Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Ugly History of Cosmetic Surgery

American advertisement for "non-surgical" nose correction
Reality television shows based on surgical transformations, such as The Swan and Extreme Makeover, were not the first public spectacles to offer women the ability to compete for the chance to be beautiful.

In 1924, a competition ad in the New York Daily Mirror asked the affronting question “Who is the homeliest girl in New York?” It promised the unfortunate winner that a plastic surgeon would “make a beauty of her”. Entrants were reassured that they would be spared embarrassment, as the paper’s art department would paint “masks” on their photographs when they were published.

Cosmetic surgery instinctively seems like a modern phenomenon. Yet it has a much longer and more complicated history than most people likely imagine. Its origins lie in part in the correction of syphilitic deformities and racialised ideas about “healthy” and acceptable facial features as much as any purely aesthetic ideas about symmetry, for instance.

In her study of how beauty is related to social discrimination and bias, sociologist Bonnie Berry estimates that 50% of Americans are “unhappy with their looks”. Berry links this prevalence to mass media images. However, people have long been driven to painful, surgical measures to “correct” their facial features and body parts, even prior to the use of anaesthesia and discovery of antiseptic principles.

Some of the first recorded surgeries took place in 16th-century Britain and Europe. Tudor “barber-surgeons” treated facial injuries, which as medical historian Margaret Pelling explains, was crucial in a culture where damaged or ugly faces were seen to reflect a disfigured inner self.

With the pain and risks to life inherent in any kind of surgery at this time, cosmetic procedures were usually confined to severe and stigmatised disfigurements, such as the loss of a nose through trauma or epidemic syphilis.

The first pedicle flap grafts to fashion new noses were performed in 16th-century Europe. A section of skin would be cut from the forehead, folded down, and stitched, or would be harvested from the patient’s arm.

Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery and Nicholas Henri Jacob,
‘Iconografia d'anatomia chirurgica e di medicina operatoria,’ Florence, 1841.

A later representation of this procedure in Iconografia d’anatomia published in 1841, as reproduced in Richard Barnett’s Crucial Interventions, shows the patient with his raised arm still gruesomely attached to his face during the graft’s healing period.

As socially crippling as facial disfigurements could be and as desperate as some individuals were to remedy them, purely cosmetic surgery did not become commonplace until operations were not excruciatingly painful and life threatening.

In 1846, what is frequently described as the first “painless” operation was performed by American dentist William Morton, who gave ether to a patient. The ether was administered via inhalation through either a handkerchief or bellows. Both of these were imprecise methods of delivery that could cause an overdose and kill the patient.

The removal of the second major impediment to cosmetic surgery occurred in the 1860s. English doctor Joseph Lister’s model of aseptic, or sterile, surgery was taken up in France, Germany, Austria and Italy, reducing the chance of infection and death.

By the 1880s, with the further refinement of anaesthesia, cosmetic surgery became a relatively safe and painless prospect for healthy people who felt unattractive.

The Derma-Featural Co advertised its “treatments” for “humped, depressed, or… ill-shaped noses”, protruding ears, and wrinkles (“the finger marks of Time”) in the English magazine World of Dress in 1901.

A report from a 1908 court case involving the company shows that they continued to use skin harvested from – and attached to – the arm for rhinoplasties.

The report also refers to the non-surgical “paraffin wax” rhinoplasty, in which hot, liquid wax was injected into the nose and then “moulded by the operator into the desired shape”. The wax could potentially migrate to other parts of the face and be disfiguring, or cause “paraffinomas” or wax cancers.

World of Dress, June 1905
Advertisements for the likes of the the Derma-Featural Co were rare in women’s magazines around the turn of the 20th century. But there were frequently ads published for bogus devices promising to deliver dramatic face and body changes that might reasonably be expected only from surgical intervention.

Various models of chin and forehead straps, such as the patented “Ganesh” brand, were advertised as a means for removing double chins and wrinkles around the eyes.

Bust reducers and hip and stomach reducers, such as the JZ Hygienic Beauty Belt, also promised non-surgical ways to reshape the body.

World of Dress, April 1905
The frequency of these ads in popular magazines suggests that use of these devices was socially acceptable. In comparison, coloured cosmetics such as rouge and kohl eyeliner were rarely advertised. The ads for “powder and paint” that do exist often emphasised the product’s “natural look” to avoid any negative association between cosmetics and artifice.

