In the piece “Pretty Modern,” Edmund’s makes the reference that an individual’s body is “a work of art” and the surgeon is the “artist,” or “sculptor.” French artist, ORLAN, takes this concept to a more literal scale: she recreates and undergoes plastic surgery procedures as a form of performance art.
In her 1993 piece “Omnipresence,” ORLAN lies on a cot, her face covered in a variety of dashed lines and markings as she waits to undergo surgery. ORLAN’s expression remains rather blank and unamused, even as one surgeon begins the procedure and injects her lips with rather large needles. The process becomes more invasive and gruesome: her face is clamped and tugged at, her eyelids pulled, her cheeks poked at. And after the procedure, ORLAN is left bandaged, bruised, and well, not “beautiful.”
Ironically, these cosmetic procedures that lure women in with the promise of incomparable beauty are incredibly gruesome, invasive, and horrific to watch. ORLAN’s performances act to rawly expose the work that women undergo to transform their bodies into more valued and esteemed sites.
In an interview with ORLAN, years after her cosmetic surgery performance art, she discussed why she chose this as a subject of interest. ORLAN explains that early in her career she was interested in her culture, her identity and ultimately in answering the question “Who am I?”
I find it quite interesting that ORLAN felt a need to change and alter herself just to discover herself. It seems rather counter intuitive. How can someone ever truly know who they are if they continually nip and tuck and pull away at themselves before they have ever even been fully acquainted with themselves? Perhaps, changing one’s body is not the only path to liberation. Maybe, getting to know oneself can act as a more beneficial and less invasive form of self-care.
Women will never be able to truly view themselves as individuals or come to find their own personhood if the plastic surgery trends continue rising. In Professor Lee’s article, she discusses how the rise of plastic surgery, especially in Korea has created a sense of uniformity among women. Therefore, the acts of self-discovery and identity become unattainable. Unfortunately, women will keep trying to find themselves by changing themselves.
Why is it that the quest for self-esteem became synonymous with self-modification. Why can’t self-esteem emerge from the body one already possesses and just an altered mindset? Why does it seem that self-esteem can only be achieved through an alteration of the body?
Our bodies are our own personal works of art, so let’s not depend on surgeons, let’s be our own artists.