manager. “I bet (Gopher News) saw we sold a lot of Glamour and Vogue or something. Maybe they’re trying to figure out what our consumer is like.”

Maybe readers grew weary of lipstick and jeans and wanted something that cut deeper.

The body is a playground

We’re told the body is our canvas and our temple. Jeannette Martello, a board-certified plastic surgeon and Skin Deep’s editor says in the magazine, “You have only one face, one body and one life,” so you should be content with it – or change it until you are happy.

Hair dye, makeup and control-top pantyhose all fit this idea of self-determination.

“Our body has become a playground,” Hubbard said. “The ways in which we modify our bodies aren’t attached to any sort of historical context anymore.”

We supposedly do it for ourselves, but we must get the idea from somewhere.

“We don’t know who we are without the other’s approval,” Hubbard said.

Skin Deep promotes plastic surgery. Makeover shows push the idea of self reinvention. And the attention women with large breasts and perfect bodies get from the world doesn’t hurt, either.

Magazines like Skin Deep, which claim to promote beauty and happiness, actually promote the desensitization of plastic surgery, Hubbard said. The practice is, in the end, just “extreme violence of the body,” she said, just like anorexia and bulimia.

“Anorexia and bulimia in a way come from a level of self-dislike,” she said. “But they also come from the desire to control the uncontrollable,” just like going under the knife.

What more can we do?

Skin Deep’s cover photo does not look airbrushed. But everything else, from the preview of the article “Lip Obsession” to the expression on the cover girl’s face, is artificial.

The model, Carol Alt, is sucking in her cheeks and pouting her lips. A fan stands behind the camera, attempting to make her hair look naturally windblown.

Although the plastic surgeon who wrote the Alt article called her a “natural beauty,” we know better. Her eyes are not piercing green – they’re colored contacts. And her lips definitely are not that shade of pink.

It only makes sense then, in this culture of self-improvement, that plastic surgery is the next step. It’s quite obvious that Alt has had work done. You can see it in her crooked nose and uneven eyebrow arches. After all, eyeliner and lipstick can do only so much.

Yet in the search for perfection there always will be something left lagging. “The more technology we have, the more problems we’ll find,” Hubbard said.

The media enforce plastic surgery now, but there’s no sign of when the pressure will stop – or go too far, if it hasn’t already.

On the cover of Skin Deep, the white of Alt’s eyes are yellowed, and her timeless skin is flecked with age spots.

She really should do something about that.