Visual Culture and the Body
Module 6
Claudia Egher

Body Enhancement: a gift or a modern Trojan horse?

As images multiply and penetrate the most private realms of our life, the importance of appearance increases, and the body becomes a fortress besieged both by the ideal of beauty it has to live up to, and by the various technological procedures through which this can be achieved. The image I have chosen to analyze here dates from the winter of 2007. Throughout my analysis I will try to show that the realm of cosmetic surgery appears to be a means through which body and mind can be unified as well as an instrument to express dominant values.

The commercial depicts cosmetic surgery as an appropriate Christmas present, as another form to make one(self) happy during the holidays. Through the symbol of the gift, physical beauty and happiness are equated. By presenting the option of such treatments as a Christmas present, the pain, the risks, and the costs of such procedures are forced into the background. Cosmetic surgery appears thus to be a bagatelle, something easy to undergo, and that does not require more reflection than any other present. Yet, is the gift meant for the woman herself or for her beholders?

“Cosmetic surgery can only be a transformation of the body as object, never as self”(Davis, 1995, p.103), yet the slogan of this commercial directly links body and identity. By making use of cosmetic surgery, one is promised the chance to embark upon a new identity. The face is most often mentioned as the locus of one’s (bodily) identity, and the idea of cosmetic surgery as a means of acquiring a different identity is reinforced here through the exclusive depiction of the face. A physical change is presented as changing the mind as well, and cosmetic surgery appears this way to reunite the body with the mind. Cosmetic surgery offers thus the possibility of becoming someone else, of rebelling against one’s DNA (Orlan).

The idea of rebellion and the invitation “meet the new you” seem to designate women as agents, making their own decisions, and in full control of their bodies. Yet, the depiction of a woman in the advertisement suggests that cosmetic surgery is essentially a feminine endeavor. While only the face is depicted, the impression of nudity is created in the commercial by the skin-colored background. This subtle reference to sexuality and the use of a woman’s image show cosmetic surgery to be reinforcing patriarchal values: women are shown as “subordinates… defined by their bodies” (Davis, 1995, p.100).

Interestingly, in this commercial we can only see the woman’s profile, and her eyes are closed. The latter might suggest that only by choosing for cosmetic surgery she will awaken to a new life. Her closed eyes might also refer to the satisfaction she would then experience, while her nostrils gapping for air allude to the new sense of confidence she would acquire. The young woman seems to be a modern Sleeping Beauty, whose dreams of love and happiness are fulfilled by the Prince Charming of our times, cosmetic surgery. One can only hope that the awakening will be followed by a happily ever aft

Davis, K. (1995): Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery. New York, London: Routledge