Tanya Sheehan’s work on plastic surgery as a form of visual culture uncovers a lot of flaws in the way we think about health, beauty, nature, and how we want to be seen. Both reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries are associated with health, nature, and social status, where “deformities” of any degree are amenable to going under the knife. Sheehan critiqued the social aspects of body image, illustrating how women, unlike men, are required by society to look younger, that the aging body required medical intervention. The human body, both male and female, is under constant scrutiny– we critique celebrities’ bodies in magazines, watch shows where plastic surgery provides the plot, and worst of all, the general public internalizes these body critiques and considers body manipulations a commonplace procedure, and an easy way to “fit in” with these beauty standards. It is so common these days to look at your body in the mirror and immediately find things that you consider flaws. Instead of appreciating the body for its natural form, we now think of ways to change those parts of the body so that you look more like this “perfect form” constructed by the media. In doing so, one is trying to adhere to impossible beauty standards, formed through photoshop. Yes, models are beautiful; but beauty in this day and age is such a narrow category, and the images we see in the media are heavily edited– the models themselves don’t even fit these standards.
As Sheehan aptly outlined, today, we have the ability to see ourselves in ways that are different than reality. Just like the celebrities that we idolize, we can filter, resize, and reinvent the pictures that we post on Facebook and Instagram to show our lives, the way we want them to appear. We can recreate our own realities by influencing the way others’ see us. This “doctoring” (note the medicalized terminology) of photos explores the sociological theory of life as a stage: we are constantly putting on a performance for our peers, and from their responses, we edit the performance in order to play the part we wish to be. By manipulating how you are viewed on social media, you are influencing the way that you are perceived, which then influences who you are to others. In doing so, you change the way you view yourself. I think that Sheehan raises very interesting questions of what is natural, and how we perceive our own bodies. Is it bad to get a nose job? No, I do not believe that plastic surgery is a bad thing. I think if it makes someone happy, by all means, do so. However, I do think it can promote negative relationships to the body, where the natural body isn’t good enough in its current state; only with a physical change can your feel like “yourself”. I think that there needs to be a change in the way in which we view the human body, both physically and on social media. With more celebrities speaking out against Photoshopping, and with the emergence of better-body-image campaigns like those from Dove, I think there is a positive shift in how we view ourselves, and emphasis on a better relationship with the natural body.