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Surgical strikes

Idiot spammers, may their fingers drop off, have recently been making repeated forlorn attempts to post comments here under the rubric of “Breast Enhancement”. I sincerely hope this is unrelated to the fact that the Demographics Prediction feature at Microsoft’s adCenter Labs considered a few weeks ago that this blog was most likely to appeal to teenage girls. (It has now changed its mind, saying that slightly more teenage boys will prefer it. I look forward to writing more posts about heavy metal and videogames, which those who know me will understand I do not find an onerous prospect.) But it did remind me of a passing comment I made in a review some months ago of Dorothy Ko’s excellent Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding: that an attitude of smug superiority towards such practices by the Other, considered opaquely barbaric and woman-deforming, seems problematic in a western culture that itself calls the surgical insertion of foreign objects to satisfy a fetish for breasts that look like cannonballs enhancement. It is at least faintly possible that there is a deliberate reference to the root sense of enhancement as literally making higher, raising; but this is of course not the only effect of what Dr Christian Troy of Nip/Tuck bluntly calls “tit jobs”. On the other hand, why is it that spammers promise merely penis enlargement and not enhancement as well? Perhaps penis enhancement, literally, is the job of the Viagra their colleagues sell.

In a pleasing example of google speculation as self-fulfilling prophecy, meanwhile, I am happy to report that, subsequent to sw’s ludic phantasy here, is now the top result for the search terms hot sexxx christopher hitchens.

  1. 1  Brass Ear  October 11, 2006, 3:44 pm 

    I should point out that I have not read Cinderella’s Sisters, nor do I possess any specialist knowledge of the history (revisionist or otherwise) of foot binding. I was, however, intrigued by the concept of “enhancement” in relation to female cooperation and complicity in(and even active propagation of) practices which might tend to cause serious physical torment. Whether or not the ultimate prize of the “enhancement” is worth the (severe) discomfort and attendant danger in acquiring and maintaining it.

    “Cinderella’s Sisters argues that rather than stemming from sexual perversion, men’s desire for bound feet was connected to larger concerns such as cultural nostalgia, regional rivalries, and claims of male privilege. Nor were women hapless victims, the author contends. Ko describes how women–those who could afford it–bound their own and their daughters’ feet to signal their high status and self-respect”

    It made me wonder about the social or class element to enhancement (of feet or breasts). On the one hand, foot-binding might be said to be a way in which females could gain higher (social) status for themselves and their daughters or demonstrate self respect, and indeed males might assert fraternal dominance through indirect “possession” of said miniature feet. Social enhancement, in the sense of aspirational class-ascendancy or the maintenance at least of class divisions, is an interesting explanation for the prevalence and persistence of the practice: One can imagine the Hyacinth Bucket-style dinner party one-upmanship “my daughter’s feet are so pin-like only one angel could dance on the head of her stumps” etc..

    However, the enhancement of one’s breasts is another matter and, I would venture to suggest, perhaps not directly correlative. Surgical intervention for those with dainty chests is no doubt becoming more socially acceptable. Articles in Grazia, New Woman, and Heat have all recently plugged “lunch-time boob-jobs”, surgical routes to acquiring a “new bikini body”, and a plethora of general articles about how much happier and more feminine so and so young person felt after her shamefully tiny breasts had been enhanced. This publicity and public acknowledgement of, or nod to, the normality or every-day nature of such procedures is certainly helping an invidious creep (not him again) towards silicon (water-based gel!) nirvana.

    But. One recalls the Brass Eye Paedo sketch (it’s a sketch, okay, and it’s not real) where a five year old’s implants are proudly displayed to other envious mothers backstage at a beauty contest. We’re not at that stage. So in that sense breast augmentation has not the social cachet of a pair of nicely bound plates of meat. One might be ashamed to admit to cosmetic intervention (“Of course they’re real”). And even Jordan’s dad must be a little red-faced and wound up when his friends are reading page three and commenting on his daughter’s delightful globes. In a way that he perhaps might not be if they were admiring her feet.

    Whilst it might be seen as an asset to have one’s assets enhanced if working (working?) as a celebrity, that the majority of those who (and I’m not trying to start a class war) might describe themselves as professional, middle and upper class are still busy sniffing (secretly or otherwise) at the mammarily cosmetically enhanced, however much they might voraciously devour the news of said surgical intervention. And listen, I’m not suggesting that anyone, of any class, might _typically_ want or encourage their family or friends to yield to the blade of a scalpel in the name of happiness, just that the ambition to star in The Star is not necessarily associated with those social groups…

    One point – I’m not sure that the above holds good in terms of generally “having some work done” by a surgeon (face lifts or stomach stapling for example). Is there perhaps some peculiar snobbery in relation to a woman’s need or desire to enhance the most visible adverts of her femininity that people feel happier to disparage her for it?

  2. 2  Steven  October 11, 2006, 3:58 pm 

    Brass Ear, I am sure you are right about the social functions of footbinding and breast “enhancement” not being directly correlative.

    In making the point about the word “enhancement”, I was merely intending to point out a possible asymmetry in certain attitudes to the transformation of women’s bodies depending on where they live(d); I did not mean to disparage any particular woman, or indeed Star readers in general, surely a fun-loving bunch.

  3. 3  homo ludens  October 12, 2006, 2:04 am 

    I have learned today that may be 600,000 Iraqis have died since our efforts to liberate them began. Is this question of ‘enhancement’ not a little self-regarding in the circumstances?

    The ‘Steven Poole Project’ may be of interest to some but I am sure the Iraqis have other things on their minds.. As, indeed, have I…

  4. 4  Leinad  October 12, 2006, 5:47 am 

    Qua? How could 600,000 Iraqis have died of breast implants and footbinding in just three years?
    That’s just a ridiculous number homo ludens, surely the real figure is closer to 50,000…

  5. 5  bobw  October 12, 2006, 6:49 am 

    My S.O., who read the same book (or a review of it, probably) says the purpose of foot binding was to make the women more helpless, more subject to male power.
    The purpose of breast enhancements seems to be reverse the power equation.

  6. 6  Steven  October 12, 2006, 8:12 am 

    bobw, that’s sort of the pre-revisionist idea about footbinding that Ko complicates a little: she doesn’t think that women were mere dumb pawns in a male power game. (As she shows, for example, women were some of the most vociferous critics of the eventual ban on the practice.)

    As for breast “enhancement”, I’m not sure whether it really does reverse the power equation, or whether it is still broadly men who are setting the “aesthetic” criteria.

  7. 7  homo ludens  October 12, 2006, 9:51 am 

    In my experience people believe what they want to believe. The Lancet Study was carried out by a world respected team whose epidemiologial credentials in the past have never been questioned – Governments in fact have widely used their data such as in Rwanda. However in the case of Iraq their ‘inconvenient’ findings have caused many to suddenly question their methodology.
    Ripe hypocrisy wouldn’t you say? Frankly, the 50,000 figure, which I presume is the current tally at the IBC, may be the preferred figure by the war’s perpetrators but even the IBC’s authors admit the figure is likely to be a huge underestimate.

    Bottom line? Well I guess all this number-crunching doesn’t really matter from an Iraqi point of view. Life is still shit – that is for all those Iraqis that continue to live in Iraq. By the way the Lancet Study figure represents 2.5% of the Iraqi population. Clearly Saddam was just an amateur.

  8. 8  Steven  October 12, 2006, 10:01 am 

    homo ludens, you might want to take it to this thread

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