(Please note: the views, experiences and positions expressed within this blog post are those of the author(s) alone and do not necessarily represent the views of everyone involved in the LaDIYfest collective.)
A guest post from April Showers.
Dolly Parton’s performance which beckoned the end of this year’s Glastonbury seems to have captured the nation’s imagination. Although the majority of the UK were with Dolly, some were not. One of the individuals not so hot on Parton’s performance was comedy writer and creator of Father Ted, Graham Linehan, who tweeted a link to the attire she wore on the day, commenting:
“Riiight. And how about the fact that she’s completely f***** up her face.”
He then added;
“Amazing how many supposed feminists are OK with women mutilating themselves in order to meet some f***** up standard of beauty.”
Linehan understandably received large amounts of criticism from Feminists and Dolly Parton supporters. In addition to this he went on to explain his feelings on her plastic surgery, describing the singer as “unintentionally looking like a lizard.”
Here, as Feminists and humanists, we are informed by Linehan that we are ‘doing’ feminism all wrong by not taking his comedy cue and laughing at Parton. By our disregard for forming our opinion on a woman’s look, we ourselves become culpable.
Within these exchanges, Linehan’s followers placed the focal point on the ethics of plastic surgery rather than the initial inflammatory comment, naming Feminists to blame from the start. The obvious point screams “IT’S HER CHOICE, BRAINIAC”, this is what I admittedly actually tweeted Linehan myself, he and his troops came back at me. I was in debate now about plastic surgery, because plastic surgery and feminism are mutually exclusive issues, right? He replies that Michael Jackson, or as he respectfully calls him, “Jacko”, was the same with his extreme work and that there is no difference to demean him or Parton in this regard.
Here, I politely point out that ideology wasn’t placed upon Jackson’s surgery. To my mind what is taking place is more worrying in that, because Dolly is a woman, she is then a Feminist, or concerned with Feminist ideals. So, here we have a statement which face-shames and also makes a claim that if you as a Feminist disagree then you are concerned with the unethical treatment of Parton. There is only one way to grow old and there is only way to be concerned with the freedom of women. Yes all women, even aged 65+ country singers.
What is systematically failed to be comprehended by Linehan and his helpers is the notion that ‘large’ amounts of plastic surgery does not always equate to being mentally un-fit. Dolly is still yet to hold her first born out of a balcony, make an infantilised theme park in her garden or take a daily cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs, etc, etc, etc – call me a bleeding heart liberal but these behaviours are still not systemic of a plastic surgery induced meltdown. There are many differing reasons why she would want plastic surgery. While I agree there are probably doctors who profiteer on the insecurities of women (as well as men) I could never make such a sweeping generalisation that anyone who engages with it to an extent which is noticeable is then an “unempowered” individual.
Plastic surgery, like beauty is within the eye of the beholder. If Parton is happy with Parton’s reflection then that is up to her, only she would ever know. If she isn’t then I reiterate, that is up to her. Some men will not be happy with how they look, or prefer a different aesthetic, funny how whenever a woman is to be seen as too ‘extreme’ everyone sits up and pays notice, framing the actions within the context of a mental “inability”.
Performance Artist and icon, Amanda LePore, wanted to create herself as the perfect woman, self-entitled “The most expensive body on Earth”. She and, arguably, Parton have cultivated a look which seeks to establish an identity onto the looker. Like clothes, some people play with their skin in the quest to be who they want to project. This idea of extreme is a completely contested area, most “work” goes un-noticed, unless there are multiple accounts of such “bad” surgery or an “extreme” aesthetic being produced out of choice, can we then only make an informed opinion on if someone is deemed to have gone under the knife or not. If someone has small implants placed rather than large ones, as well as lots of other less prominent amounts of work, are they deemed problematic? No, mainly because it isn’t understood to be “extreme”. I have many friends, for example, with breast implants, the majority of whom prefer their breasts to look “fake”, whereas only the minority want them to “pass”. Here we see surgery going noticed/un-noticed. A preference to the sort that causes the on-looker less anxiety. It isn’t the woman’s hang up, it’s theirs.
I can’t say that large amounts of work has particularly appealed to me, but nor can I say that I have never wanted some work done. I, in part, agree with some of the Linehan concerns of women feeling like they have to be ‘a certain way’, due to a unrealistic female body image which is genetically far from many of us, of course I do, and the Feminist ideal is involved in that engagement as ever. What it categorically is not is the belief there is one way to be a woman, one way to play with identity and, ultimately, one way to be a Feminist. Let’s say for instance that doctors will mislead women into making choices, emphatically it is still their choice.
This is an argument used against fraudulent benefit claims, let’s rid society of the welfare system because a few may incorrectly receive them – let’s blame the system and not the ones mistreating it! It makes little to no sense. There will be unethical practitioners, there will be mentally unwell patients. We cannot advise as Feminists that all are in the same mucky boat and as such we have to “save” all women from the ever-calling knife. Even if we should, is laughing at someone’s appearance realistically the best way to go about it?
A way of proving this point to anyone who would listen is to think of the amount of times in the media where a woman has been accused of undergoing plastic surgery against the times a man has endured the same criticisms. Has the man had his mental health debated? If a male actor loses weight for a role, is he accused of becoming an anorexic or as deeply insecure? -The male model will not undergo the amount of bile as that of the woman. This is another method of minimising the woman’s agency by the choices she has made. This sort of finger-pointing is endemic, produced by both men and women and, in this case I am sad to say, Linehan.
There is another thing to add and to warn about when opening up the muddy channels of communication that is Twitter, in that some people on this platform are continually allowed to get away with hateful and passive behaviour, turning to their peers, famous or otherwise, for affirmation.
People are likely to disagree with many of the things I say and have claimed to within this post. The difference is when someone like me speaks against someone such as Linehan, they possess seemingly endless followers sent like canon-fodder to appease their owner. The Caitlin Morans and the Charlie Brookers of the Twitterati world are understood to be impenetrable. They aren’t. Admittedly, if you speak out you will probably get a lot of hassle for little return. For the majority of the time this interaction will permeate solely from bullies, twits and the type of people who slut-shame/face-shame. Without becoming a round the clock keyboard warrior, we can out these people for their misgivings – if public debate is to take place, then public reflection should too. They will have these debates tested, as will you. It can, but not always, create for a stronger idea and add proof to your instinct, if not then re-think. Twitter in that respect keeps me on my toes and I love it for it. I completely understand why some do, but I no longer fear Twitter.
I am not taking offence on Parton’s behalf, nor am I one of those people who refuse to enjoy the works of someone who does or says something completely irreprehensible. I am just deeply disappointed with someone I always found to be entertaining, being an avid fan of his shows, I will carry on watching them. Maybe it was just misguided, perhaps it was hateful? What if Linehan is much like the characters in Father Ted and is too entrenched in Feck and Garls for his own good? In any case, I still find him to be amusing and I will continue to follow him on Twitter.
He wasn’t my Jesus and never will be, this is the nature of received idols I guess. They are people too, not role models. This is a good way of maintaining that, remembering their public mistakes and refusing to engage in them within our own private lives. Then Feminists create on the ground the respectful engagement with our past and future acquaintances. Where these Twitter characters exist, they will each rise and fall with their followers; deified beyond criticism and without clear reason for such devotion.
Followers are not equal to your ethical reach.
Feminism is the radical concept that women are people, plastic surgery or not.