The racialised origins of cosmetic surgery

The most common cosmetic operations requested before the 20th century aimed to correct features such as ears, noses, and breasts classified as “ugly” because they weren’t typical for “white” people.
At this time, racial science was concerned with “improving” the white race. In the United States, with its growing populations of Jewish and Irish immigrants and African Americans, “pug” noses, large noses and flat noses were signs of racial difference and therefore ugliness.

Sander L. Gilman suggests that the “primitive” associations of non-white noses arose “because the too-flat nose came to be associated with the inherited syphilitic nose”.

American otolaryngologist John Orlando Roe’s discovery of a method for performing rhinoplasties inside the nose, without leaving a tell-tale external scar, was a crucial development in the 1880s. As is the case today, patients wanted to be able to “pass” (in this case as “white”) and for their surgery to be undetectable.

In 2015, 627,165 American women, or an astonishing 1 in 250, received breast implants. In the early years of cosmetic surgery, breasts were never made larger.

Breasts acted historically as a “racial sign”. Small, rounded breasts were viewed as youthful and sexually controlled. Larger, pendulous breasts were regarded as “primitive” and therefore as a deformity.

In the age of the flapper, in the early 20th century, breast reductions were common. It was not until the 1950s that small breasts were transformed into a medical problem and seen to make women unhappy.

Shifting views about desirable breasts illustrate how beauty standards change across time and place. Beauty was once considered as God-given, natural or a sign of health or a person’s good character.
When beauty began to be understood as located outside of each person and as capable of being changed, more women, in particular, tried to improve their appearance through beauty products, as they now increasingly turn to surgery.

As Elizabeth Haiken points out in Venus Envy, 1921 not only marked the first meeting of an American association of plastic surgery specialists, but also the first Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. All of the finalists were white. The winner, sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman, was short compared to today’s towering models at five-feet-one-inch tall, and her breast measurement was smaller than that of her hips.

There is a close link between cosmetic surgical trends and the qualities we value as a culture, as well as shifting ideas about race, health, femininity, and ageing.

Last year was celebrated by some within the field as the 100th anniversary of modern cosmetic surgery. New Zealander Dr Harold Gillies has been championed for inventing the pedicle flap graft during World War I to reconstruct the faces of maimed soldiers. Yet as is well documented, primitive versions of this technique had been in use for centuries.

Such an inspiring story obscures the fact that modern cosmetic surgery was really born in the late 19th century and that it owes as much to syphilis and racism as to rebuilding the noses and jaws of war heroes.

The surgical fraternity – and it is a brotherhood, as more than 90% of cosmetic surgeons are male— conveniently places itself in a history that begins with reconstructing the faces and work prospects of the war wounded.

In reality, cosmetic surgeons are instruments of shifting whims about what is attractive. They have helped people to conceal or transform features that might make them stand out as once diseased, ethnically different, “primitive”, too feminine, or too masculine.

The sheer risks that people have been willing to run in order to pass as “normal” or even to turn the “misfortune” of ugliness, as the homeliest girl contest put it, into beauty, shows how strongly people internalise ideas about what is beautiful.

Looking back at the ugly history of cosmetic surgery should give us the impetus to more fully consider how our own beauty norms are shaped by prejudices including racism and sexism.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

There is no "War on Barbie": Toys, Gender Inequality and Domestic Violence

Uncredited image
Last week  marked White Ribbon Day in Australia, a focal point for the male led campaign to end violence against women. On the same day, a Senate inquiry into the relationship between children’s toys and entertainment and the gender stereotypes that contribute to domestic violence was announced.

Predictably, the inquiry was instantly deemed “a war on Barbie”. It was also an opportunity to label the Greens, who initiated the inquiry, as kooky for linking Tonka trucks with Australia’s family violence crisis.

Both the federal government and the opposition were eager to uncouple themselves from any suggestion that they might begin policing toy boxes. A spokesperson for Labor leader Bill Shorten remarked that any notion of “a clear link between toys and domestic violence is absurd”.

