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Do feminists need facelifts?

Facelift(Flickr)The US health care reform bill proposes a 5% tax on those who choose to have cosmetic surgery. Some feminists are - somewhat surprisingly - unhappy about this, writes Lorraine Berry.

Judith Warner's recent column in the New York Times most likely gave Suffragettes, Sappho, and all of our Feminist Foremothers the vapors.


How else to react to the following:

The health care reform bill currently being debated in the Senate contains a provision known as the Bo-Tax — so called because it would levy a 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery procedures. The idea is to tax those who indulge in medically unnecessary procedures in order to pay for medical necessities for everyone else.

This sounded like a refreshingly good idea to me, until I read that Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, is against it.

“Now they are going to put a tax on middle-aged women in a society that devalues them for being middle-aged?” she complained to The Times.

The tone of Warner's column is incredulous, as is my reaction to it. So many things to be concerned about in the Healthcare bill, and the President of NOW is objecting to the five percent plastic surgery tax?

O'Neill argues that middle-aged women face so much discrimination in the job market that many of them must lie about their age. In order to do that, they must appear younger than their years; hence the need for Botox, tummy tucks, and all the other things women do to themselves to erase the signs that they are passing out of their reproductive years. 

Warner's column is worth reading. And her questioning the fear that drives someone like O'Neill--that all women secretly fear  they are going to wind up as bag ladies, despite their wealth--is perhaps dead-on in its accuracy. 

But I find myself unable to feel sympathy for these women. 

First of all, plastic surgery is expensive and is not covered by insurance. So, an extra five percent is hardly Draconian. I doubt it will keep the privileged few who can afford it from getting it. And, if it's true that middle-aged women are terrified that they will lose their jobs or not be able to find jobs without it, we are talking about women who are looking for jobs in the upper strata of the working world. 

In other words, this sounds suspiciously like a white, upper middle-class feminist complaint. I thought that feminists had realized that they needed to embrace class and race as issues within feminism? If defending white middle-class women's access to the Botox deprives a poor, white woman of an opportunity to get an abortion (because, say, someone trades their vote on the Stupak amendment for this Stupid amendment), how does that help bring women together? 

I thought that, as older women, we were to have been taught to embrace our wrinkles. Our laugh lines. Our worry lines. Our creases. These are our badges of honor, they show we have lived, loved, and watched a world that is often unfair to us all. 

My sense is that as feminists, we need to be fighting for things that affect us all, and I can't help but see this as a problem that affects primarily white, upper middle-class women. Am I wrong? 

Lorraine Berry writes fiction, non-fiction, and articles for various trade magazines. She also teaches creative writing and blogs here.   

Photo courtesy of Harlequeen issued under Creative Commons Licence 


0 #1 Tracy 2010-01-22 17:33
As someone who carries out cosmetic procedures for a living I can tell you that the majority of my customers are working class, multiracial, exhausted through child rearing, kept up at night by errant children and have to do the work of rearing a family that men are too busy to do. Why should men get tax deductable lavish dinners, buisness meetings in exotic resorts and women have to pay a tax on repairing their bodies? Such double standards. Pride in the female body is a feminist issue and it should not be regulated or taxed by men or middle class academics, or opinionated so-called feminists so the government can spend more money on guns.

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