Tag Archives: cosmetic surgery

Beauty Contests, Civil Rights, Transwomen, and Surgeries: All In One Story

Laurie and Debbie say:

Whatever you may think of beauty contests, they matter deeply to the people involved in them. They are also a useful way to look at what’s going on in the world, especially the world of conventionally beautiful young women and those who fetishize them.

Miss Universe Canada is a separate beauty contest from Miss Universe USA. This year, Jenna Talackova competed in the Miss Universe Canada contest, the first identified transwoman to do so. She finished in the top 12, and tied for Miss Congeniality (a role voted on by the contestants, not the judges).

Talackova threatened to go to court for the right to compete, but the Miss Universe organization, which is owned by Donald Trump, agreed to let her compete before the case went to court. She might not have won her case in the U.S., but she probably would have won in Canada, where the LGBT rights laws are the most progressive in the Americas.

Take a moment to celebrate Talackova’s multiple victories: she got into the pageant (which was her dream), she did well, the other contestants liked her, and she changed a part of the world–a part that is deeply important to her.

South of the Canadian border, Olivia Culpo (Miss Rhode Island) won the Miss USA pageant. In the interview before the winner was announced, she drew a Twitter question if she thought transgender women should be allowed to compete in these contests. Here’s her answer:

I do think that that would be fair. I can understand that people would be a little apprehensive to take that road because there is a tradition of natural-born women, but today where there are so many surgeries, and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life—I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.

As Melissa McEwen at Shakesville points out, this is an amazing answer. In two sentences, Culpo  manages to

  • acknowledge the barrier people have to cross to accept trans candidates,
  • remind her listeners that many, if not most, of the contestants on stage have had body-mod surgeries
  • draw the connection between “beauty” surgery and gender-change surgery
  • acknowledge that transwomen are changing “for a happier life,” and
  • throw in the “free country” language which is so rarely invoked for trans rights.

The hosts of the show, Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic, felt that Culpo “nailed” the answer, which says that she has significant support for her position.

The host of surgeries which are common currency for 21st century beauty contestants include everything from breast augmentations to nose jobs.  Surgeries like these can only be considered “change for a happier life” because of the intense and unrelenting pressure on women to modify ourselves for the beauty market. And, unlike gender change, cosmetic surgery often doesn’t actually bring happiness to the people who undergo it. In the context of Miss Universe, however, we can hardly expect contestants to be the ones to fight against arbitrary beauty standards.

So, if a large percentage of the contestants have surgery to be able to be in the running, what is the difference between a contestant who has had a vaginoplasty and one who has had a breast augmentation? Between a contestant with a straightened nose and one with a reduced Adam’s apple?

Of course, there has been backlash. A contestant resigned from the Miss USA pageant after she lost, claiming both disgust at the thought of transwomen competing and fraud in the results. There will always be backlash, and it will always be nasty.

Jenna Talackova opened a door; Olivia Culpo explained, in simple accessible terms, why that door should be open. We don’t have to be big supporters of beauty contests to appreciate what they’ve done.

What Matters? The Implant or the Woman?

Laurie and Debbie say:

We first came across this story at the article at the link, a blog post on the L.A. Times site. Newspaper blog posts are paid journalism.

A British woman’s breast implant reportedly exploded after she was hit in the chest by a paintball, which can travel at 190 mph.

picture (from the back of her head) of a woman aiming a paintball gun

UK Paintball has now adjusted  its policies accordingly. “We respectfully ask that any ladies with surgical breast implants notify our team at the time of booking,” according to a statement on its website. “You will be given special information on the dangers of paintballing with enhanced boobs and asked to sign a disclaimer. You will also be issued with extra padding to protect your implants while paintballing.

Yes, their official statement says “enhanced boobs.”

What struck us immediately was that the L.A. Times blog piece (by Amina Khan, who appears to be a regular science blog writer for the newspaper) doesn’t say anything about what happened to the woman. Did she die? Did she suffer minor injuries and go home with no problem? Was it something in between? Googling around yields a little more information. ABC News says that the paintball company says “the woman is likely to make a full recovery.” Well, that sounds fairly serious, but it’s hardly detailed.

The International Business Times says: “Apparently, this injury could end up costing the woman almost $5,000.” That might not sound astonishing to American readers, but in the United Kingdom, spending that kind of money out of pocket for a medical issue is far less common. Again, a  serious comment, but hardly detailed.

Various articles talk about the safety issues regarding paintball and/or the safety issues regarding breast implants. We did a little research ourselves, and it would appear that while some dangers of breast implants have been exaggerated (such as the unsupported belief that there’s a link between breast implants and fibromyalgia), in fact the gel implants don’t have a long life (more than half need attention within 15 years) and the FDA recommends an MRI once every 2-3 years, to be paid for out of the patient’s pocket. (Minimum MRI prices in the U.S. are about $1500.) We wonder how many women with implants are getting those MRIs? And how many end up with either major health problems and/or even more major expenses if they don’t get them.

But regardless of how you feel about breast implants, and how you feel about paintball, it seems clear that everyone is focused on the implant, some people are focused on other breast implant stories, some people are focused on paintball and the company’s response, but no one is very interested in what has happened to the woman.

And here we would have thought that this was her story.