I’ll spare you the excuses for why it took me a month to get to this particular conversation with the comments, this time with my friend Lisa Hirsch.
In mid-May, I wrote this post, which starts with the story of a woman who had plastic surgery so she could look like her daughter. In the context of my critique of her choices, I said,
“I can’t fault an individual for making a choice that gives her self-esteem and satisfaction.”
Lisa’s first comment was:
I can, at least in this case. I’m pretty creeped out by the mother who had plastic surgery to look like her daughter. It feels like a kind of appropriation to me. Whatever is going on in her head, it is far, far beyond “looking at my daughter made me feel good at a difficult time.” If that were the case, all she had to do was…spend time with her daughter. Or look at photos of the daughter on a regular basis. Instead, she adopted her daughter’s appearance.
If it were a stranger having surgery to look like the daughter, it would look like a kind of stalking. What is it when the mother does it?
Lisa and I had a bit of exchange in the comments section, which you can see here.
Now I absolutely understand where Lisa is coming from. I couldn’t write my share of this blog if I didn’t have strong (sometimes hyperdeveloped) opinions about things that are and are not good for both individuals and the community or society. I believe that body hatred kills. I believe that weight loss surgery is extremely dangerous. I believe that trying to live up to an impossible ideal of beauty is self-destructive. I believe that aging is part of living, and that trying to disguise or significantly slow down the process is both unhealthy and disturbing.
I also believe, with Pema Chodron, that we all “start where we are.” It’s taken both a lot of privilege and a lot of work to get to where I am about body image. I have the option of expecting everyone else to be more or less where I am, or accepting that people are all over the spectrum, and the ones who don’t see things the way I do are under enormous social pressure not to change in my direction.
I certainly don’t know everything about how I make my own choices. How likely is it that I can know everything, or even a lot, about how someone else makes her own choices? How likely is it that one news story will tell me anything of importance about how a complete stranger makes her choices? And if I did know everything, would that make it more reasonable for me to be the judge of what “the right choice” is?
When I was 21, I was an anti-war draft counselor. A good friend came to me for advice on how to circumvent the medical regulations to get into the Army, despite some health conditions. He had his reasons. I thought they were crazy and I told him that. I knew the (Vietnam) war was wrong, and I told him that. I also sat down with him and the medical regulations, and helped him figure out what would work. Now, coming up on forty years later, I might very well say, “You go ahead and do that if it’s what you want, but I won’t help you.” What I wouldn’t say, then or now, is “That’s the wrong choice for you.”
It’s actually much easier to identify wrong choices for the world, or the culture, or the society, or the community than it is to be confident of what are right or wrong choices for individuals. And yet, all social choices are made up of multiple individual choices.
I have friends who’ve had weight loss surgery and friends who are seriously considering it. The last time the issue came up, I said, “Do you want to hear my reservations about your decision?” She said, no, thanks, she thought she’d done adequate research. I shut up, except for wishing her luck and making sure there are things she can eat when she comes to my house. (She’s doing fine.) I get to have my opinions about weight loss surgery. I get to feel as strongly about them as I want to. I get to do as much research as I can and have facts and figures at my fingertips. And then I get to keep my opinions to myself unless they’re welcome.
I’m not about to stop crusading for all of us to love our bodies, appreciate how they change, accept ourselves exactly as we are. And it doesn’t feel like a contradiction to me that someone who doesn’t do that, for whatever reason or complex of reasons, also needs–and deserves–support.