Is Plastic Surgery Truly Feminist?

Dear Asian Youth, 

When I think of plastic surgery, I imagine a paper woman. She has cut-out lines under her eyes, down the bridges of her nose, and round the edges of her slender jaw. A pearly white smile is plastered on her lips, and her eyes twinkle as if she holds the secret to eternal beauty. But what is eternal beauty? Many believe you can only achieve it on an operating table. I guess a part of me has always wondered whether plastic surgery was in line with my feminist beliefs. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never considered it, especially during my younger years when the mirror was both my best friend and worst enemy. 

An aspect of plastic surgery culture that has never sat right with me is its demographic. Although many men decide to go under the knife, the demographic fueling this industry is women. Whether it be through celebrities, Instagram influencers, or simply society’s pressuring standards, the plastic surgery industry thrives off insecurities which are conceived and further perpetuated through the media. 

It may be due to this worship of celebrities that individuals cultivate careers by emanating features that desirable Hollywood figures have popularised. This idea is further supported by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker who writes that “social media has supercharged the propensity to regard one’s personal identity as a potential source of profit,” perpetuating this mass desire for certain features which often look Eurocentric. It appears that society has an underlying awareness of the importance behind being ‘good looking’ due to financial opportunities and to an extent, power through influence. Feminism is a concept that is personal and different for everyone, but to me it is largely about awareness. Something as personal as being perceived as ‘ugly’ in society is political if it affects your opportunities in life as well as your perception of self. Doesn’t wanting to change yourself to fit into a box of preconceived beauty standards support that? 

Kathryn Pauly Morgan for Hypatia states that plastic surgery fundamentally changes people and therefore has “technologically created appearances that are then regarded as the ‘real’.’” This brings forth the question of whether the act of surgery is one that causes healthy change, a query that many of the ‘women’s empowerment’ sector answer with optimism. A popular conclusion in online discourse is that plastic surgery is a way for women to reassert control over their bodies, a right that has been compromised throughout history. Naturally, the slogan “my body, my choice” links to this conversation, perfectly encapsulating the belief of many feminists both online and in real life. 

Despite the glum reality of this societal truth, physical beauty is significant because society values it. It brings individuals opportunities, a one-up on their peers in occupational and social situations. Individuals who desire plastic surgery but also identify as feminists may want to consider asking themselves if changing physically is a true answer to reasserting control over their own bodies. After all, the media that inevitably influences us all is indeed created and run by the patriarchy. 

Additionally, Sesali Bowen for The New York Times takes an opposing stance against individuals who are critical of plastic surgery and it’s correlation to feminism: 

“I don’t think that the women who are staunchly against plastic surgery are worried about women’s health or self-esteem; I think they are motivated by fear that their pretty privilege — the benefits they get to enjoy for meeting those standards without the help of a doctor — is at risk.” 

Although Bowen’s take on plastic surgery may apply to a small number of  individuals, it is necessary to address the misogynistic undertones prevalent. Indeed, some women who are against plastic surgery may already suit a certain set of standards that they unconsciously benefit from, but the real issue that seems to be implied is that women must be pitted against each other in pursuit of the male gaze and it’s perception of beauty. Despite the debate on if women can truly ever escape the male gaze, it is possible and therefore misogynistic to claim that all women are against each other. Although this is a discussion on whether plastic surgery supports feminism, in no way is it a discussion that seeks to mock or look down upon individuals who engage in it. Society and navigating the world as a human being is complex for every individual, and many of our decisions in life such as plastic surgery are for a reason that only we can personally understand. 

Moving forward, Bowen highlights a micro look into society’s individuals who are against plastic surgery, shining light on the power of pretty privilege and the ignorance that can come with it. For many individuals who are differently abled or transgender, plastic surgery is a necessity that saves many. To completely ignore these communities in the plastic surgery debate is ableist and transphobic. Many trans individuals experience gender dysphoria, “a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity” according to the NHS website. Gender dysphoria is a real issue that largely affects the mental wellbeing of many trans individuals and can be greatly helped when plastic surgery is performed. It is because of plastic surgery that many can visually identify with their physical bodies, alleviating a lot of the dysphoria that can come with being trans. 

Additionally, an individual who is differently abled may need plastic surgery to aid daily tasks. An example of this could be an individual who has a birth abnormality which stops them from being able to walk properly. Through plastic surgery, the person can then tend to everyday tasks because of his/her ability to walk more comfortably. 

Although plastic surgery is vital to many individuals, there seems to be a cloud that hangs above the plastic surgery debate that we can’t escape. After all, is it truly possible to break free from the gaze of society when the media is an inescapable aspect of it? No matter what procedures we have done, even down to our makeup and hair, there will always be at least a subconscious motive within all of us to fit the standard. It seems that a large desire within society is to simply fit in. We value moving in a collective and although there are many pros to this, it also unfortunately means that we seek approval in order to be liked. It’s a natural desire that deserves to be talked about and studied, not shamed or looked down on in any way. 

– Cathay L



L. L.





Cover Photo Source: