Near the end of Pedro Almodovar’s gorgeous movie All About My Mother, its transgender character Agrado, played to pitch by Antonia San Juan, delivers a significant monologue about the various surgical procedures she’s had to acquire the female physique she wasn’t born with. That her breasts and butt are “fake” is relative because, she concludes, “You’re more authentic when you look like what you’ve dreamed of being.”
I’ve met a lot of transgender folks, and they’re rarely shy about how much money and how many medical interventions it takes for your body to catch up to your mind. If you weren’t born female, it may require a lot of plastic surgery to live female. With Jenna Talackova having just overturned a major by-law of the Miss Universe pageant, it’s safe to say that our society accepts plastic surgery as a means towards becoming the version of yourself you see in your head and feel in your heart.
Yet we draw the line at Hollywood. We look down on Heidi Montag for the breast implants, rhinoplasty, brow lift and whatever else. We criticize Nicole Kidman’s botox and lip injections. We slam Madonna’s face lift. But we never stop to wonder just why these women wanted to have any work done to begin with.
To gain some insight into this, I recommend watching Rosanna Arquette’s poignant documentary Searching for Debra Winger. She interviews an exhaustive array of Hollywood actresses, who discuss the issues they face on account of their gender. Martha Plimpton, Kelly Lynch and Samantha Mathis point to a consistent problem: there’s a serious shortage of roles for women. They’re either cast as mothers or girlfriends, so in their late 30s or early 40s, jobs begin to wane. Girlfriends must have plump faces and tight bodies. Mothers are allowed to have wrinkles. Some of the interviewees even hint at having been pressured from producers to get surgery.
I don’t know why Nicole Kidman had work done, but I know that into her 40s, she’s still being cast as “the girlfriend” and on occasion, the “young mom.” While she’s a public figure, Nicole Kidman is just as vulnerable to beauty standards as we mere mortals. Then again, maybe she’d always wanted fuller lips, and since she had the opportunity and the funds, she decided to resemble a person she’d feel better about. Whatever the reasons, they are likely complex, and they are her own.
But Lainey Gossip won’t let it slide. She feels the cruelty that’s aimed at celebrities is entirely justified. When Ashley Judd’s recent op-ed called out the inherent misogyny of our obsession with women’s appearances, Lainey fought back saying the reason tabloids attack celebrities is because they keep denying they’ve had any procedures.
Of course, when Cher admitted to having her nose and teeth done, she was damned as well. She told VH1, “On one hand, they really want me to look good, but on the other hand, it makes it easier for them if they can say that everything I have, I bought.” In other interviews, Cher addressed the fact that she’s pressured to look young, and blasted when she takes measures to make it happen. “Everyone says that I am terrified of getting old, but the truth is that in my job, becoming old and becoming extinct are one and the same thing,” she’s said.
I’ve also had cosmetic surgery. Officially, my ophthalmologist told our health care system that it was “reconstructive,” but she and I both knew the reasons were esthetic. I had – and still have – a lazy eye. At the time, I was 17 years old and I wanted to swap my thick prescription glasses for contact lenses. There was a 10% chance that if I didn’t get the surgery, the contact lenses would make the lazy eye turn in more rather than straighten out. It was a slim chance – not even a probability – but I couldn’t risk it.
I was hardly an ugly duckling; it’s just that I had these enormous glasses that covered up most of my face. When I’d get smaller frames, my eyes still looked huge. They were a barrier that got between me and my dream at that age: finding a boyfriend, a teenager’s version of validation. And if you think boys of that age are more concerned with boobs, consider that the guy I had a crush on drew a pretty picture of me entitled “Olivia without glasses.” It was flattering that he saw the beauty behind them, but it also confirmed that he thought the glasses were a blemish. Most boys did.
Girls saw past the glasses. The meanest ones called me cross-eyed to my face, perhaps to take me down a notch lest I get too cocky.
What can I say? Kids are cruel creatures, and as a teenager, eradicating the problems my peers created was a priority. At the time, contact lenses cost $300 a year, and getting the surgery was free. Where do I sign?
Did I do it just to attract men and show the girls up? Of course not. But if there’s a chance a simple procedure can help me have a normal life, I’ll take it. So would anyone. And to me, having a normal life means paying a reasonable amount of money for regular sunglasses instead of $400 (minimum) on prescriptions. It means not having to wear heavy specs all the time, because even with ultra-thin lenses, my +5.50 and +6.75 strengths are burdensome. It means people can barely make out my physical flaw. I know it’s not that bad, but when people used to look at me, even the most soulful and compassionate among them would think “what a shame.” They’d do much worse, and more politely, to people with serious deformities.
This week, Maryse Deraîche wrote a thoughtful piece for Urbania about her decision to lose weight surgically. There’s a shocking photo at the end of the piece showing her thinner, deflated body. If she had a do-over, she’d still get the operation because it had important health benefits. But she just couldn’t afford all the complementary procedures (breast lift, getting rid of skin flaps, etc.) that Star Jones had to give her body that “normal” appearance.
Healthy and normal: that’s all any of us want for ourselves. That’s all any of us want others to see.
The Scrawn argues that on top of being obsessed with appearances, we’re inconsistent in terms of how we expect celebrities to look. We tell Melanie Griffith she’s too old and bash her when she tries to look younger. I use the societal “we” because we read the tabloids and gossip blogs that cultivate this idea. That these publications are still kicking is evidence of our complicity.
Because we’re attacking each other for stupid reasons, I propose a ceasefire. That’s why The Scrawn doesn’t care about your nips and tucks.
Look the way you need to feel. Tell who you want to tell. For all the snark she has to endure, Jocelyn Wildenstein still makes a better entrance than anyone I’ve seen. When they bottle that swagger, I’ll buy a lifetime supply.