Pre-Class Post: Week 7

Lisel Neumann


Pre-Class Blog Post

February 28, 2011


All of these articles really highlight the idea of performance of ideologies, class, and personal morals and values through clothing. Specifically, these articles look at class mobility as portrayed through clothing. This blog post will attempt to tie this week’s readings together under the idea of how fashion and consumerism regulate power discourses, what is considered “natural” (and perhaps “normal”), and can have a large role in producing and inventing different identities and statuses. Although these articles somewhat reinforce what we discussed last week with the Zoot Suit Riots, and African-American Dandyism, this week’s articles take a new look at consumerism by expanding the definition of fashion to include that which is outside of clothing. Marianne Conroy’s article on discount shopping malls really highlights this idea by discussing how one of the biggest lures of shopping malls is “the possibility […] that consumers might impersonate a class lifestyle beyond their means while maintaining their budgets” (75). This, combined with the fact that many outlet malls are outside of easily-accessible areas and require extra work to get to, reinforces the importance of being able to maintain a lifestyle that allows one to take a day trip to the mall. It was most interesting how she described this as an active process, rather than the kind of distraction pull that shopping normally has (which would be a passive process of consumerism). I kind of relate the pull of the outlet mall to the common notion of “retail therapy”. In this sense, the mall serves as a distraction and gives a sense of upward mobility through affordable designer brands, but also recognizes that this is an active, constantly changing process of consumerism. That is, therapy in itself is an active process that makes us feel better, but also something that one needs to continually put effort towards in order to reap the full benefits. Even terms such as “upward mobility” give a sense of an active, continually changing process of self-definition and discovery through clothing. This is what the outlet mall capitalizes on, and what draws so many consumers. In the same sense, discount shopping requires work (it’s not just a short trip or an hour shopping), and thus an active process, but it is also a distraction from an everyday lifestyle that might not necessarily afford the luxuries of full-priced designer brand items. Because of this, the once unattainable becomes part of the everyday. And isn’t this the ultimate marker of luxury, stability, and economic security? As Conroy acknowledges, “women are charged with the special responsibility of maintaining the virtual reality of middle-class lifestyle through consumption”, the contested “American Dream” to which the outlet mall allows them access (76). Along the same lines, Katherine Zane discusses the need to show upward mobility, but through a different type of consumerism: plastic surgery. In the sense that a major marker of status is how the eyes are shaped, being able to change the shape of eyes might also allow opportunity to change status. As Zane discusses, “facial alteration can mark changes of social status, such as graduation, coming of age, or full-time employment” (269). So this is kind of like actively going to the outlet mall to seek out signifiers that allow for class and status mobility that was previously discussed. Importantly, the article really highlights how “power and status ascriptions both inscribe and prescribe the body as it is inflected by the dynamics of power relations…”, further discussing what we have talked about previously in class as certain fashions being available to certain people (269). Kobena Mercer takes this idea a step further when she discusses the controversy over the “nature” of black hairstyles during times of political and social change. Because these styles came out at a certain time period, they are instead “stylistically cultivated and politically constructed” (108). Similarly, the Asian eye surgeries, although sometimes depicted as a natural (therefore normal?) ideology or event, might also been seen as socially constructed wants.



1)      How does the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” relate to Conroy’s article? And if outlet malls make the once unattainable now accessible in the everyday, does that mean that the push towards more excessive consumerism will constantly grow, and eventually be beyond the means of the economic middle-class? Then what?

2)      Does eyelid surgery relate to other types of plastic surgeries? Which ones and why?

3)      Plastic surgery seems to also be an ultimate form of status and power. How is this manifested in society? Why might it seems this way?



