THE BLOG

Ethnic Cosmetic Surgery

02/23/2011 12:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The New York Times is talking about how, especially in New York City, there are ethnically preferred cosmetic surgery procedures. Like, Italian women get knee fixes and Dominicans get butt lifts and Koreans get their jaws thinned.

I try not to read the comments on articles about cosmetic surgery. People are always yelling. They are always disgusted and horrified. They are always saying things like "then what?" If you are willing to do that to yourself, than what else are you willing to do? What's next? A clone army? Vanity babies that are genetically manipulated to look like your favorite Sports Illustrated bikini model? Anything could happen.

Sometimes I forget I got plastic surgery. I don't feel like someone who would do it. I don't look like someone who did it. It's easy not to think about it.

What was interesting, the article said, was that the Long Island women were getting their butts reduced while the Washington Heights women were getting theirs enhanced. In other words, cosmetic surgery is no longer just about fitting into your adopted culture (as it often was for Jews and Irish and blacks), it's about fitting into your ethnic group.

That is interesting.

Maybe it's good news about race-relations in the U.S. But it's the same news about beauty. Sometimes you feel so left out of whatever the standard is, you have to change yourself to feel like you belong. And there is always a standard. The movies you see, the people you're around, the things you read and overhear, the other girls who are called pretty and sexy and beautiful, all influence your idea of beauty.

People always describe cosmetic surgery like it's a whim for the women who get it. It's the equivalent of a really expensive new handbag, rather than the painful result of years of insecurity. Maybe for some women, it really is a whim. And I don't have any moral objections to that, either. But it seems a little unlikely to casually pour so many resources into procedures that are known to be incredibly uncomfortable, at least a little stigmatized, and time consuming (weeks off of work, up to a year to heal completely). Maybe many of the women who choose cosmetic surgery feel like they've already tried everything else. Like they're exhausted. Like they just want to somehow fit in.

It always sounds frivolous, because we're talking about beauty, and beauty sounds superficial and meaningless to so many people. Especially people who write seriously on serious social issues. But appearances have been proven over and over again to dictate, dominate, and even predict people's options and opportunities. And meeting or failing to meet standard attractiveness (regardless of what that standard happens to be) can define a woman's life.

Even the Jewish women who were described as beautiful had small noses. In fact, every single woman I understood to be considered beautiful as a kid had a small nose. Or at least not an especially large one. I internalized the message that having a small nose was critical to being a successful woman.

I felt so old-school, reading the New York Times piece. Am I one of the last Jews to try to physically assimilate? I'm as American as I am Jewish. Probably more so, if you can measure these things. In my pale-skinned, Ashkenazic culture, it's hard to even tell which standards are "really Jewish" and which have been adopted. There's no such thing as cultural purity. I wonder if that's also true for the other ethnic groups described in the article.

The other day, in a thrift store in Brooklyn, I heard a guy say to his friend, "So what's your type?"

The second guy said, "Definitely buxom Jewish women."

"Oh yeah? Is that a thing for Jewish women?"

"Yeah, it's totally a thing. That's how they look."

Well, I thought, that's not how I look. There's another marker of Jewish beauty that I don't fit. Which is a little annoying. Because when you're already different, you want to at least be beautiful and different. You want to be the best of the different.

But I'm not willing to get breast enhancement surgery. It's been a couple years since I got my nose done, and enough is enough. I've learned that I'll never meet the standard of American beauty, just as I'll never meet the standard of American Jewish beauty. But it isn't as depressing a realization as I expected it would be. Someone always has to start changing the standard. So I volunteer myself. Plus, it'll save me money. I think there's another stereotype about Jews that has something to do with that?

Cross-posted on Eat the Damn Cake