Portugal has won another soccer game, so this post is being written to a “symphony of whistles, car horns, air horns and a good deal of shouting and clapping. Plus, I have a new kitten in the household. Molly thinks of me as ‘the person who makes the toys go. Occasionally, I have to make the toys go. These are not ideal blogging conditions. (All blog complaints to your local Portuguese embassy or the court of Siam.)
Todays topic: plastic surgery. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, approximately 860,000 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in 2002.
Does anyone think Greta Van Susteren looks better post-op? Dont playmates almost always over do it? Have you found yourself thinking, “ease up on the face lifts there, buddy. I want to focus on the banality of the transformations that happen beneath the surgeons knife.
This is not an aesthetic disappointment, but a cultural one. This innovation does not seem to open up the range of expressive possibilities. So far, it has closed them down.
The trouble is that generally the motive for plastic surgery is to make oneself more “attractive. And presumably if you are going to go to the trouble, the expense, and the risk of surgery, you want to maximize the effect. You want as many people as possible to think you are attractive. So you go for the most obvious, hackneyed notions of attractiveness. There’s a problem here. Often, by making yourself more attractive, you make yourself less interesting.
What if this were France? The first thing you notice about Parisian women is how stunningly attractive they are. The second thing: they dont always start with the great features, hair, skin, eyes, and figures that other women take for granted. This beauty is the work of science, art, craft, poise, self possession and a different objective. What they look for is interesting. What we get is attractive.
But this is only the first step away from the banality of the North American model. Others have gone much further. The artist called Orlan was born in 1947 in France. At 43, she began a series of surgical operations to change her physical appearance. Weintraub says,
Eventually, Orlan will possess the chin of Botticellis Venus, the nose of Geromes Psyche, the lips of Francois Bouchers Europa, and the eyes of Diana from a sixteenth-century French School of Fontainebleau painting. In addition, she aspires to the forehead of Leonardo da Vincis Mona Lisa.
The effect is a little odd, but why not treat the human face and body as too predictable, somewhat unimaginative, and, in and of itself, banal? Why not reach for expressive new possibilities? The moment we decide its not about “beauty, the possibilities are endless.
Jocelyne Wildenstein was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1946. She became a lion hunter and worked as such on the Wildenstein estate in Kenyan where she met Alec Wildenstein, an art connoisseur. Jocelyne and Alec eloped in 1978 and settled in New York City. It was there that Mrs. Wildenstein made an uncommon decision.
Jocelyne realized that Alec loved his jungle estate, and the cats that inhabited it, more than anything else in life. She returned to her plastic surgeon with an unusual request: She wanted to be transformed into one of the giant Cats that Alec loved so much. Though surprised at this unorthodox request, the surgeon did his best to comply. (Woloson, below)
The effect is very odd and earned Mrs. Wildenstein the title “bride of Wildenstein. (And finally there is something very strange about starting out a lion hunter and ending up a lion.)
But here too it is not hard to imagine that, freed of the tyranny of mere beauty, people might decide to try on any number of transformations: gods, animals, mythic creatures, historical figures. Everyday a costume ball.
Anthropology is accustomed to seeing these transformations in other cultures. The question is: Could our tastes and preferences change this much?
Right now Orlan and Wildenstein are pretty close to kooks. But they could be harbingers. Our culture tries things on, takes things up, and just keeps going.
It’ll take awhile. But eventually your local bar could look like the one in Star Wars and not because it’s filled with aliens.
Excuse me. Molly believes this would be a good time to make the toys go. Oh, and another thing: Viva Portugal!
Kron, Joan. 1998. Lift. New York, N.Y: Viking.
Weintraub, Linda. 1996. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for arts meaning in contemporary society, 1970s-1990s. Litchfield: Art Insights, p. 79.
For more on Orlan:
Wildenstein details from:
Jeff Woloson to be found here