Whoever you want to be in this world, you can be her/him. You can reach your goal. You can become not only the perfect version of you, but the perfect version of anyone.  All that takes? A big purchase here, a few little ones there. But that’s no price to pay to become the specimen of human perfection.

In our readings and in class discussion we have talked about the fundamentals of consumption and the consumer identity. However, we have been discussing these in the context of the temporary consumption of goods and services. What happens when someone uses the act of consumption to permanently alter their identity? Yes, I’m talking about plastic surgery: the ultimate manifestation of consumer culture.


Society, as we have mentioned, has a way of telling us that we are not good enough. We have problems that are easily fixable—we just have to buy this or that. However, we have an obligation to do so. This “consumer attitude” that Lury mentions drives seems to drive not only our purchase decisions, but also our drive to purchase. You’re flawed, why wouldn’t you strive to better yourself with nicer clothes or makeup?  This attitude can be exemplified by the plastic surgery industry. Each one of us has physical flaws. Whether they are actually flaws or not, society may tell us that our nose is undesirable, or our own self-consciousness may instruct our hatred of our perceived love handles. Either way, these ‘afflictions’ are easily remedied. The consumer attitude informs us that we have the need to fix ourselves so we can be the best version of ourselves. Anthony in his post explained it this way: “We try to use the aesthetics and power held within consuming to produce an idealized world, one in which all the products serve to better ourselves.”

Plastic surgery is quite literally the physical embodiment of consumption principles. We use objects that society has deemed powerful, and assigned power to, such as the body, and aestheticize them so that they better us. If we were all ‘beautiful,’ then the consumer society would be a better place.

Recently, I have encountered an article that also discusses plastic surgery as a shopping venture. The writer had decided to do her own experiment, and she went to three different plastic surgeons of all different price levels that she found in various ways to have them ‘diagnose’ her. They pointed out all of her flaws, prescribed treatments that they thought she definitely needed to complete her life. Each of these doctors did so within a consultation. A consultation by its very nature is not binding. You stop in, get all of the facts, prices, etc., and then leave to think it over. In essence, this is the shopping process. Many women scour doctor ratings, advertisements, listings, to find one that suits her needs, making a huge spectacle of the shopping process. The women who wrote the article decided against any of the procedures recommended to her, which I found very relieving. After all of the self-confidence-shattering that must, and seemed to from her account, go on in these consultation rooms, it’s a wonder someone isn’t convinced by the time they walk out the doors. After being told enough times that your nose has a bump in it, it’s hard to feel good about yourself if you do nothing about it.

The doctors participating in this also play into Marx’s concept that social interactions have been turned into commodities. Not only are they selling themselves and the right to see them, but they are doing so to commodify beauty. They commodify beauty, reinforce the very idea of the consumer attitude, and contribute to the very literal aestheticization of every day life, including us. From earlier discussions, they are also helping to create and maintain imagined communities of ‘beautiful people,’ that know/believe they are part of an elite community of gorgeous people all over the world, while alienating those with ‘inferior’ looks (not that they say this, but how can we be perfect if we haven’t had work done? No one is perfect from the get-go).

A show that ties really well into all of this as well is a show that came out in 2010, and only ran for one season, with good reason. This show was titled “Bridalplasty.” The entire premise of the show was that women who were already engaged came onto the show and competed for their dream wedding…and plastic surgeries from their ‘wish list.’ After each challenge the winner would get a surgery and was one step closer to getting their dream wedding. Clearly, this is a consumer culture nightmare, or dream if you look at it that way. They are commodifying the relationships of the people on the show, and turning them into a job that pays the stars of this reality TV show. They are also commodifying the institution of marriage, and the traditional idea of love. “Bridalplasty” showcases the consumer attitude, and is built around this notion that we must all be perfect. In addition, this perfection comes because these women feel the need to have alterations for their loved ones, implying that they need to consumer these services in order to garner the love and affection of another person.

One of the biggest aspects of plastic surgery that disturbs me, other than feeling the need to alter oneself based upon conventional views of beauty, is how much people are willing to pay for the procedures. In class we discussed the exchange value versus use value, and plastic surgery exemplifies the vast disparity than can occur between the two. A nose is a nose is a nose. Whether it has a bump in it or not, the use value is the same. However, women are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to achieve the perfectly shaped nose. The use value will not go up because it is less bulbous or more narrow. Perky DDs are no more useful than perky A cups. Unless, of course, they help the wearer garner a certain partner, which is a different story entirely (and also an obvious flaw of consumer society).

I think it is quite apparent that plastic surgery is a phenomenon not only sweeping the U.S., but also the rest of the globe, and it has for a while. However, I mention it because I believe that consumer culture sometimes has harsher consequences than we have been discussing. People feeling the need and wanting to physically alter their bodies in line with the consumer attitude, and the fact that it is almost a rite of passage is some countries is terrifying to me. It is far different than wanting to buy the next Chanel bag because you were sad after failing an exam. Consumer culture goes far deeper than that. It penetrates cultural values, and can just as well affect people’s psychological state and how they view themselves. It can get inside your head without you even knowing it has, affecting your subconscious and helping you make decisions, unknowingly to you. Which, I know, sounds very Marxist, but is pretty terrifying when you think about it.

(SPOILER ALERT: The ironic thing about Bridalplasty (yes, I watched it) is that in the end the ‘still-ugly, nice girl’ wins it all with a majority vote from her peers. They’re so not shallow, right?! The irony killed me.)