Sorry, Your Facelift Is Not a Feminist Statement

Abigail Elperin, Staff Writer

Plastic surgery has existed for as long as humans have had a reason to alter their appearance. The Concord Monitor reports that the first plastic surgery occurred in India in around 800 B.C. Reconstructive surgery, the most medically intertwined category of procedures, is classified by Cleveland Clinic as a surgery that “repairs parts of your body affected by defects you were born with, defects that have developed because of disease, or defects caused by an injury.” This includes but is not limited to facial reconstruction, limb salvage, and gender confirmation surgeries. Cosmetic surgery; however, is the other category of procedures under the plastic surgery umbrella, and is surgery performed for the sole purpose of improving or changing one’s appearance, only for aesthetic purposes. This includes many of the elective procedures your favorite celebrities are rumored to have obtained: a nose job, lip fillers, buccal fat removal, the Brazilian Butt Lift, and more.  

Modern American society can be very superficial, so even if you are not a celebrity, cosmetic surgery can be a great aid to increase your quality of life if your physical appearance has hampered certain opportunities. Cosmetic surgery gives people access to control their appearance more than ever, which can also be a game changer in improving one’s self-esteem and confidence. However, recent marketing and a consequent shift in public sentiment has dubbed cosmetic surgery as an act of radical progressivism, described as “empowering,” among a plethora of other feminist buzzwords. This is why people like Kim Kardashian are hailed as feminist icons by a niche sector of white neoliberals: by simply flexing her fundamental, human right to choose what she does with her body (and her heavy bank account) people confuse her for committing an active gesture of feminism. Perhaps in the era of Roe V. Wade repeal the basic act of exercising bodily autonomy can now be seen as an act of rebellion, but I do not think any amount of Kardashian lip fillers will help secure our right to an abortion again. They can do what they want, but it is not fighting the patriarchy. And not everything needs to! Just like men, women should be allowed to just have fun and do what we desire without the overhanging burden of constantly fighting the patriarchy. 

To see if cosmetic surgery can be called “feminist,” we must first assess what can be called “feminist.” Modern feminism (sometimes called fourth-wave feminism) aims to be as intersectional as possible in its thinking, including active support for antiracism, LGBTQ rights, and equitable opportunities for low-income people. From this standpoint, the deeply capitalistic roots of cosmetic surgery are fundamentally incompatible with modern feminism. Cosmetic surgery can be a great aid to improving your self-esteem: but only if you can afford it. reports that the cost of the three most common plastic surgery procedures, breast augmentation, liposuction, and rhinoplasty, average at a cost of $4,866, $2,584, and $4,925, respectively. Paying rent and utility bills will always be more of a priority than improving self-esteem. Therefore, calling it feminism is neglecting the fact that cosmetic surgery was never an equitable resource to begin with–it is a luxury. Additionally, cosmetic surgery is almost always performed in compliance with Eurocentric beauty standards, which possess intrinsic racial biases that are in no way constructive to the goals of feminism. says, “The Kardashian nose is always in high demand,” and remarks that in cosmetic surgery clinics, “Kylie is the number one most-often-mentioned celebrity …. There is not any evidence of a nasal ‘hump,’ which is perhaps the most common complaint that people have who are seeking rhinoplasty.” The nasal hump has been demonized all throughout history in order to spread racist and antisemitic stereotypes. Cosmetic surgery’s current goal to perpetuate that only proves its embedded prejudice.  

An article from says, “An extension of body positivity means non-judgment for what an individual decides [whether or not to have a cosmetic surgery procedure].” This is completely true, and people who have chosen to undergo cosmetic surgery deserve all the same respect for their choices and autonomy as anyone else. But I certainly would not use the term “body positivity,” a term coined by the feminist movement to celebrate plus-sized and underrepresented bodies, to describe the act of deliberately modifying your body to fit a contemporary standard of beauty. Rather, I see more sense in a standpoint of “body neutrality:” a respectful, judgement-free, manner of talking about cosmetic procedures that neither promotes nor discourages these surgeries. Cosmetic surgery can be a great tool, and everyone is entitled to respect and privacy if they have had a procedure. But cosmetic surgery is not, never will be, and does not need to be, anything more than a procedure. It is not a radical act of feminism.