Cosmetic surgery: an anti-capitalist issue, a feminist issue, or what?


The current concerns about easily-rupturing and possibly toxic PIP breast implants do not seem to be leading to much debate on: (1) Should psychotherapy for body image problems be made more available? (2) Should cosmetic surgery, in general, be more restricted?

In 2007, the BBC3 series Say No to the Knife did attempt to address this issue. It is no longer available on the BBC’s iPlayer, so I can’t check my own recollection that it was fairly superficial, offering not much more than styling and clothing tips Trinny and Susannah-style. No disrespect intended to those particular small screen goddesses, who probably never intended their message to be a universal panacea.

There were only seven episodes of Say No to the Knife, and we may never know why. Perhaps a further series would have risked drawing attention to poor NHS mental health services, which is likely to be a factor for some people seeking surgery in the UK.

Susie Orbach, well-known for her 1978 Fat is a Feminist Issue, addressed breast implants, liposuction and similar procedures in her 2009 book Bodies. Usual suspects appear: mistaken female bodily ideals, the market-driven, consumerist Western society and its commodification of emotion. Well, I respect the choice of anyone to opt out, as much as they can, from all of those things. But I know lots of people living ordinary Western lives, who wouldn’t think of having cosmetic surgery, so I somehow think there must be other causes as well.


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About Dr Neil MacFarlane MRCPsych

Independent Psychiatrist providing culturally informed mental health opinion, advice, and a few new facts. Based near London, UK. Main qualifications: BA MBBS MA MRCPsych.

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