home Beauty, Commentary, Current Affairs, Entertainment Should we just leave Heidi Montag alone?

Should we just leave Heidi Montag alone?

Plastic surgery has become very commonplace as the prices for procedures have dropped. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 91% of all surgeries for a total of 11 million procedures were performed on women in 2008 alone. We live in a society that constantly scrutinizes our bodies while imposing standards that have become increasingly unattainable. For women, the added pressure of sexism makes the failure to conform that much more problematic. From the dolls little girls play with, to the images in magazines, perfection is the only option that is effectively given to us.

According to US Magazine, Heidi Montag recently had an interview with Ryan Seacrest in which she discussed new details in her plastic surgery marathon:

“In addition to familiar-sounding enhancements — nose, cheekbone and chin jobs, eyebrow lift, breast enlargement, fat injections — Montag said that she also ‘had my back scooped.’ When Ryan Seacrest asked her to clarify what a ‘back scoop’ is, Montag replied, ‘I actually didn’t know. I might be the first one to try it. It carves out your back a little bit.'”

The fact that even after the surgery that Montag was unable to be coherent about the procedure reveals an issue with informed consent and her understanding of her body’s appearance. No patient should ever undergo any medical procedure without being fully aware of what is going to occur and what the risks are. Though plastic surgery has become routine, going under general anaesthesia should always be understood as a risk — patients have died on the operating table.

There is a tendency to dismiss Montag as someone who is unstable, but the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that in the year 2008, multiple cosmetic procedures performed at once increased 9% and repeat patients also went up by 7%. It would seem that Montag may be a bit more typical than we would like to admit.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Heidi had this to say about her surgeries:

“I’m not addicted; if I were addicted I would have had ten plastic surgeries. Well, ten times. I really had two different plastic surgeries. I had one three years ago and then I had one where I had several procedures done weeks ago. If you’re addicted to something you have to do it all the time, not once every couple years.”

Magazine covers have referred to her as addicted, but Montag has only technically had two surgical incidents, one of which one involved multiple procedures in one day, which has become a somewhat common phenomenon. Are we policing this situation due to Montag’s gender? Few will openly discuss the procedures that they have had, yet the number of plastic surgeries performed in the U.S. means that Montag is far from special.

When questioned about the message that she sends out to her young female fans, Heidi Montag had this to say:

“I’m living in my skin and it’s my career and my life. You only have one and I want to take advantage and be the best me in and out, every way.”

Montag’s statements get to the heart of the matter. Though her plastic surgeries were undertaken to fully comply with the disciplining of the female body, the fact that she is so criticized speaks to the way in which women’s decisions regarding their bodies are always open for question in our society. Consider that if Montag had not had any surgeries, there would still always be those who would be willing to alert her of what they viewed her physical flaws to be. How is it possible for Montag to win in this situation?

There have been allegations of sickness, and yet we know from the treatment of other celebrities that altering one’s body has become a necessary part of stardom. Whether with males or females, we demand an impossible standard. The fat-shaming of people such as Jessica Simpson, Kelly Osbourne and Gabourey Sidibe serve as an example of how badly the public treats female celebrities in particular.

Even if it were to be discovered that Montag suffered from body dysmorphic disorder, it would not be acceptable to cast her aside as a crazy woman run amok. In fact, the very idea that she may indeed be ill has been used as justification to attack her decision. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder that often manifests in the form of conditions like anorexia, bulimia and even excessive overeating. It is completely debilitating, because those who suffer with it are obsessively worried about their appearance and the judgment of others.

When we consider that Montag makes her living in Hollywood, which is continually perpetuating an idealized female form, would her alleged sickness not be a matter of social creation, therefore making it part of our collective responsibility? We can only ridicule her as the weird addicted woman because ableism has become a normalized part of our discourse.

It would be easy to simply dismiss Montag as some silly young woman who doesn’t know what she is doing. Yet she, like every person walking this planet, was born into a society that both limits and shames us. We may not like her personality, or even how she makes a living, but we should seriously consider how the ways in which the discipline applied to her affects all women. If we are not free to make decisions about our bodies without being subjected to undue shame, we are not really autonomous beings.

5 thoughts on “Should we just leave Heidi Montag alone?

  1. Excellent column.

    The entertainment and televised news media are not the only industries in which men and women decide to undergo plastic surgery in order to maintain a youthful appearance.

