No one wants to be who they are anymore. Incels suffering body dysmorphia flock to Indiana to masculinize their faces. Women undertake surgeries to give their bodies and faces a more femme look. Transgender individuals push their bodies, faces, and reproductive organs through total transformation to give their external selves the look and feel that their internal selves crave.
People want to be cartoon characters, Barbie dolls, comic book villains, cats, androgens, and—with some savings and determination—they can all have it all. The underlying concept says there is an intrinsic self waiting to emerge and be visible on the fleshy surface. We are ever-morphing, choosing our looks like video game skins, creating our own avatars.
Women were the first guinea pigs, pulling ribs, sculpting noses, enhancing breasts, thighs, stomachs, lips, cheeks, and butts, all to appear more attractive to men. We are in an era in which human beings can redesign themselves to achieve a certain look. In the 1980s and ’90s, all we female, forward-thinking feminists derided the idea that women needed to change anything about themselves to successfully function in society, and abhorred the thought that a woman would mutilate her body to get men. We said “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” and scoffed at plastic surgery.
How Refusing to Judge Makes Major Messes
Later on, our culture morphed into demanding no judgment. If a woman wanted to drastically alter her body, so be it. Who are we to judge? If individuals want to visibly transform to be perceived as the opposite sex, more power to them. Not only are we forbidden from judging others who undergo drastic body modification in a futile attempt to achieve happiness with their external form that they presumably cannot achieve internally, but we are also losing the ability to judge our own wants and desires.
We believe the act of wanting it makes it right. We butcher bodies to the point of destruction to create a being that we feel will give us more joy because of how it alters our appearance to others. It’s not that we care a little what other people think of us; we care only about it.
The Cut’s Alice Hines asked famous plastic surgeon of incels Barry Eppley why patients seek the body modification plastic surgeries he performs. His response: “We don’t care why you want it … And I suspect patients seek me out because they know I won’t ask them. I don’t see it as my job to cast a judgment.”
If it is not the job of the cutter to ask why he is cutting, anesthetizing, and sculpting flesh, then it is no one’s job. Patients foolishly seek the services of a surgeon who is not even a little concerned with medical necessity, and often only somewhat concerned about psychological preparedness. Individuals can certainly do as they please, but one would hope that a doctor who wields drastic body modification tools would inquire about what a patient’s hopes are when they find their new selves on the other side, with a new face looking back at them.
Seeking Skin Packs
The big thing in kid-centric video games is skin. More than once, my son has come home from school asking if I will buy him a “skin pack.” The other kids all have skin packs. Apparently, their parents are forking over $2.99 on the daily for objects that only exist in pixels.
While I usually say no (because I say no to everything), I gave the whole thing a look. Skin packs are basically a set of appearances for characters in video games. Sometimes they have additional functionality, like the one he’s crazy about in Minecraft that comes with a backpack allowing for extra inventory (a redeemable code came on a Lego brick in his Easter basket), but they are really just different visual versions of a character. This is what we are doing with our own bodies: trading skins, but staying the same underneath.
Face, body, and genital sculpting to achieve a different look is like buying a new skin pack, but instead of $2.99, it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars, and that’s just for round one. Multiple surgeries are often necessary. What makes a person look at herself and fully realize that she needs to be something else? In large part, it is the idea, the knot-in-the-gut feeling, that other people are out there living a way better life, and that the way they look is why.
What those who seek to change their image don’t realize is that the people whose images they are emulating—the Chads and Beckys, or whomever—are just as confused about who they are. The images they show online are also fake. Models are airbrushed, Instagram images are filtered, dick pics are stupid. Our culture is image-obsessed, and while that’s not a new development, our ability to appear as though we really are what we aren’t is available to everyone with a phone. It’s especially available to those who want to fork over money.
With Enough Money, We Can Live Out Fantasies
The dirty secret is that the men the incels want to be, the supermodels and desirable dolls the women want to femme up to emulate, the perfectly sex-aligned boys and girls whom the transgender folks want to transition into, the villains, and of course the alien androgens, don’t exist. These are fantasies, and we will never live up to that ideal no matter how many surgeries we undergo.
Endeavoring to be a fantasy—spending oodles of cash, time, resources, effort, attention, research, and intellectual capacity—is a fruitless undertaking that will not change who we are on the inside. There is neither salvation nor enlightenment in physical appearances.
Our obsession with appearance transcends superficiality when we claim that what can be seen on the surface references great depth. The body is not a phone or a virtual reality device. Our interface with reality is in flux. Philosophers have long asked how much of what we perceive with the senses is actually representative of an objective reality. We are so far from believing in objectivity, in finding ourselves not up to the task of assigning judgment, that we perceive the reality of our bodies as a fiction, and continue to manipulate the interface.
We add implants and remove body parts in an attempt to feel that we have controlled our bodies; that we have control over how we are perceived and interpreted. We pump ourselves full of medicines to right the wrongs of both mind and body, to stab with Zeno’s arrow at a perfect ideal of human.
These bodies with their interchangeable parts are wish fulfillment centers. This is avatar creation, and from the dust heap of discarded parts will rise a confused batch of humans, whose bodies mirror an idealized perfection, while the soul is left homeless in a body it does not recognize.