Turning into Tupperware: Susan Bordo and Our Plastic Culture (4/11/11)

30 Sep

Bordo discusses several elements of “cultural plastic” in her essay “Material Girl,” from plastic surgery to personal appearance, to fashion and finally, a “plastic discourse.” Since I don’t see it first hand, the world of plastic surgery is somewhat foreign to me, but it’s impossible to ignore how popular it is in Hollywood and the higher class, as well. “Medical science has now designated a new category of “polysurgical addicts” (or, in more casual references, “scalpel slaves”) who return for operation after operation, in perpetual quest of the elusive yet ruthlessly normalizing goal, the “perfect body,” (Bordo, 248). She mentions mainly Cher and Michael Jackson, but I was thinking more along the lines of the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor. She had a lot of work done on her face in the final years of her life, but all of it almost seems prescribed by our culture. These people get implants, botox, even fat injections in their fingers and faced to keep from sprouting wrinkles. This is because, for all intents and purposes, the actresses and musicians that parade around the stage and on screen are those who have the greatest pressure of adhering to that “perfect body” myth. It’s as if their looks have to answer to the eye of the general public.

            When you look into the mirror in the morning and prepare yourself for the day, there are some days where you’re almost ready to hear that you look “professional,” “young,” or “new” in some way. Compliments like these are great, but in some people that thrive on them, they turn into subconscious seeds that cause obsession over personal appearance. Most people don’t realize how much time a person can put into personal appearance in a day; it’s really a vicious cycle if you get caught up in it. “We all do the same thing, when we’re feeling good we wear new makeup, hairstyles, we buy new clothes. So now it’s contact lenses. What difference does it make?” (Bordo, 251). I’m conflicted about this statement as it’s from one of the women in the Donahue audience that Bordo discusses. While it seems like she’s somewhat content with the trend of it all, the statement also brings to mind the obvious imbalance between the confidence of women today and the expanding pockets of the fashion industry. What it takes for women to feel “sexy and fun” in their eyes is apparently becoming harder and harder to achieve as the days go by. While I remember personal appearance being much more of a contest in high school than it is now, the “battle” between some people still progresses. If the majority of men had clear heads on their shoulders and stopped pressuring women to look “perfect,” I would hope this struggle would stop, but sometimes I also think that it’s between women themselves, so who knows?

            “The general tyranny of fashion – perpetual, elusive, and instructing the female body in a pedagogy of personal inadequacy and lack – is a powerful discipline for the normalization of all women in this culture” (Bordo, 254). This ideal extends to men as Hollister, American Eagle, Abercrombie, as well as other brand name clothing stores, flourish and become more and more popular throughout our culture. Affliction t-shirts are a rather new trend among men, costing about $100 or more for each thin cotton shirt with very short sleeves. They’re basically muscle shirts with skeletons and heavy metal imagery on them and people buy them to look like a “badass.” The pressure for men to be toned and muscular isn’t as dominant as the pressure for women to be skinny, however, as an ex-football player, I’ve seen high school kids using steroids to get bigger. It’s a disgusting cultural trend to see young kids in sports taking supplements, steroids, and diet pills to either drop weight or make weight for the sporting event of the week.

            Bordo even proposes a discourse of plasticity that’s more evident than I once thought. To speak of plasticity is the same as to speak of the artificial, the fake. She uses a couple of examples including addressing the stereotype “blond hair, blue eyes” as well as tackling Madonna’s earlier career versus her career today. Bordo says she used to almost be voluptuous, powerful, and sexually certain rather than subordinate, and now she has toned her body and makes videos that stereotype roles of women; a proposed decline from “Like a Virgin.” The “blond hair, blue eyes” expectation has a similar counterpointed pressure in the life of men: “tall, tan, and handsome.” If you’re not above six feet with a farmer’s tan and a “strong jaw-line,” whatever that means, then you’re on a decline in the eyes of the women who expect that. There’s no mention of weight in that expectation, but it’s almost implied that heavier people are disgusting with the developing idea that heavier people are also stupid. I’m surprised on how intertwined discrimination against heavy people is. I’m not “morbidly obese” by any means, but I’m a bigger guy, and it’s ridiculous to deal with how many people judge you or won’t talk to you simply based on your weight. The prescribed word “obese,” in itself, is an amazingly depressing word to be “diagnosed” as; the sound of it implies that you’re the size of a planet with your own orbit. So, in those ways, men are in a similar position to women. 

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses


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