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25 Years Later, Still Living In A Material World

Rachel Berger is a NYC student, reader, and writer who often wishes she had more time to read, write, and study. You can find her online at personalslashpolitical.blogspot.com.

This holiday season, are you looking for a gift that’s “unique”? That’s perfect for everyone, from your significant other to your mom? That’s “a valuable choice during these tough economic times”? Locateadoc.com recommends “The Plastic Surgery Gift Card – The Ultimate Holiday Gift.”

In the wake of the recession, plastic surgeons are finding innovative new ways to provide their services affordably. The most popular cosmetic surgery in the U.S. is breast augmentation, with 290,000 operations performed last year alone. Assuming that all patients were female, that’s 1 for every 540 American women.

Whether you believe that cosmetic surgery is a social justice issue or a patient’s valid personal choice, the trend in cosmetic surgery is one of the more troubling reflections of Christmastime materialism. Plastic surgery slaps an actual price tag on large breasts, delicate noses, tight skin, and all the other attributes that women “need” to get ahead. In a society that values appearance and sex appeal as much as it values education, plastic surgery isn’t just a luxury gift–it’s an investment. This seems to be the rationale behind graduation gifts of breast enlargement and rhinoplasty to teenage girls. What better way to ensure success in the next stage of a young woman’s career? Seventy percent of working women, and even many men, see plastic surgery as way to appear youthful in the face of a competitive job market.

The issue of women and materialism is nothing new. In 1985, Madonna released her classic single “Material Girl”; a five-minute video featuring an actress who willingly sexualizes herself, apparently bamboozling her male admirers with her beauty while she picks their pockets. In the 25 years since its release, the single has been called both feminist and counter-feminist. On the one hand, Madonna’s persona (an ironic homage to Marilyn Monroe in “Diamond’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend”) is portrayed as a woman in charge. She knows her own worth and is determined to use her assets (i.e. sexual appeal) to get the expensive clothing, jewelry and furs she wants. On the other, she is, well, using her sex appeal to get what she wants. She’s buying in to a “sexual capitalist” society which determines women’s worth by their bodies. Not necessarily exulting in the reality of the ”material world”, Madonna’s persona is making the most of it. But taking advantage of a world that sexualizes women means accepting that it will never change.

As a pop star and sex symbol, Madonna has achieved monumental wealth and success. A victory for pop stars, maybe, but not a victory for women. The entertainment and modeling industries, like any organizations in a capitalist system, favor the few on top. Many models are paid poorly, and the cost to girls and women everywhere when a stereotypical, sexed-up image of women is propagated is untold.

So please, lay off the plastic surgery gift cards this holiday season.  When sex is capital, women can’t win.

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2 Responses to “25 Years Later, Still Living In A Material World”

  1. Lily says:

    Amazing post, Rachel! I completely agree. It’s terrible
    that women feel this oblique coercion to “sex up” their appearance
    as a way of getting ahead in society. It’s becoming a completely
    conscious choice, too – that’s why Marilyn Monroe died her hair
    blonde in the first place. She realized she’d be more successful as
    a sexy, “dumb blonde” actress. And it’s not just women, either.
    This afternoon I saw a commercial for hair transplants (aimed
    largely at men), and one of the testimonials was a man who remarked
    that implanting hair was “the best career investment I ever made.”
    You illuminated this disturbing phenomenon really well.

    • Rachel says:

      Ahh! Why did I not get e-mail notice when you commented? A month late, but thanks much for the comment and for following. Job success influenced by appearance (like men’s height, hair, etc.) may continue for as long as humanity is superficial, but we can at least try to dismantle the double standard that says women must show more skin and be sexier. I always thought “Beauty and the Beast” would make more sense if the girl was the ugly one… though the ending of Shrek was almost as good.

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