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.
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)?
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?