No pain no gain: we’ll stop at nothing for an ideal body
The widespread acceptance of painful surgery to help women walk tall is no triumph for feminism, says Rosie Boycott
Almost six years ago I broke my leg in a car accident. It was a bad break, requiring bone grafts to repair. For nearly a year, I had to wear an Ilizerof Frame, a complex system of wires and steel bands that looked like a medieval instrument of torture and which held my leg in total immobility, thus giving the grafts time to grow and heal.
Wearing the frame was a horrible experience: the wires grated, infections developed, but in the end, luckily for me, it worked. But there's another use to which the Ilizerof frame is now being put, and I was aghast when my surgeon told me about it. Originally, the device had been invented by a Russian doctor who fitted it on patients who would otherwise have had their legs amputated. In some instances, in order to ensure that the broken bones stayed tightly wedged together, it was necessary for the various nuts and bolts which held the frame in place to be slowly tightened.
It is normal for Brazilians to apply for bank loans to have their breasts enhanced
One day, a nurse accidentally started turning the bolts holding one young man's leg together in the wrong direction - with the result that his leg began to lengthen. For Dr Ilizerof this was merely a curious discovery - but it was to have consequences I am sure he would never have dreamed of.
For what my surgeon told me is that it is now common in China and other Asian countries - where women are shorter than their western counterparts - for teenage girls to voluntarily opt to have their legs broken, then lie in bed while their bones slowly grow to meet each other again, immobility guaranteed by the wires and steel of these cumbersome frames. Some girls, in their desperation to become taller, undergo the process two or three times, thereby gaining up to 10cm in height.
In her new book Bodies (Profile, £10.99), the feminist Susie Orbach bemoans the fate of these girls and of other women around the world who struggle daily with their body image, desperate to achieve what they see as the perfect look, the one held out to us in glossy movies and in the advertisements of cosmetic companies. Being thin, fit and lean have become a goal - one which you must not fail to achieve.
Starving, bingeing, gym fanaticism and surgery are now so commonplace that it is quite acceptable in countries like Brazil to apply for bank loans to have your nose fixed or your breasts enhanced in just the same way as you would negotiate a loan for a new car or kitchen. In the UK, companies like Transform offer the same facility, with the invidious come-on that a bigger pair of breasts will help you through the recession: you are, they suggest, less likely to be made redundant than your flat-chested colleague.
As the world has become less diverse - we lose languages and species, and the global power of the giant corporations now so dominates the purchases we make that we all want the same high tech gadgets, music and fashion accessories - so too have our bodies and our looks started to converge. Wherever you are from, the homogeneous images of bodily perfection mean that we have, literally, lost touch with what our bodies are for.
Businesses thrive on ‘body-hatred’ – one of the West’s most successful exportsNo longer are they the superbly designed structures designed to carry us through life - instead, they have become devices to be altered and adjusted in the unceasing quest to look like what we imagine the world desires. Products which change hair colour, skin colour, and shape through increasingly bizarre diets have become some of the most successful businesses on the planet. They thrive and prosper through what Orbach describes as 'body-hatred" - one of the West's most successful exports. In the process, we are leaching the variety out of our world, replacing joyous diversity with awkward imitations of our universal celebrity culture.
The result: unhappy women across the globe who struggle to conform, in the process losing their ability to enjoy and revel in what nature gave them. In a society which judges people on their looks, failure to be 'Hollywood-beautiful' is now seen as a sign of failure in every respect: working on our bodies is a moral value to which we should all subscribe. Our bodies have become a full-time job, a form of work, but because it is impossible for all (or indeed any) of us to achieve the air-brushed look of a starlet, it is one at which we are doomed to fail.
Forty years ago, when the first whispers of feminism were spreading across the western world, I believed that women would soon become free from their anxieties about their looks, free to live in a society which judged them on their skills, their humour and their individuality. This growing obsession for perfection and similarity of body-form has resulted in a new form of slavery - every bit as sad and depressing as the shackles we once threw off. ·
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