Gaines, Judith. (18, March, 2001). “Body Work.” The Boston
A cannula is a needle-like tube used to remove fat during liposuction. It’s about eight inches long. Of course there are also knives for breast implants, or inking needles for tattoos, and so on. Take your pick. Cosmetic surgery, says Gaines, was a $15 billion industry in 2000 in America – this country’s fastest growing medical specialty. About one in every 28 Americans has upgraded their body via cosmetic surgery.
But that’s just the beginning. Short of surgery, the body enhancement mindset has led to a spa-sanctioned splurge on laser and chemical peels, collagen and botulinum injections, and skin sanding. According to Gaines, “Americans as never before are treating their bodies like works of art, redesigning them to do what nature and nurture have not.”
There are a number of reasons for this, some demographic, some commercial. And the increasingly mainstream acceptance of body modifications seems to march hand in hand with technological advances and the lessening of medical risks. “Appearance is the coin of the realm,” says Gaines. “The body increasingly is treated like a commodity, a casing that can be manipulated to become as attractive as its occupant can afford.”
One demographic catalyst is that the baby boomers are turning 50 (one every 15 seconds), and they have the financial means to get the bodies they want. In 2000, according to the US Census Bureau, boomers accounted for 43 percent of all cosmetic surgery. There has been a fifty percent increase in the number of men opting for surgery since 1992. Also, with fewer medical complications to worry about, and with a promising life-expectancy, more elderly patrons are having work done.
On the procedural side, there are also improvements that make body modifications less invasive and safer. Anesthesiology, laser equipment, ultrasonic probes, and endoscope tubes and fiber-optic cameras have advanced in ways that mean less cutting, less bleeding, less pain, and easier recovery periods.
All of this costs money, to be sure, but the procedures are not out of reach for the middle-class. Gaines reports that 65 percent of cosmetic surgery patients have household incomes of less than $60,000. Surgery has become “an affordable fashion statement.”
Average costs in 2000:
· Liposuction, $2,300 (most popular)
· Breast augmentation, $3,100
· Face lift, $5,135
· Laser resurfacing, $2,400
New domains of the body are also being explored for aesthetic adaptation. Ribs are removed to make waistlines appear smaller. Ears are sculpted. Tongues split. And Gaines notes that among 15-30 year-old women there is a growing demand for genital surgery. Older domains, such as piercing and tattooing, are now receiving an aggressive revival of interest.
Mik Miller, a long-time body piercer who pierces approximately 200 tongues, navels, noses, nipples, and genitals each week, says that with the rise in business there is a loss in ritual. “There’s no mystique anymore.”
Some think the increasing commoditization of tattoos and piercing reflects the globalization of culture and the collapse of class barriers. Others worry that this obsession with the body actually reveals how detached we are from our bodies. Social analyst Andrew Kimbrell observes: “Our over-worked, high-speed lifestyles have severed any relationship between our bodies and the cycles of nature, including our body’s own natural rhythms. Our narcissism, he continues, has “turned us into a nation of body-image ‘junkies’.”
But the medical establishment takes a more practical view. People today are “entitled” to look good, says Dr. Richard Ehrlichman. Consumer interest, plus smart technology, skilled surgeons, and the subtraction of social stigma seems to have made this viewpoint both possible and common.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What role does consumerism play in shaping the mentality that embraces artificial body enhancement?
2. Do teenagers today expect to take advantage of the improving technology/cost of such surgeries?
3. How can we moderate or challenge this apparent obsession with body image?
The combination of narcissism and technological know-how often conspire to make things possible for us that are not natural. In some cases this may be a genuine gift. However, the task for discernment and guardedness is vital, especially for today’s teenagers. The principle that all people are created in the image of God cannot coexist with the assumption that people can also be created in the image of culture.