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My money goes back in the bank

by Tink 

Posted: 23 February 2006
Word Count: 1531
Summary: a critique of an article I had to do for a class! Wondering if it was any good!

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My money goes back in the bank.

Critique of ‘The Price of Perfection’.

Celebrity scandal, vanity, reconstruction, re-building, personal, social, illness or injury, how do we view cosmetic surgery and why do we do it? I have often debated the merits of cosmetic surgery. I have wanted fuller lips, thinner thighs, a flatter stomach. Was this the quick fix answer I was looking for? After reading ‘The Price of Perfection’ by Robin Henig my money will be put to better use.
Published in the May-June issue of Civilization in 1996, the article focuses on cosmetic surgery and cultural “beauty” practices. Focusing on the female form, the article merely alludes to men, we are provided with historical and cultural accounts of the lengths women will go to in order to be considered “beautiful”.
It is worth noting here that Henig has written in depth about self-identification, cosmetic surgery as mutilation, adoption, public health and child rearing. This knowledge is beneficiary as throughout the article she alludes to facts not deemed common knowledge, or facts that have never been proved, “Cher even went to the extremes of undergoing surgery to remove two perfectly healthy ribs- and so accentuate her tiny waistline.” (59) Despite that these facts have not necessarily been admitted or proved Henig still includes them in her article. Our background knowledge of her writing suggests that she has researched her facts in order to site them. This is effective as we believe the facts that she uses to inform us regardless of reference.
The article mainly concerns female “mutilation” and “beauty”. It may be because as a woman Henig finds it easier to relate to her own gender, or it may be that throughout history it has mainly been women that will go to extremes in order to be considered “beautiful”. One possible argument for Henig’s use of predominantly female examples in her article is that she is trying to persuade not only her female readers that surgery and cultural practices are not necessary to “beauty” but also the male readers. She is arguing that there are standards that men place upon women that push us to do more to be beautiful. One such story that would support this theory is that of Chinese feet binding. From the age of five, a woman’s foot would be bound in half so that she would have small, dainty feet. In actual fact it ended up cutting off the circulation of blood to the feet and, in some cases, caused death. One woman who survived this terrible practice suggested that their culture told them that “no one wanted to marry a woman with big feet.” (60)
“While cosmetic surgery is increasing among American males, it is still primarily the providence of women, as is the self-loathing that often results in women who fail to look the way they believe they are supposed to look.” (61) We must take into consideration that this article is ten years old. In our society today we are far more aware of the horrors of plastic surgery. We are presented with the ugly scars of celebrity ‘surgery gone wrong’ and we are also more aware of the male self-image. It is thought that 10% of eating disorder cases these days are men ; ten years ago we may not have had this information. It is thought that men are less likely to discuss or admit to eating disorders and self-harm issues than women, this may be because society asks men to be ‘tough’ just as it asks women to be “beautiful”.
This article is rich with implied opinion. It is the language that Henig uses; “endanger”, “crippling”, “corrosion”, “mutilation”, and so on, that show us that Henig is obviously against surgery. It has been argued that her use of opinion makes it a bad piece of writing. In my opinion it makes the writing all the better. The question is would you rather read an article that has been written with opinion and passion or an article that has been constructed without enthusiasm and predominantly for a paycheck? Henig’s use of personal opinion makes the article more interesting to read and, again this is purely personal opinion, actually engages the reader to form their own views on the subject. The language does imply that Henig is trying to write persuasively however, personal readings will differ and therefore it would seem that every reader will come away from the article with their own view. Henig’s argument is constant and does not contradict itself.
Despite the opinions, the article is very informative. For example, Henig refers to various cultures in order to discuss the perception of “beauty”. As well as the previously mentioned Chinese foot binding, Henig also refers to; Mangbettu infants whose heads are wrapped in giraffe hide so that their heads form a cone-shape which is considered a “sign of beauty” (55), and the Burmese tradition on neck stretching, this is done by placing brass rings around the neck in order to create an elongated neck, again seen as beautiful (61). We are informed not only of these practices but also the dangers. In regards to the Burmese neck stretching, it causes the necks to become “too weak to support the heads” (61) meaning that if the rings are removed, (and there can be up to twenty four rings on one woman’s neck) her neck would probably break – causing death .
As well Henig providing us with a cultural education she also provides historic tutoring. The best example of this is that of Queen Elizabeth I who painted her face with ceruse so that she would appear paler, in fact the ceruse actually “ate pits in her skin” (59). What was considered beautiful in that period caused the Queen to ban mirrors from the palace as she could no longer stand the sight of herself. This account is also an example of Henig’s main question, why risk damage in order to be perceived beautiful?
So why do we risk harming our bodies in order to be beautiful? The question appears simple enough, as does the answer. Stop caring about how everybody else perceives you and start caring about how you perceive yourself. In reality, it is going to be a long time before we collectively realize and act upon this suggestion. Also we must consider the reasons that people do undergo surgery in order to, seemingly, better their bodies. What Henig doesn’t really consider in her article is the medical reasons that may influence a person’s decision to obtain cosmetic surgery. Although in her introduction Henig alludes to Cancer, “A small minority of these were cancer patients undergoing breast reconstruction after mastectomy” (55), there is no other place where she justifies surgery. It is important to present a balanced argument sometimes. Henig’s article lacks this balance in order to evoke our emotions more so than our logic. If she had provided some form of counter-argument for surgery, for example nose reconstruction after an accident, then we may have felt better informed logically.
The article is well organized, Henig seamlessly moves through history, various forms of surgery, eating disorders, and cultures. This is done with flawless transitions, one of the most impressive examples being:
“Despite the vagaries of vanity, which has changed the notion of ideal breast size every few decades, one factor has held relatively constant: Most cultures, through centuries, have wanted their women to be slim.” (57)
Henig manages to shift from the topic of breasts to that of anorexia and bulimia by relating the two topics impressively.
It is the last line of Henig’s article that is most powerful, “Maybe the only way for women to look ahead is to banish all mirrors from the palace.” (62) This effective closing statement leaves the reader regarding themselves and the society we live in/ the society and the value of physical “beauty” that has evolved. We are left thinking about how we view ourselves and how we compare ourselves to those around us and those that are portrayed to us in the media. In my opinion, it makes the reader ponder whether Henig makes a valid point. It is a statement that leaves the reader with a sense of empowerment, whether this is short lived or not, that “beauty” may not be as important as society leads us to believe.
‘The Price of Perfection’ is a very powerful article that informs us and makes us consider our own views of perfection and “beauty” through. It will appeal to readers differently depending on their background and accessibility to information on the subject, yet it makes everyone reflect on how they place themselves in our society. Despite the evolution of surgery, it is clear that we are still ‘self-mutilating’ (as Henig would call it) in order to be deemed beautiful. Maybe as technology evolves the risks will lessen and maybe as society evolves we will place less emphasis on physical “beauty”. Maybe one day, as I grow older, I will feel the need to change my body, get the fuller lips, the thinner thighs and the flatter stomach, but for the time being, my money goes back in the bank.

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