Friday, February 18, 2011

Consensual Reality Reflected in Plastic Surgery

Every culture or society forms a "consensual reality"; members of the group agree to certain beliefs about reality. Every person has their own individual mind-generated reality, but in order to get along in a culture we assume many of the beliefs of our group.

It's hard to see the consensual reality of our culture for what it is because we think of it as actual reality, as the way things are. History clues us in to the fact that our consensual reality is a system of beliefs because those beliefs change.

For example, in the 1950's plump women were considered beautiful in the U.S., but today Marilyn Monroe would be considered too fat to be a sex symbol.

An article in today's New York Times illustrates the diversity in ideas of beauty across ethnic groups as reflected in plastic surgery operations, "Ethnic Differences Emerge in Plastic Surgery." For example, Latin American women want larger buttocks, a part of the anatomy that most women of European ancestry want to diminish. But in Latin American consensual reality, as one plastic surgeon explained, "they like the curve."

Italia Vigniero, 27, a Dominican patient of Dr. Yager’s, received breast implants in 2008 and is considering a buttocks lift to attain, as she called it, “the silhouette of a woman.”

“We Latinas define ourselves with our bodies,” she said. “We always have curves.”
Plastic surgery has long been used to obscure ethnically-based physical differences and so ease assimilation into the dominant culture. In other words, to fit into the dominant culture's consensual reality about physical attractiveness.

The extreme makeover is, in many ways, a tradition among the city’s immigrants. A century ago, in the early days of cosmetic surgery, European Jews underwent nose jobs and Irish immigrants had their ears pinned back in attempts to look “more American,” said Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written about popular attitudes toward plastic surgery.

“The bulk of those operations were targeted at assimilation issues,” Ms. Pitts-Taylor said.
Perhaps the most sought-after procedure among Asians is “double-eyelid surgery,” which creates a crease in the eyelid that can make the eye look rounder. Some people criticize the operation, which is hugely popular in many Asian countries, as a throwback to medical procedures meant to obscure ethnic features.

“You want to be part of the acceptable culture and the acceptable ethnicity, so you want to look more Westernized,” said Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology at Hunter College who specializes in Asian immigrant culture. “I feel sad that they feel like they have to do this.”

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