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Celebrate this nip and tuck

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Esther Cepeda
April 18, 2011
— The May issue of Harper’s Bazaar treats readers to never-before-seen pictures of outrageous pop singer Lady Gaga’s new cone-shaped protrusions. They’re now jutting out of her forehead, shoulders and cheek bones, but she swears her new look isn’t the result of plastic surgery.

“They’re not prosthetics. They’re my bones. … They come out when I’m inspired,” Gaga told the magazine in promoting “Born This Way,” her upcoming album. “They’ve always been inside of me, but I have been waiting for the right time to reveal to the universe who I truly am.”


In the course of the interview, as she denies surgery, Gaga sort of slams Hollywood starlets who do go under the knife for vanity’s sake while also declaring that she has “never, ever encouraged my fans or anyone to harm themselves.”


It’s not as if anyone needs encouragement—people do extreme things to themselves with little-to-no provocation all the time. Over the years I’ve seen people with professionally sharpened eyeteeth that reflect their love of vampires and ears shorn to points in homage to Mr. Spock. Who among us hasn’t seen about a million tattoos, piercings, body brandings, perms, dye jobs, skin-lightenings, nose jobs and various nips and tucks?


This is what people do—they modify themselves in the best way they can afford, either to celebrate their uniqueness or to reach as much perfection as will ease their way in navigating a harsh world. And that’s OK. In fact we should be grateful that, with enough money, we all have surgical options available to us.


Take 7-year-old Samantha Shaw. With the help of a child surgery foundation, her mother, Cami, traveled from South Dakota to New York for her daughter to get plastic surgery to pin back her wide, cupped ears as a preventive measure to avoid future bullying.


Reaction to the story has inspired hand-wringing about whether this is “right,” and whether it is a sign of society’s demands for perfection trickling down to children’s lives. The dilemma is whether good parents should teach their children to love themselves as born, childhood trauma be damned, or be considered child abusers for turning to surgery.


Are you kidding? What parents wouldn’t do everything possible to ensure that their child has a smoother life? Just one example is the thousands of dollars parents spend to get their kids’ teeth straightened.


Cami Shaw, who no doubt took it to heart last month when President Obama described his childhood experience of being bullied for his big ears, told a morning talk show host, “Kids are mean. That’s just how they are.” She then shared that the rudest comments her daughter had endured so far had come from adults, not kids. That’s easy to believe, cruelty comes from all ages.


Unlike Lady Gaga, who can celebrate her body in all its imperfect glory while blunting malicious criticism with a quick glance at her bank account, most of us come face-to-face with jerks. Bravo to Cami for trying to save little Samantha from a lifetime of cruel teasing.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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