Feminism and cosmetic enhancement: Mutually exclusive or a perfect pairing for female empowerment? 

Feminism is a divisive word, either followed by eye-rolls or raucous hurrahs. The main point of contention: the misunderstanding of its definition. For reference, it’s not about man-hating or abandoning motherhood. Feminism is supporting the equality of the genders across races, classes, religions and sexual orientation through the establishment of equivalent political, social and economic rights and opportunities.

Sounds fair but unfortunately, feminism still has a long fight ahead. Many topics that counter these freedoms are still up for debate, with cosmetic enhancement often being an easy target. Critics label cosmetic enhancement as vanity or the act of giving in to insecurities under the pressures of social media selfies and society’s arbitrary aesthetic ideals. There’s a continued assumption that heart-eyed emoji tallies and societal pressures are the only reasons one would opt for surgery or treatments — even though it’s off base. 

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ 2016 survey (the most recent available stats), while social media was one factor for those who sought facial surgeries and treatments, the top driver was the desire to remain competitive in the workplace (49 per cent). Patients believe a refreshed look not only boosts confidence, but it changes the way others see their career success.

Dr. Martie Gidon, MD, FRCPC of Gidon Aesthetics & Medispa in Toronto, has seen this trend first-hand: “Many of my patients are competing with younger people in the workplace and are more confident when they look youthful and relaxed.” While critics may be quick to point to vanity, the outcome for many of Dr. Gidon’s patients suggest it’s about empowerment. “Several of my patients have been given larger severance packages because they were thought to be at least ten years younger than their actual age,” she notes.

But cosmetic enhancement isn’t only empowering for women in the case of career success.

Taking Back Control

Cosmetic enhancement also affords patients control over how they present themselves in everyday settings, enabling them to augment their external appearance to match internal perceptions. This control counteracts the assumption that every woman seeking cosmetic enhancement is a victim to objectification. Their personal reasons for seeking surgery or treatments should not be erased.

For example, post-pregnancy, some women view their bodies not as scarred or ugly in the eyes of society, but unfamiliar to themselves. They may opt for a body reshaping makeover to restore the balance between how they feel and how they look. These women don’t want to look like someone else — just what they perceive to be their true selves, meaning they seek out subtle changes and natural-looking results. 

A Reason of One’s Own

“Patients have a wide range of motivations for seeking cosmetic surgery, from improving a feature they’ve felt has never been ideal, restoring a feature that has changed over time, to the large group of patients who want to turn back the aging clock,” notes Dr. Wayne Carman, MD, FRCSC of The Cosmetic Surgery Institute in Toronto. “Regardless of patient motivation, a surgical procedure that is properly planned and carried out can immensely enhance self-esteem and create a positive attitude that impacts day-to-day life and personal interactions more than we might imagine.”

True, feminists don’t have to agree on every issue, but the assumption that what one chooses to do with her body somehow causes her to be a bad feminist is problematic. At its root, feminist cosmetic enhancement is about affording people the freedom to control how they present themselves without marginalizing or hurting anyone.

Feminism isn’t inherently empowerment, confidence, and high self-esteem. It’s the fight for equal rights and a move away from gender binaries, making space for the ability to feel free, vulnerable and accepted in whatever capacity you choose to present yourself for whatever reason — bigger breasts, booty and Botox included.