I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic surgery. Not for myself, well, not actively for myself, but the idea that at one point in your life you can change your appearance so much that you can permanently look like another person. This is probably a hangover from my adolescent love of Seconds, The Face of Another and thinking about Julavits’ The Vanishers. All involve plastic surgery as a means of creating a new life for oneself.
I came across some photos of Kim Novac on tumblr, and remembered all the criticism about her face. She’s had a lot of surgery, and now no longer looks “like her.” The idea of looking “like you” is already a fallacy. We change so much throughout our lives, who we end up looking like is arbitrary. Why is a certain quote more “you” than anything else? How it going under a knife any different than the many ways we change and sculpt our appearance through other means?
The people who are against plastic surgery because it isn’t “real” or “natural” generally have no idea how ideology, or the world works. How we end up looking as we age is mostly about how much we conform to certain norms. I remove hair from my body, I use certain products to maintain a kind of skin and hair, I eat a certain amount and a certain kind of food in order to maintain a certain body shape. This is what you do when you’re part of the world, and I see no difference in it than I do with someone radically changing their appearance. And who am I to judge what others do to their own bodies. We’re all conforming, until we’re not.
The Face of Another has one of my favourite lines, which I think fits in here. The protagonist, who through an accident has had his face destroyed, creates a mask so perfect that he can, and does, become another person. The book is a series of diary entries, or maybe letters? I don’t have it on hand, to his wife, who he abandons and seduces with his alternating faces. He writes, in parentheses, “(Under any circumstances, I simply did not want to lose you. To lose you would be symbolic of losing the world.)”
How much is our appearance our world? How the world treats us hinges on our appearance, and by changing our appearance, we can change our world. But change comes with loss, and to change oneself you risk losing your world. The above mentioned texts all warn against attempting this. All the characters lose, and suffer, for their world is gone. But rather than use our old face to look backwards, we have the possibility of using our new face to look forwards, and create new worlds around us. I am my body, and my body is my world. Why not use our bodies to change our world? Why not decide at a certain point to be done with what you’ve had, and create something new? We have a strange sacredness around our bodies, but maybe we should work towards losing that all together.