8 thoughts on “Pre-Class Post: Week 7

  1. Your question number 3 is really interesting to me. I believe plastic surgery in today’s society has spiraled completely out of control. I think it once started out as a way for people to simply correct something that maybe always caused them some kind of stress or something they just couldn’t come to terms with. It was one simple problem that they just “fixed”, according to them. I believe now however that people use plastic surgery to portray what they feel perfect is. I don’t think today’s plastic surgery is done for the person, its done so that they can portray a certain image to those who surround them. As an example I will use the Housewives of Beverly Hills. Nearly all of the women have dramatic surgeries on almost every part of their body. Why is this? Is it because at a young age you felt like you had a big nose? Or is it because your husband is a millionaire and he can afford for you to get a breast implant here or liposuction there? Plastic surgery in today’s society is simply to keep up with the Joneses’. People do it to show that they they hold a certain status because they “Can” do it. I believe it no longer holds the sacred values that it once did when it was done for a genuine reason. Today’s society is all about “how can I look better than the next girl”?

    • Keeping up with the Joneses ties in perfectly with the concepts Conroy talks about in her articles. We are always looking to push forward in status (the idea of upward mobility) and trying to live up to the class we so desperately wish we could be a part of. The way in which we do this is through consumerism. To us, each object holds a certain amount of value; the nicer more expensive object, the richer one appears to be. If however we could actually afford to buy all the things we wanted we would be part of the upper class but most of us cannot. Instead, we look to objects within our means to consume that give off the idea that we have status. Outlet malls are one great example of how we can attain this “performed status.” Outlet malls allow everyday people the chance to consume brand name products at a discounted price. This in the end, allows more people to consume. As far as this consumerism growing to be excessive, I would argue that it already is. Sure it will continue to grow as more products are introduced however, consumerism is already ingrained into our lives, we practically cannot avoid it.

      Upward mobility seems to be the ultimate goal we aim to achieve. The more we consumer the higher up on the charts we go or so it seems. Plastic surgery fits right along with this. Ashley I think hit it right on the head. Plastic surgery used to be for correcting stress-inducing injuries or in some cases to get the body as close to normal-looking as it once was before some sort of accident/crisis. Now however, it appears that plastic surgery is the new thing to consume. The Housewives TV show is a great example. I’m not sure if there is a single woman on the show that has not gone under the knife. The aim of these people is to correct any possible flaw so that they can be as close to their idea of perfect. Only the rich however can afford to keep up with this trend. When the average person saves up to get plastic surgery, they are in a way imitating the upper class who can afford to just throw money away on these surgeries. This is the same idea as the average consumer shopping at outlet malls so they too can have the brand name fashions. Upward mobility to the highest status one can achieve always the end goal.

  2. In Korea, double eyelid surgery is so common that it’s not abnormal to give them off as gifts for one’s birthday or graduation. The goal is to achieve the large outer lids that whites have. You even see video tutorials on youtube on how to achieve that look with some glue and tape! Plastic surgery is a double edged sword. It’s a blessing towards those who want to get something fixed due to some dissatisfaction, but why is that person dissatisfied? What is the model image that women/men compare themselves to that make them feel lacking in their physical attributes? The model figure is the tall, skinny, round eyed white girl. We all want that westernerized look.

  3. Your last question about how plastic surgery gives rise to some type of status or power is easily seen in the TV show Bridalplasty on E and your discussion on double eyelid surgery. Double eyelid surgery is similar to ALL types of plastic surgery such as tummy tucks, butt lifts and breast implants. I feel that all of these procedures have to do with achieving some type of perfection that comes from the ideas and portrayal of American woman’s bodies in the media. If your body can match that of what is shown in the media, a woman gains a certain status in regards to beauty. Woman’s need to become more beautiful and to become closer to perfection through plastic surgery becomes empowering because with this new, perfect and beautiful body comes confidence, sexiness and a status close to the models and movie stars shown on TV and in woman’s magazines.

  4. Prior to reading Kathleen Zane’s essay “Reflections on a Yellow Eye: Asian I(\Eye/)Cons and Cosmetic Surgery”, I did not realize eye surgery to this extent existed. Receiving cosmetic surgery to change the shape of one’s eye relates to any other form of cosmetic surgery one can think of. Breast implants and reductions, liposuction, reshaping of the nose, lip injections, and the list continues. Woman all over the world receive plastic surgeries in an effort to conform to the “conventional” and “standardized” ideal of beauty. Think of Heidi Montag, a minor reality television celebrity, who possessed a natural beauty. She had millions of dollars worth of surgery, receiving ten procedures at one time, all in the effort to conform to what she believed was the “Western” ideal of beauty: Looking like Barbie. Eye surgeries relate to this same concept of conforming. I personally find it difficult to understand the concept of cosmetic surgery in growing, globalizing world. Changing eye shape, and any other body part, to feel beautiful is a strange concept to me.
    Cosmetic surgery, however, is a symbol of power and status. With procedures costing thousands and thousands of dollars, only the wealthy can afford the botox fountain of youth. Cosmetic surgery becomes a state of power because they can afford to change anything they may dislike about their body. Think about the television shows in our present society: Bridal-plasty, Dr. 90210, Real Housewives of a given county or city…the list goes on and on. From reality television shows which actually portray cosmetic surgery, to reality television shows depicting rich, housewives with lip injections, breast implants, liposuction, nose jobs, etc. From here, the idea of cosmetic surgery is manifested.

  5. I agree with other comments that plastic surgery has spiraled out of control. The fact that people feel they need to permanently alter their bodies to feel included in society today, seems ridiculous. The concept of getting an eyelid surgery as a rite of passage reminded me of Jewish girls that receive rhinoplasty for their bat mitzvah. These surgeries have become something that is just expected to occur. My best friend in high school mom had the surgery when they came to the United States and you couldn’t even tell when she had her glasses on, which was all the time. She felt the surgery was necessary to be accepted in her new job as a professor. People feel they are not good enough the way they naturally are; they feel the need to conform to a Western ideal of thin, big breasted, big blue-eyed women. They will go to extreme lengths to achieve this “ideal” appearance. Jocelyn Wildensetin (also known as the cat lady) is a perfect example of plastic surgery gone excessive. She has had so many surgeries that she doesn’t even look human. Another example of extreme plastic surgery is Sheyla Hershey, the woman with the largest breast implants. She had to have then removed due to the massive infections she contracted due to the implants. She even wants to get new implants to be awarded the world record! I don’t think people realize how big the risk of infection, or that something could go wrong during the surgery beforehand. These are largely invasive surgeries that involve anesthesia, which always carries a large risk especially if the anesthesiologist isn’t certified to the highest standards. Overall, plastic surgery has become something that is just accepted as a natural part of conforming to society despite the risks to one’s health. I would like to think this might go out of vogue in the future, but with the improvements in medical technologies, I think that would be unrealistic.

  6. The idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” relate to Conroy’s article in the way that the meaning of “keeping up with the Joneses” means staying on a competing level, remaining relivant and current, just as the examples described in Conroy’s article did. I feel that eyelid surgery relates to every kind of plastic surgery. unless it is a medical need to have someone’s body cut on and altered, than any alteration done for vanity purposes are just cosmetic prosedures.

    Cosmetic surgery is usually available done by the wealthy because perhaps they feel that with that kind of money you have to represent yourself in a way that shows why you deserve to live a privilege. I feel that it is depicted this way simply because other members of the population who desire to change themselves but do not have the money available to them to get these procedures done, usually don’t bother to get plastic surgical procedures.

  7. Keeping up with the Joneses is a great way to look at all the articles for this week. The Real Housewives series shows this idea in both plastic surgery but also in terms of having nice houses and having better, fancier, more eccentric things than their fellow housewives. You can see this in the show because of the fact that so many of them are going bankrupt trying to afford nice furniture and outrageous houses.

    As far as plastic surgery goes, I would agree with the other comments that this is also a marker of class. Once someone gets rich enough to afford nice things, they automatically start spending their money frivolously. Heidi Montag is a great example. Due to her plastic surgery, she got added publicity but also got a lot of criticism. She looked nothing like herself so clearly this was just a way to show off the fact that she can afford to do things like that.

    I think that eyelid surgery relates to all other types of cosmetic surgery for this reason. Unless someone has a cleft pallet or something similar that is causing them actual discomfort, it has a lot to do with putting on the appearance of being wealthy and good looking. Plastic surgery is so expensive that some people save up for so long to correct things, just in the same way that people go shopping at outlet malls or save up for one or two luxury items.

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