Last year, the Greens supported the No Gender December campaign, which encourages families to be open-minded when choosing toys to place under the Christmas tree. The campaign highlights how toys are marketed in ways that segregate play along gender lines.  Most toy shops erect an invisible Berlin Wall that largely keeps girls in the pink, sparkly zone and boys in the sector of camouflage-toned action.
Sam Humphreys: It's a Matter of Trust project

The suggestion that children’s toys, books, or films might have any connection with the beliefs children internalise about gender and the kinds of adults they become rankles many people. We commonly take exception at the idea that anything that formed part of our beloved childhood could be anything other than innocent and delightful.

It is time that adults “grow up” and stop ridiculing the idea that the cultural products we make for children are influential and can have both positive and negative impacts.

Parents tend to accept that young children might be swayed by advertising for junk food, depictions of smoking, alcohol or drug use as desirable, or TV or movies that are infused with swearing. Children are consistently absorbing cultural cues about how to behave and act. As a result, parents might restrict their children’s exposure to things they see as harmful, or at least help children negotiate what is socially acceptable and healthy for their own wellbeing.

When it comes to the negative influences of gender stereotyping in moulding how girls and boys feel that they can act as kids and as adults, we inexplicably change tack. These are only innocent or trivial toys or cartoons. And children won’t be thinking about adult concepts like the gender pay gap or domestic violence in any case.

The Reducing Violence Against Women and Their Children report, released this month,  demonstrates that young people have already formed views about gender relations and violence. It shows that when presented with hypothetical scenarios, boys as young as ten years old think that female victims of domestic violence are at fault; girls tend to blame themselves. Why would children already blame women for domestic violence if they were not absorbing ideas from the cultural around them?

Individual toys do not transmit troubling beliefs about violence directly, but the gendering of toys is a reflector of, and a contributor to, the gender inequality that produces domestic violence.

Critics of the inquiry propose that Barbie and other traditional toys marketed for boys or girls have been available for decades, as if to suggest that popular practices cannot possibly be wrong. They also ignore the coexistence of gender inequality with these and other superficially innocuous traditions throughout this period.

There is no social engineering in the suggestion that we should examine how the marketing of toys and children’s entertainment might bolster gender inequality. No one is proposing restricting the interests or freedom of children to choose. Rather, we must remove the limitations on children that are deployed through gendered marketing.

Toys that are categorised for girls are often related to domestic chores, fashion or babies, mirroring the ongoing expectation of women’s disproportionate contribution to housework and childcare. While boys’ toys involve construction, adventure, or warfare. Gender inequality is entrenched in the way that toys that are marketed for girls are unacceptable for boys or else they will be mocked because what is feminine is unimportant, frivolous and incompatible with being a “real” boy or man.

The gendered marketing of toys is not the direct reason why one in six Australian women has experienced domestic violence. Yet we cannot expect that “raising awareness” and simply telling men to respect women and monitor each other will make any meaningful difference to the long history of violence against women. It is time we looked seriously at where gendered inequality originates and is cemented to understand how we might shift the power imbalance at the core of violence against women.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alice in Wonderland at 150: Why fantasy stories about girls transcend time

John Tenniel, The Nursery Alice
It’s 150 years since an Oxford mathematics don published the most important work of children’s literature and one of the most influential books of all time.

The origins of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in a story that Charles Dodgson told 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her two sisters while rowing along the Thames in 1862 are well known. What is less understood is why it has become such an enduring cultural touchstone across the globe.

Many popular stories can be distilled to the basic structure of a male hero undertaking a quest. In 1949, Joseph Campbell described the common features of the “monomyth” or hero’s journey that are evident in stories from those of Buddha and Jesus to Luke Skywalker.

In W.W. Denslow's illustrations and L. Frank Baum's
original text, Dorothy is a much younger girl (with 
silver shoes instead of ruby slippers).
Contrary to the dominance of heroic tales of men, there are several iconic narratives of pre-pubescent girls journeying through dream-like fantastic realms that have become enduring phenomena.

Like the ubiquitous Alice, Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz has gained a life of her own beyond L. Frank Baum’s books. The Kansas orphan’s journey into Oz is, if anything, better known through the MGM film starring Judy Garland. The film transforms Dorothy’s journey into nothing but a dream— like Alice’s— inspired by a cyclone-induced blow to the head.

