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Achieving a Market

Achieving a Market


            Before writing this paper I was ready to write about how cosmetic surgery reconstructs gender by sculpting the body into marketable parts.  However, I then decided to think of the market, a man-made construct, as a technology itself, and while cosmetic surgery is a technology as well, it instead serves as a catalyst for people of both genders to have access to the market. Before taking Gender and Technology I felt as though “the market” available for this reconstructed gender was mainly filled with vain models, actors and actresses and the then those others who desired to imitate their looks. Yet, I believe by reconfiguring both the physical and mental workings of their body via cosmetic surgery, women (for the purpose of this paper I am focusing on those born genetically and physically female and in turn, identify as such) bind themselves to other sorts of market as well, markets that say: there is being a woman, and then there is being a woman, a more complete woman. While I in no way believe that that men are exempt from these markets, I am interested in exploring the ways in which women in particular reconstruct their mentality and body in order to market themselves.

            Victoria M. Bañales, in The Politics of Cosmetic Surgery provides a more straightforward example of women marketing themselves in Peru. The woman in the article (such as, Patricia Lira, Ana Ponce and Maria Espichan) desire to physically reconstruct themselves via cosmetic surgery for the sake of Peru’s job market. From the way Bañales speaks of this particular market, these women are not applying to become models, and yet is simply not enough to be a  promising, determined woman in order to successfully enter the market. Instead, one must have a “good presence”—or rather a “non-Indian appearance. The “good presence” that employers in Peru seek tends to include a “straight” nose to match the features of the “light-skinned wealthy elite,” and thus Peru’s job market reconstructs the definition of a woman to include a “straight nose.” In order to further emphasize the marketing that these women are doing with their bodies, Bañales offers the Marxist concepts of use-value and exchange value, where the use value of a “straight” nose and a “curved” nose are equal, as in they both allow for breathing and smelling. However, these women recognize the exchange value placed on a “straight” nose, the nose that offers them economic stability. The exchange value leads these women not only to alter their bodies, sculpting their nose into a marketable nose, but this physical reconstruction carries over into their mental construct of a female: she can be willing to work, and competent but she must also have the “right” nose in order to achieve a place in the market.

            However, there are other markets for women to present themselves to, if we follow the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a market: a place where trade is conducted.  When it comes to growing old, regardless of gender, aging is a completely natural occurrence. For women, wrinkles appear, skin loosens and breasts begin to sag. However one woman in Accounting for Cosmetic Surgery: The Accomplishment of Gender claims: “In your late fifties and sixties you start to get a lot of ‘crepeyness’ in your neck…and it’s just, you know, not attractive. Mine weren’t that bad, but they were coming down.”  The woman interviewed does indeed place the concept of aging within the original construct of her gender; however, she also deems it unattractive. Women with this sort of mindset, according to plastic surgeons interviewed in the same article, believe that cosmetic surgery will “increase their self-esteem and improve their self-image.” When these women get the face lift to tighten up loose skin or the upper eyelid surgery to retain elasticity in the eyelids, they are sculpting their faces into a marketable construct for their self-esteem. They are trying to sell their own reconstructed (and thus “improved”) image back to themselves to boost their confidence; they essentially trade in this new image for their old confidence. Thus, their self-esteem becomes their own personal market, and redefines’ what constitutes as a “woman.” For women such as the one interviewed, this new definition includes “wrinkle-free.”

            Finally, the article In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity reveals that Muslim women are opting for hymen repair in order to make themselves eligible for marriage. Under the pressure of this Islamic marriage market some women realize that by losing their virginity before marriage they have strayed too far away from the Islamic marriage market ideal, thus they tack on the definition of “chaste” to their gender to redeem themselves and rationalize the cause for the procedure. Yet, this chastity goes even beyond the woman and her partner. As one woman explained, both her and her partner opted for the operation in order to keep peace within their families. With this particular marriage market, women trade in their virginity (reconstructed with the help of cosmetic surgery) for honor and stability and thus a woman’s hymen serves as a peace offering, a marketable feature for traditional Islamic families. Yet, vaginal cosmetic surgery is not only confined to an Islamic marriage market. In an article titled: More Women Seek Vaginal Plastic Surgery Ileana Vasquez, a 29-year-old house wife look toward “vaginal rejuvenation” in hopes to keep herself in the marriage market as well. Vasquez admitted that her marriage was no longer sexually pleasing for her husband after having four children and that he no longer wanted her “as a woman.” In essence, Vasquez equated being a woman in this marriage market with having a tighter vagina and with the aid of vaginal cosmetic surgery, she remarketed herself accordingly in order to save her marriage and remain in the market.

            Before writing this paper, I wanted to write about how cosmetic surgery deconstructed gender because of the negative connotations I felt the term “deconstruct” gave to cosmetic surgery—a practice that I am usually against. However, after switching to the perspective of the market as being the main technology for these women, I am horrified not so much by the surgeries themselves but by the markets they stem from. It makes me wonder: will we ever be able to change the conceptions of these markets in order to accept all forms of beauty?



Works Cited

Bañales, Victoria. “The Face Value of Dreams”: Gender, Race, Class, and the Politics of Cosmetic

 Surgery.” Beyond the Frame: Women of color and Visual Representation. Ed. Neferti X.M.

 Tadiar and Angela Y. Davis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 131-152.


Dull, Diana, Candace West. Accounting for Cosmetic Surgery: The Accomplishment of Gender.”

  Social Problems, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Feb., 1991), pp. 54-70.


Korbin, Sandy. “More Women Seek Vaginal Plastic Surgery.” Women’s eNews 14 Nov. 2004.


 Sciolino, Elaine, Souad Mekhennet. “In Europe, Debate over Islam and Virginity.” New York Times 11

 Jun. 2008.


2 Responses
  1. February 16, 2009

    Testing the comments.

  2. Anne Dalke permalink*
    February 16, 2009

    Mista Jay—

    You’ve done something pretty interesting here: changed the terms of the debate around cosmetic surgery from a focus on the procedures themselves—nose jobs, skin tightening, hymen reconstruction—to the matter of women’s being “for sale” in “the market,” that “place where trade is conducted,” and where their value as women (and employees, and wives, and people who value themselves) is bought and sold.

    Perhaps most striking to me is your suggestion that women “sell their own reconstructed images back to themselves to boost their confidence”; what this implies is that the marketing of feminine appearance is something women themselves choose to engage in for their own purposes and self-esteem, rather than an act that is imposed on us by others, such as employers, or husbands.

    Which gets us, of course, to the question with which you end: how can we change these markets, “in order to accept all forms of beauty?” Well, what do you think? How can such change be brought about? Might it have to do w/ getting rid of the whole notion of the market? Or of the “exchange value” of personal appearance? (How to do that?) Or with valuing beauty as a commodity to be traded? Might we think of one another in terms of our use-value to one another, rather than in terms of the worth of our appearance? (And what is the limit of doing that? Of thinking of one another as a means to an end, of use?) Big questions, here!

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