    About two years ago, the New York Times online ran an article describing how older men in various white-collar professions undergo visual ‘rejuvenation’ by plastic surgery, in response to ageism in their various departments. And of course women in the legal and financial-services industries have always faced ageism by their employers/clients and so have resorted to plastic surgery.

    It’s unfortunate that American culture is so fixated on a youthful appearance that plastic surgery is practically part of the overhead for an increasing number of professional careers, even outside the visual media business.

  2. I just wanted to correct one statement. You said, “The fact that even after the surgery that Montag was unable to be coherent about the procedure reveals an issue with informed consent and her understanding of her body’s appearance.”

    However, what Heidi actually said was, “I actually didn’t know.”

    Note that this is in past tense. Meaning, at some point in the past, she had never heard of the procedure. This isn’t to say that she didn’t learn about the procedure before choosing it, only that she hadn’t heard of it before discussing it with a doctor because it isn’t commonly known.

    Now, is there a chance she still doesn’t know, or a chance that she didn’t research it before going forward with the procedure? Sure, it’s possible. However, from what she said, you can’t automatically draw the conclusion that she consented to the surgery without knowing the details beforehand.

    Aside from this minor statement, the article was great. An interesting point you made was this:

    “Consider that if Montag had not had any surgeries, there would still always be those who would be willing to alert her of what they viewed her physical flaws to be. How is it possible for Montag to win in this situation?”

    And that’s exactly the problem. People who enter a career of “being famous” are going to be ridiculed for anything and everything. If they don’t get plastic surgery, there will be those to point out their flaws. If they “fix” these flaws, there will be those who will point out the fact that they’re now a fake person and not real anymore. The moment you put yourself up to public scrutiny, you guarantee that there will be a source of ridicule coming from any and every direction, possibly even after you die.

    So, choosing to become famous is not a decision to be taken lightly.

    On a side note, I think that sometimes in the “blame game” the fault can be skewed a bit. Imagine a scenario where we say, “Heidi is in the business of looking perfect. Therefore, getting plastic surgery is necessary for her career. Her income is ultimately driven by her fans… so, if her plastic surgery becomes a problem, her fans should take some responsibility.”

    Keep in mind, however, that she could also make money WITHOUT getting plastic surgery. She just might not make AS MUCH. In other words, the crux of her problem is greed. She could make MORE if she changed her appearance. Her plastic surgery is an investment with returns. She is altering her body to make more money. Sure the money is coming from advertisers who are driven by consumer desires, but it is only her decision to increase her income that is to blame.

    She could decide, “I don’t want plastic surgery, even if it means I make less money or have to retire early and change careers and work as a Barista at Starbucks.”

    Instead, her likely decision was, “I want to be famous forever… and make as much money as I can… to do so, I need plastic surgery to keep up.”

    That decision is hers alone. Yes, the consumers drive the market… but it was her decision to play the market game.

    People make difficult decisions every day to maintain a set of principles in exchange for making less money… being unemployed… losing their house… or moving to live in a third world country, helping the starving children there.

    There is a road you can take where your principles and morals are the highest priority in your life and material aspects of live take a back-seat.

    Then, there is a road where you modify your principles and adjust your morals in order to give material aspects of your life the priority.

    It is pretty clear which road Heidi decided to travel. Just because the road she decided to travel is riddled with consumers does not mean it is the consumers’ fault she picked that road.

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  4. I too thought it was a great article, I overheard she and her husband wrote a book about “how to be famous”, her husband commented that another woman was angry “because her boob job didn’t get her any press”…..these comments go to show that she could have been happy with herself before the surgery but pushed herself to go through with it for fame and publicity. So the bottom line is she values fame and publicity more than beauty.

    As for men and women feeling pressure to have surgery, it’s true I’ve seen it done many times, people give their self-esteem a big boost by doing it….however, I think it’s worth noting that wanting plastic surgery is part of a personality trait and not society’s doing, I say that because we can choose how we respond to the dolls that are made and the advertisements. Someone not giving you a finance job because of your looks is incredible and hopefully doesn’t really happen. I was not unaware of that and would like to continue to believe I am being hired based on my credentials and that I appear neat, clean and tidy. I would never let myself think otherwise.

    Basically, I firmly agree we should all never have given this as much attention as it was given. More because gossip magazines and newspapers become enablers, as she has an illness, an addiction to publicity (did I mention she is now making bogus claims that her producer sexually harassed her-wake up people), she would go so far as to mutilate her body and risk her life just to get some! Someone (where are the parents?) needs to step out and care for this poor child (Dr. Drew?) as she needs help and special care!

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