The stories of Alice, Dorothy and more recent girl protagonists in popular fantasies, such as Sarah’s encounters with the Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth, are strongly inflected by fairy-tale tradition. Campbell himself later acknowledged that he “had to go to the fairy tales” in order to bring any semblance of female heroism into The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

As fairy tale scholar Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario explains throughout her work, fairy tales are most often about girls on the cusp of maturation and marriage.

Alice Liddell photographed as a
"beggar maid" by Carroll
In their original book incarnations, however, both Alice and Dorothy are very young girls: Alice is just seven and Dorothy is estimated to be eight. Carroll was notoriously fascinated by pre-pubescent girls, whom he often photographed in staged poses.

The young ages of Alice and Dorothy free them from involvement in a romance plot. In girls’ fiction from the early twentieth century, it was common for adventurous heroines become hastily engaged in the final pages of a novel.

Even more importantly, as girls, Alice and Dorothy occupy a transitional borderland between childhood and adulthood. This also seems to make them more attuned to crossing the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

Whether this capacity derives from the combination of negative assessments of children and females as less rational in comparison with adults and males, or marks girls out as more perceptive and empathetic, is debatable.

What is clear is that these girl heroines take different paths to characters on the typical male hero’s journey. Even within fantastic literature, where anything is possible, there are clear gendered distinctions for protagonists.

As my Deakin colleague Lenise Prater pointed out to me in an important scholarly dialogue on this topic (a Facebook chat thread), female hero quests in fantasy tend to encompass an internal quest that takes place in a dreamscape. In contrast, male heroes enter into literal fantasy worlds; their adventures are supposed to be “real” with the space of the story.

The dreamy adventures of Alice work through or play with some of her waking interests and anxieties. As in Carroll’s text, Tim Burton’s film adaptation explicitly signals that Wonderland is a purely imaginary place. Alice suffers from nightmares about Wonderland as a child, and her father reminds her that dreams cannot harm her and she can “always wake up”.

Judy Garland in a publicity still from 1939
The MGM Oz film changes Dorothy’s journey into a dream through its casting of the same actors in roles in both sepia-toned Kansas and Technicolor Oz. (Farmhands Hunk, Hickory and Zeke appear as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, while neighbour Almira Gulch proves all dog-haters must surely be green-skinned witches.)

As lone questers, girl characters are the most vulnerable and physically weak. Despite their powerlessness in conventional respects, heroines such as Alice and Dorothy are able to survive the dangers posed by people and supernatural beings who possess advantages that are not available to them (adult authority and magic chief among them).

The lives of both Alice and Dorothy beyond their original books by Carroll and Baum suggest a cultural investment in stories about the most vulnerable of people. Alice and Dorothy experience the most amazing of journeys, in which they triumph over the highest forms of authority and power, from queens to witches.

It is reassuring that these stories about girls, who are often overlooked because of their age and gender, are almost universally known. Nevertheless, imagine the possibilities if our most iconic girl characters did not always have to “wake up” at the end of their adventures.

Michelle Smith will be chairing the Making Public Histories seminar on “Melbourne’s Alice” at the State Library of Victoria on 26 November 2015.

The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Feminism Today talk, 'We are the 50%' seminar series

This is more rightly a talk about anti-feminism, and the challenges faced by feminists in light of the insidious forms that anti-feminism now takes. It was delivered as part of Deakin University's 'We are the 50%' series on 17 August 2015.

Feminism Today - 'We are the 50%' seminar series talk by Dr Michelle Smith, Deakin University from Michelle Smith on Vimeo.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The literary pilgrimage: from Brontëites to TwiHards

Fan tributes on Oscar Wilde's tomb. Chrissy Hunt/Flickr
In response to the post below, I spoke with Michael Mackenzie on RN Afternoons about literary tourism. You can access the recording here.

When I first travelled overseas as a student, I visited Paris’s Pére Lachaise cemetery, resting place of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Jim Morrison. Wilde’s tomb was covered in red lipstick kisses — now thwarted after the installation of a glass barrier in 2011 — and a young goth man sat at its base reading a book of poetry.

