|The image of perfection
By Melanie Radzicki McManus ’83
|This poster by Anna Reardon ’12 was created as a project for her Introductory Photography and Electronic Imaging class, taught by Brandon Bauer (Art).
Despite our sour economy, 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. That’s a 5 percent increase over 2010. And while women still comprise the vast majority of customers – breast augmentation led the list of most-popular procedures – the number of men ponying up to go under the knife continues to grow. Chin augmentations, for example – a procedure favored by men – nearly doubled last year. Plastic surgery isn’t inherently evil, of course. But at least one St. Norbert professor believes America’s obsession with looks has theological implications.
Bridget Burke Ravizza (Religious Studies) often talks about what it means to live a full life, and live up to one’s potential, in her Christian ethics classes. The discussions also incorporate thoughts on what it means to be human and successful in our culture. Unfortunately, she says the master narrative in Western cultures is consumerism. “We think of everything in consumeristic categories, and even think of ourselves as products to be sold on the marketplace.” Meaning, we may need to “sell” ourselves to snag a promotion, or even a spouse, by fixing our nose, losing weight or purchasing certain types of clothing. But is this what God wants? Hardly.
Such behavior “is opposed to the Christian narrative,” says Burke Ravizza, “which is that I’m created by God and radically loved by God. I don’t have to earn love from others, and spend all my energies trying to become something other than who I am. What makes me ultimately satisfied in life, and able to reach my potential, is not how much money I have or whether I have the right nose or image. It’s about living out particular values – being loving, generous, a peacemaker and someone who cares about others.”
Students latch onto the topic, she says, which also includes discussions about how gender and sexuality representations in the media can impact our relationships, or our expectations about how relationships should be. And, of course, how we look. Take the fact that our society is now marketing padded bras for girls in the 8-12 age range, she says. And although everyone by now knows that computer-altered photos of women and men grace the covers of magazines, we still strive to emulate their perfect looks. “But they’re not real faces or bodies,” says Burke Ravizza. “It’s a notion of perfection that’s held out, but it’s not real. Yet girls and women, especially, are taught to want to try and be like that. It’s crazy the energies expended to meet standards that are unattainable.”
Religious Studies major Breanna Mekuly ’12 says she doesn’t see too much fretting about beauty and sexuality during everyday life on campus. But on the weekends, it’s a different story. “Sometimes it’s expected that women dress in certain ways to go to parties,” she says, “and that they should have a certain body type to show off.”
Mekuly doesn’t buy into that. “If God created us in his image, and if God created diversity, then it’s all good. We shouldn’t try to conform to one certain look, because we’re beautiful the way we are.” But Mekuly says many of her fellow students, like most Americans, don’t always see it that way. “Some students feel if they get, say, a nose job, they’ll feel more beautiful and become empowered. They see this as normal, not something that should be questioned. They don’t necessarily realize we’re being cultured to think this way.”
So what can we do? We can start by analyzing the messages we’re getting from society, really looking inside ourselves and remembering to look to God. “We can clutter ourselves with all of these notions of beauty, but we must find a depth of meaning beyond these false messages,” says Burke Ravizza. “What will lead to our growth isn’t having money or fitting into a certain standard of beauty, but spiritual flourishing.”
July 8, 2012