Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Oh, Sure They're Nice, but Are They Real?": Greeting Cards and the Normalizing of Cosmetic Surgical Intervention in Practices of Feminine Embodiment

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Oh, Sure They're Nice, but Are They Real?": Greeting Cards and the Normalizing of Cosmetic Surgical Intervention in Practices of Feminine Embodiment

Article excerpt

Introduction

On the exterior of a recently available greeting card published by Carleton Cards' "Marketplace" division, three brown cartoon bulls are pictured seated around a stage on which a cartoon Jersey cow is performing a pole dance. The cow's head is thrown back, a garter on a hind leg holds some green bills and her full, pink udder with prominent teats is exposed, in the foreground one bull comments to his tablemate, "Oh, sure they're nice, but are they real?" The card's interior offers a friendly, pun-y, wish "Hope your birthday's udderly fantastic!"

While the humour is dubious, this parody nicely represents the increasing cultural ubiquity of cosmetic surgery parlance in North American lives. These anthropomorphized cattle, through their legible familiarity, demonstrate the presumption that everybody knows about cosmetic surgery. This knowledge is so pervasive that a specific cosmetic surgery does not even have to be referenced for the achievement of verisimilitude that structures the humour of this birthday greeting. We all (are supposed to) know that "they" refers to breasts/teats and "real" references the possibility of cosmetic "enhancement." We all already know about cosmetic surgery's supposed benefits and the underlying gendered normativities through which these benefits are constructed. These cards then take their place amongst the "resources of history, language and culture" (Hall, 1996, p. 4) through which we negotiate our identities in 21st century North America.

Aesthetic surgeries and other practices of body modification have been present across cultures for thousands of years (Haiken, 1999). However, the past three decades have witnessed the proliferation and mainstreaming of cosmetic surgery techniques and procedures in Westernized societies. Indeed, public knowledge and use of cosmetic surgeries has never been more widespread. (2) As this awareness and use grows we increasingly see representations of cosmetic surgery across the practices, relations and products of our everyday lives. Such everyday representations, I shall argue, are critical to the increasing popularity of cosmetic surgery. Moreover, they are ultimately both exemplary of, and (re)productive of, a gendered social order that instructs us, especially those of us who desire to be understood as women, on the contours of normative femininity.

I specifically locate my analysis in an examination of the representation of cosmetic surgeries in relation to expectations of normative femininity (Bartky, 1998) as expressed in examples of contemporary, mass produced greeting cards. I decided to undertake this project after encountering increasing references to, and jokes about, cosmetic surgery in commercially produced greeting cards. The exchange of greeting cards is illustrative of how the representation of these surgeries within an everyday social practice participates not only in promotion of, and cultural conversance with, cosmetic surgeries but also in the (re)production of very specific standards of feminine embodiment. The representation of cosmetic surgery through the standards of the discourse of femininity (Bartky, 1988) has been explored in relation to television (Heyes, 2007; Morgan, 1998) and popular culture more broadly (Bordo, 1995 and 1997), as these scholars have been concerned with the versions of gendered, raced, classed, youthful and able realities posited by these cultural texts. My work in this area builds on existing feminist scholarship, such as that of Susan Bordo (1995) and Kathy Davis (1997), which contends that cosmetic surgery has become a normalized technique of feminine body management.

It is because greeting cards are such an under-considered part of everyday social niceties that their participation in the mainstreaming of cosmetic surgeries is so interesting. Greeting cards are a taken for granted element of holidays, birthdays and other occasions of friendship and kin-keeping. …

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