The desire to connect with literary places, from authors’ birthplaces, homes, and graves, to sites of fictional inspiration, supports a substantial tourist trade. The reasons why people embark on literary pilgrimages are as diverse as the kinds of fiction that inspire them.

In a study of why tourists visited the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall — a site associated with Arthurian legend—Benjamin Earl found that many visitors sought to “maintain their cultural distinction and assert their cultural capital”.

In other words, travel to the historical site made tourists feel unique in comparison with people who only consume stories and images relating to the myth through readily-accessible popular culture.
The former home of the Bronte family is
now a museum
Man Alive!/flickr

Visiting Charles Dickens’ London home or Haworth and the Brontë parsonage similarly demonstrates the traveller’s literary knowledge and taste.

The homes of celebrity authors also foster a degree of connection to them. The normally private realm of the venerated author is opened up in these literary museums, allowing the viewer to situate themselves in the exact position as Dickens, looking at the very same desk at which he wrote Oliver Twist.

In the past week, annual Bloomsday celebrations took place in Dublin and around the world. June 16 has become an opportunity for the sturdy readers who appreciate James Joyce’s Ulysses to recreate the day in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom that the novel depicts.

It might begin with a liver and kidney breakfast and continue with a walking tour that follows Bloom’s path from Middle Abbey Street to the National Library.

For most of his life, Joyce lived outside Dublin. Yet, as with Bloomsday, much popular literary tourism is fixated on visiting the real inspirations for the settings inhabited by fictional characters.
Detective Sherlock Holmes, for example, has inspired a plethora of tourist attractions in London. A number of these attempt to bring imagined places, such as the famous 221b Baker St, which operates as a museum, into being.

The Sherlock Holmes pub in London capitalises on the popularity of the
fictional character. Steve Lacy/flickr
The difficulty of assembling a museum for a fictional character for which no historical artefacts exist is evident in the often scathing TripAdvisor reviews. While the Sherlock Holmes pub in Charing Cross, which some fans appreciate as at least having been referenced in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, includes a “recreation of Holmes and Watson’s study and sitting room”.

Tours of locations that inspired novels, including Sherlock Holmes, are increasingly becoming a way for readers to express their fandom for a particular book or series.

There is a long history of fans of LM Montgomery visiting Prince Edward Island, Canada in order to see the homes and landscapes that inspired Anne of Green Gables. Anne is the most prominent feature on the island’s tourist website, which notes that hundreds of thousands of tourists visit “her island” each year.
Twilight tourism in Forks, Washington. drburtoni/flickr

Twilight fans who descend on the small town of Forks, Washington, nevertheless, won’t find traces of author Stephenie Meyer, who resides in Arizona, or sparkly vampires during their visit.
The rainy former logging town nevertheless serves, as Tanya Erzen suggests, as “a prism for fans’ collective fantasy that they might momentarily live in the marvellous world of the books”.

Each September “Twihards” gather in Forks on the date of protagonist Bella’s birthday for a full weekend of activities as part of the Forever Twilight celebration.

Similarly, in the past decade, numerous Da Vinci Code tours of the Louvre and Europe and the UK have mapped the fictional ideas and theories of Dan Brown on to important cultural and historical destinations.

In the cases of these supernatural, or at least fanciful, novels, there is a desire to find an element of that fantasy in reality. Harry Potter tours, for instance, regularly visit the medieval village of Lacock, which is described as having inspired the town of Godric’s Hollow in J K Rowling’s series.

Modern technology enables us to feel connected with an imagined group or community of people who read or view the same stories as we do . As Roger Craig Aden shows in Popular Stories and Promised Lands: Fan Cultures and Symbolic Pilgrimages, the journey to a sacred destination — whether a football game or the Green Gables house — sharpens that sense of a bond with like-minded individuals.

This desire to seek out a heightened feeling of belonging to a literary community transcends age, class, and taste distinctions.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Talking Princess Culture on Life Matters, Radio National

To coincide with the release of Disney's new Cinderella film, I was a guest on Radio National's 'Life Matters' last Friday. I joined host Natasha Mitchell in a talkback session on the subject of girls and princess culture, along with Samantha Turnbull, author of the Anti-Princess Club series of books and children's author and school principal John Marsden.

Listen in to the podcast for a variety of perspectives on what wanting to be a princess means, not only for girls, but for boys too.