Barbie Series: Ethnic Plastic Surgery: Barbie Still A Beauty Standard
Not long ago, the New York Times published a story that read more like an ad for the cosmetic surgeons being interviewed, but which, at least to some readers around the Internet, ending up making them appear vaguely racist (a word we generally avoid in this context).
With practices targeting patients from different immigrant enclaves around the city (including the "Koreans in Chinatown"), the featured surgeons emphasized that what they were providing was actually ethnically sensitive care "carefully tailored to their [the patients'] cultural preferences and ideals of beauty." As one surgeon put it, "When a patient comes in from a certain ethnic background and of a certain age, we know [italics added] what they're going to be looking for."
Assimilation into a new culture, several doctors implied, was seldom an important consideration. Their patients mostly just wanted to look more attractive based on their originating culture's ideals of beauty, physical standards that some surgeons as "amateur sociologists" claimed to understand better than the patients themselves.
Unfortunately, the article was filled with doctor braggadocio and, to at least a few readers, gave the impression that some of the surgeons might either be uncomfortable confronting the more sensitive issues surrounding body modification on people from other lands or simply hadn't given the issue serious thought.
While their remarks probably do contain some kernel of insight, they also come across as incomplete if not disingenuous if one considers the article in its entirety.
Which is precisely what Elissa Strauss did on The Sisterhood blog.
According to the NY Times article, notes Ms. Strauss, the "Dominicans want buttock lifts, Koreans want slimmer jaw lines, Iranians want smaller noses, Italians want slender knees, Russians want bigger breasts, and Chinese want double eyelids.
"I think he [the author] is missing the larger point about these procedures being particular to their "cultural preferences and ideals of beauty."
"Big eyes? Button nose? Ample bust? Thin legs? Perky tush? It sounds to me like at the end of the day everyone still wants to look like Barbie ®, and all that has happened is that they have identified their particular roadblocks [italics added] to achieving that look."
"Stories like this remind me," she concludes, "of how pervasive the Barbie beauty standard still is — so pervasive that it is overlooked by The New York Times."
|APSG Comment: We've written on this topic before. "Preserving ethnicity" sounds downright politically correct and so it's become a hot marketing phrase in the United States although not so much in East Asia.
In South Korea and China, cosmetic surgeons don't beat around the bush. Many websites there feature mostly (or even exclusively) blond, blue-eyed, leggy Western models as the paragon of beauty, even though the sites cater to a strictly local crowd.
Why such a different approach? Probably American plastic surgeons are missing out on a big opportunity. Perhaps if they quit hiding behind a PC charade as well as stereotyping and talking down to their ethnic clientele, business would start booming. After all, the South Koreans have cosmetic surgery marketing down to a fine art.
Really, there's nothing inherently wrong with cosmetic surgery for people who aren't of European descent or even about suggesting that some of them might possibly be doing it to aid in their cultural and physical assimilation (which is a more PC way of implying "westernization"). But if that's what it is, why try to claim otherwise?
That the New York Times fell (although not fully) for this line is surprising, all of which should serve as another great reminder of the risk of collecting most of your information about a specialized service from the very people who are selling it.