Is Plastic Surgery Now Just A Matter Of Common Decency?

Social media and advances in cosmetic medicine are pushing beauty standards to new limits and putting anyone who dares ignore their looks at risk of being rude.

Would be rude otherwise...
Would be rude otherwise...
Rinny Gremaud


GENEVA â€" It won’t necessarily be carried out with a scalpel. Perhaps it'll be a syringe full of toxins. But over time, one way or another, there's a good chance you'll resort to cosmetic medicine â€" especially if you're a woman. That's because today's social codes make taking care of one’s appearance, well, the least you can do.

Are social networks and the narcissistic society they produced to blame? Yes. But those aren't the only reasons. Advances in medicine and the efforts linked to ageing prevention are also behind this evolution. Not to mention that plastic surgery itself has changed, with easier and less invasive procedures.

Another contributing factor is that information about cosmetic medicine, thanks to the sharing of stories online, circulates better and contributes to making it less stigmatizing and taboo: A 50-year-old woman today, in the eyes of society, doesn’t look at all like a 50-year-old woman from 50 years ago. Hence increased social pressure on the women who don’t resort to it.

A matter of good manners

To understand these changes, let’s start by remembering how, well before liftings and Botox, our collective ideas about makeup and hair dyeing also evolved. As Marie-Thérèse Duflos-Priot explains in her article "Le maquillage, séduction protocolaire et artifice normalisé" (Makeup, formal seduction and standardized artifice), cosmetics were codified along moral lines and associated with superficiality, seduction and sexuality. As such, makeup was strictly forbidden for "pure" young girls, tolerated for virtuous women on the condition that it was discrete, and seen as a sign of easy virture when applied conspicuously.

Nowadays, a woman of any age who goes makeup-free, without hiding her acne or her wrinkles, is seen as careless. And women who don’t cover their gray hair, even after the age of retirement, are rare. Why? Because cosmetics have gone from being sexual to something akin to good manners, a form of politeness that consists of appearing young, in good health and at ease.

This social evolution is deeply linked to that of medicine itself, and to health policies that made prevention one of the field's central dimensions. "As soon as certain individual behaviors were identified as public health problems, they became singled out," says Vincent Barras, a medical historian from the Lausanne University Hospital.

"Tobacco prevention opened the way. Then, obesity prevention became a priority," he adds. "Feeling comfortable is also feeling attractive. We have moved from a paternalistic medicine to an era where each individual is held accountable, in the eyes of society, for the upkeep of his own health."

"Harmonizing" images

Today, with the demographic ageing of industrialized societies, age prevention itself seems to have become a priority. The problem is that living longer and enjoying good health later into life isn't sufficient anymore. Besides feeling good, people are also expected to look it.

"With age, there’s an increasing gap between the image we have of ourselves and the image others or our mirror reflect back to us," says Pierre Quinodoz, head of the Swiss Society for Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgery. "Who hasn't woken up in great form, only to be told by others that they looked tired or in poor shape? Our work contributes to the better-being of patients, because it aims to harmonize the inside image with the outside image."

At the same time, the permanent display of ourselves through social networks largely contributes to the confusion between reality and appearances. Working on one’s own image, whether it’s through putting on makeup or resorting to plastic surgery, then becomes legitimate insofar as it directly contributes to psychological well-being.

"In a society where each individual is brought to watch, look at and take care of himself, appearance has become the measure of his own value," says Hélène Martin, a gender studies professor at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Work and Health.

Biological injustice

Does cosmetic surgery now serve self-confidence? Psychological studies support this idea. And some even say that the cause of women, the main customers for this type of medicine, could even benefit from this. "The biological injustice is that, in the course of their lives, women go through hormonal changes that do a lot more damage compared to what men go through," says Quinodoz. “Our work enables them to regain confidence at an age where their social life used to be considered over."

Hélène Martin sees things as being more relative. "Women don’t age in a worse way, but their ageing is seen as uglier than for men," she says. "At the same biological age, they are socially older than men and suffer more pressure regarding their appearance. Besides, aesthetic standards, ideal and unattainable, to which they are bound, are racist, sexist and classist. In other words, the female ideal remains young, white and upper-class."

The gender studies professor notes that some feminists think resorting to plastic surgery means surrendering to the patriarchy. Others, however, "choose to see in cosmetic practices, makeup and surgery, a possible liberator â€" in the sense that it would be a way to gain more control over their bodies and, deep down, get by in a context that, unfortunately, is still misogynistic." So, if even feminism allows it …

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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