After the lecture our class had on Tuesday, when professor Pok highlighted the article about plastic surgery statistics in ethnic neighborhoods, I was reminded of a book that I had read as a teenager. Although it is in the genre of teen fiction, the overall message of the lone book sends a message of monotony and how deviation from the norm is punished. In a nutshell, the book is centered on a society in which the coming of age tradition, coinciding with the sixteenth birthday, is one large surgery in which you may choose various details of your appearance, ex. eye color, hair color, nose size, etc. The result of this operation is becoming a “Pretty”. The tale is stretched out to include four books of the “Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld. At the heart of society is the fact that before sixteen, you are ugly and live in Uglyville, and the bridges to the elusive New Pretty Town are highly guarded and if caught in New Pretty Town, an ugly would be arrested on the spot. The antagonist is nicknamed as “Squint” because of her eyes and I think this fact is very much related to the real life event of Asians having double eyelid surgery to “correct” the “problem”. In the book, after birth and approximately three weeks of contact, the child is taken away from his/her’s parents and neither may reunite until the boy’s/girl’s sixteenth birthday. Taking into account that all people are born different, with different physical attributes such as skin color, hair type, the orientation of facial features on one’s face, and much more that makes “me” different from “you”, being legally forced to change to fit a certain mold that is deemed as “the norm” can be brought parallel to assimilation. Although the concept does not necessarily mean physical assimilation, we see women, and sometimes men, undergoing extreme measures to be included in our societal norm, an American. If such technology was available to the current population, how many people would go ahead and do the operation?
One scene from one of the books featured a library of archived magazines. Since the story is set in some unmentioned future, the magazines are, presumably, from the 1990’s. Examining the pages, the protagonist, who is desperately awaiting her own surgery, calls the supermodels she sees as “ugly” and “hard to look at”. I remember thinking that if our society would never become that way. I have been proven wrong. While exaggeration of an ethnic stereotype has become more prevalent, the pressure of physically assimilating to “the dominants” has grown as well. Assimilation is apparently working well. Our ideas of beauty can be compared to those of the protagonist’s when she was observing the magazines. Although we may not call a supermodel from 1990 as ugly, our expectation for the body, the hair, the pose, the eyes, the nose, the dress, etc., has narrowed to the point where we ostracize and bully the too fat, the too skinny, the too pale, the too tan, etc.
In one of the later books, the protagonist is surgically altered to have special powers which she is to use to capture and punish the “Uglies” who violate the laws binding them to inferiority. At the time the books seemed very radical and the ideas very futuristic, but this is where our world is headed. There is a great number of, not only minorities, who want surgery to aid them in their quest to become “the ideal”. It seems that assimilating to the American culture more and more means looking the part. Overwhelmingly, “the part” is played best by the DD (bra size), 00 (body size), white Barbie.