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Portrayals of Plastic Surgery in Mean Girls

29 May

I know, I know, we talked about plastic surgery so long ago, but after writing my review essay on the function of beauty as a means of assimilation in Mean Girls I found myself chewing over some questions concerning the representation of plastic surgery in the movie.  For example, Mrs. George’s boob job immediately comes to mind…

The character of Regina’s mom, Mrs. George, is a perfect parodied example of the “cultural dope” trope which Kathy Davis criticizes in her essay “Remaking the She-Devil: A Critical Look at Feminist Approaches to Beauty.”  The first thing we learn about Mrs. George is that we should check out her boob job because they are “hard as rocks.”  After this initial introduction Mrs. George’s character rapidly goes downhill as we discover that she is an older woman clinging to youth and trying to live her life vicariously through her daughter.  Her mothering skills are repeatedly questioned throughout the movie and she is, in a word, sad. Mrs. George fits into Davis’s description of the vain, frivolous, and narcissistic woman who falls pray to the false consciousness of the beauty standard.

Mrs George

So okay, Regina’s mom is a “cultural dope,” that’s not that surprising of a representation to get in a Hollywood blockbuster, but what really tripped me up was Regina’s nose job. Halfway through the movie we discover that Regina has had a nose job.  However, unlike in the case of Regina’s mother, this discovery does not tint our perception of Regina, who remains a conniving, manipulative, but nonetheless very savvy character throughout the movie.

Regina and her mom both undergo plastic surgery, and both ascribe to dominant beauty standards, why then is Mrs. George depicted as a cultural dope, while Regina maintains her intelligence?  Why is it that Regina is empowered by her plastic surgery, which is presented as unnoticeable, while her mom is portrayed as pathetic and fake both in personality and body (as exemplified by her failing to feel or notice when her dog begins to chew on her nipple in the clip above).  How does age play in here?  How does it influence authenticity? How do these two types of plastic surgery (boob job vs. nose job) influence our understanding of each character?  Are we more forgiving of Regina’s nose job because it doesn’t have sexual connotations?  Are we more forgiving because Regina’s young and unmarried and still trying to attract partners (as Schaeffer-Grabiel might argue)?

instant-regina-george

Or are we simply more forgiving because, as many theorists in this class have shown (Sims 2012, Hunter 2007, and Poran 2002 to name a few), we like attractive people more.  Do we forgive Regina her nose job and ridicule her mother’s plastic surgery simply because Regina fits into contemporary cultural definitions of beautiful, while her mother falls short?

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3 Comments

Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

3 responses to “Portrayals of Plastic Surgery in Mean Girls

  1. skytsutsui

    May 31, 2013 at 1:44 am

    This is a very interesting point! I think it has a lot to do with “acting your age” and the appropriateness of cosmetic surgery with age. To me, age brings on a whole new complicating realm of beauty. The way that I see it is that when we look at Regina we see this young woman on the pursuit of dominant beauty standards. Contrastingly, when we look at her mother we see an old woman chasing not only dominant beauty standards but ALSO youth. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to reach a beauty standard, try reaching youth! No matter how far she can “reach” this beauty standard, she cannot go back in time and regain her adolescence; it’s simply impossible. Try putting a grandmother in Regina’s mother’s shoes. Again, we would probably see this as ridiculous.

     
  2. Nikki

    June 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I think there’s also something related to narrative about having the character established – while I think age and the difference between nose jobs and boob jobs are both really important factors, I also think it matters that Regina’s mom really only exists for jokes like this, while Regina gets the opportunity to be an actual character; the nose job isn’t the extent of it. That said, it’s worth wondering whether her surgery would be more noteworthy (at least when we found out about it) if it came earlier in the movie.

     
  3. mollyburness

    June 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I agree with Nikki about Mrs. George never establishing herself as a character to be taken seriously, which introduces a complicating variable into her comparison with Regina.

    I like to think about these questions given the idea that outer beauty is a reflection of inner beauty. When I look at Mrs. George’s inner self, I agree with Olivia: she is insecure, completely dependent on her daughter, and has no value for herself. In the clip above, when Regina asks her mom to “go fix her hair”, Mrs. George does not blink an eye. Her self-worth is entirely dependent on how Regina values her. Meanwhile, Regina is insecure, as evidenced by her intense dependence on and definition by social forces– but she does still value herself. She expects to win Spring Fling queen. She expects to be the center dancer in the Jingle Bell rock dance. She expects to have social control when publicizing the burn book and framing others for the act. Once these basic inner selves have been defined, I can move on to answer Olivia’s questions (or some of them!) in two ways. I can sympathize with the movie characters by putting myself in their shoes, or I can criticize the characters from a more detached perspective.

    From the more sympathetic perspective, I perceive that Mrs. George is empty inside because she believes that she is empty inside. Her boob job reaffirms that she is merely a physical, sexual being, which is why her plastic surgery is so pathetic. Regina, on the other hand, believes that she has self-worth, so I too believe that she has self-worth. I can respect (or at least not scoff at) her nose job because I respect the source and because the plastic surgery beautifies her face. Relative to her mother’s boob job, the nose job emphasizes her intellect and inner substance.

    However, how can I simultaneously sympathize with Regina and be well aware of her manipulative, fake, self-centered, downright bitchy personality? From an exclusively critical, third-party lens, how can I justify her nose job? This is a hard question, so I have to get creative with my answer: I let Regina get away with the nose job because she has an effect on me. I am manipulated by her, and, like every other groupie at her high school, I cannot help but hate and love her. I cannot help but fall for her plump, glossy, lips and I have to strain to create an image in which I stand up to her. Part of Audience Member Molly is at her mercy, which is why I nod along with her otherwise questionable nose-job.

    Do I like this answer? No. Does I think it is realistic? Yes. Is my reality in which I admire Regina George despite her bitchiness your reality too?

     

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