See that photo up above?

I’m getting ready to leave for a few weeks, which I’ll spend sitting on the patio of one of the exact little beach huts you see there, on the island of Perhentian Besar in Malaysia. I’ll try to write a bit while I’m there, but I doubt I’m going to want to spend very many hours sitting at the computer rather than on that beach or diving, so I thought I’d warn everyone.

In any case, I have a really long layover on my way back home at Incheon Airport in Seoul, where they have free internet access, so expect a rash of posts on or about August 17. I’ll also be hosting the Carnival of Feminists on the 6th, so make sure to check that out. I’ll be approving and responding to comments daily. If you can’t bear the dearth of reading material, read something old or check out all the awesome writers on my blogroll (Jen, in particular, is going off lately).

One last thing: this place has gotten all out of sorts. I got a little drawn into the sex-positive argument and felt it necessary to lay a few things out in order to clarify my own positions and respond more effectively to those I disagree with, but that’s never been the point of this blog. I don’t expect that radical feminists will ever come to any sort of serious agreement with pro-porn/prostitution types. I do think some of us can be civil with each other, and maybe word each other up about a few things, but that’s about it.

So, since my aim when I started this blog was to win people over to my viewpoint, I’m going to focus my attention on people who might be willing to pick up what I’m laying down. That means you can expect more general posts and less on the internecine squabbles between feminists of sundry stripes. I’m neither an authority on radical feminist theory, nor a member of any elite squad of feminist theorists. I’m just a fairly radical feminist who wants to convince people who aren’t on board with me yet to get on board, and I’m going to get back to work on that (which I hope I’ve started on with my latest post).


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I hate sweatshops. Now, which one of you wants to suck my dick?

American Apparel is the worst company in the world that doesn’t make rape porn, sell gasoline, or supply the Pentagon. Seriously.

How can the asshole who owns the company reconcile his supposed concern for the well-being of his factory workers with the fact that he consistently dehumanizes women in his personal life, at his office, and in his advertisements? I’m aware of the fact that I’m not the first person to call attention to the misogynistic implications of the ads or the company’s owner’s behavior, but I have what might be a different take on the whole thing than most people do.

I lived in LA when that company opened its first retail stores in 2003, one of which was just down the street from my house. Someone told me it was a good place to get plain t-shirts and sweatshirts and that I should check the place out, so I went in there and paid some ludicrous amount of money for a green t-shirt that didn’t fit and decided the store sucked. I mean, yeah I thought it was kind of cool that they were making their shirts in downtown LA and were paying their workers a little more than the local taco stand did, but I was pretty unimpressed.

I knew, because they had opened a location in my stupid hipster neighborhood, that the people behind American Apparel thought they were putting out a hip product for the “counter-cultural” types paying $1300 rent in Los Feliz and Silver Lake. The area was already lousy with overpriced thrift stores (“vintage boutiques”) and faux-50s health food diners, so American Apparel fit right in.

The problem with American Apparel when its stores first opened was that the product line was basically a rehash of Au Coton. It didn’t work in 1986, either. No one wants to spend twenty bucks on a plain t-shirt just because some guy tells them he’s hiring Mexicans in LA instead of Mexicans in Mexico City to make it. Unless, of course, you tell that person that paying twenty bucks for that t-shirt will make them cooler than the fool with the two-dollar thrift store t-shirt.

That’s what happened. Dov Charney, the CEO, founder, and head pervert of American Apparel figured out that, instead of just selling plain t-shirts and sweatshirts, he could start pumping out the silly little 80s-style garments that were inching onto the narrow asses of hipsters in LA and New York and make himself a billion bucks in the process. He saw that hipsterism was going to be the next big thing, that he could get rich selling lifestyle garments to people who think they’re iconoclasts for listening to Beck. So he put out skinny jeans in ugly colors, he put out headbands and gym shorts that allow people like Devendra Banhart to feel retro and avant garde at the same time, and he put out shiny, ill-fitting dresses and shirts for women who don’t eat. Hipsters love ugly clothes, and Dov is all over it.

I almost want to blame Dov Charney for hipsterism. His store is a mecca for people who think they’re making the world a better, hipper place by overvaluing ugly cotton clothing, and it’s the place people go when they’re ready to make the belated move from dance music to lame corporate “indie” rock. I definitely blame Dov Charney for the dorkification of some of the more interesting urban areas in this country. I mean, once you see an American Apparel store go up in a neighborhood, you can pretty much assume that any real counter-cultural activity going on in the area is over and that any interesting residents will be moving elsewhere, afterward to be replaced by Radiohead fans with Apple computers and sparrow tattoos who don’t mind paying triple the current rents.

Whether he made hispterism the asshole trend of the decade or not, he’s making sure it spreads and doesn’t go away, so fuck him for that alone.

But did I mention that he likes to sexually harass his employees, the women he does business with, and everyone else he comes across who owns a vagina (he’s been sued at least 5 times for it)? Did I mention that his company’s advertisements (which are done in-house and can’t be blamed on anyone else) are basically kitschy 70s porn? Did I forget to say that he coerces the “models” he hires to create that 70s porn into letting him pork them, often by warning them that their jobs depend on it? Oh yeah, he also jacked off on someone and he likes to walk around the office naked, firing anyone who doesn’t like it. He’s a bad guy.

I suppose it isn’t much of a surprising story. Total geek in high school (I mean, fuck, his name is Dov Charney… and did you see him?), hated by everyone, can’t get anyone to touch his wiener, gets rich and powerful, then takes it out on the women he has some authority over and pretends it’s just one big fun sex party.

The thing is, this guy’s trying to get us all on board with his plan to dehumanize women and treat them like jizz mops. The women in his ads are all very, very young. Some of them don’t look old enough to drive, but he’s got them in all kinds of degrading, pornorific poses. Check it, yo:

(Peep the graffiti on that last one. Good shit.)

So, here we see it again: sex, especially sex in which women (preferrably ones that are still practically children) are being treated like fifi bags, sells. Especially to the kinds of people who are stupid enough to think being a hipster is iconoclastic in any sense AT ALL, or who think that wearing ugly, overpriced clothes says anything about you except that you are gullible and have too much money to waste.

Oh, and have a look at this.

If you feel like contacting them and letting them know where to stick their ads, click here or write/call the following:

747 Warehouse St.
Los Angeles, CA 90021
United States

Tel. +1 (213) 488-0226
Fax. +1 (213) 488-0334

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I suppose anyone who has ever read anything I’ve ever written, ever, will know that I’m not in the practice of calling people sluts or telling women to be ashamed of their sexuality or sexual behaviors. Good on those of you that applies to. But there are a lot of people in the world, it seems, who seem to think that radical feminists are all about shaming women for their sexual activities.

You see, there are a lot of people in the world that don’t know the difference between calling attention to the fact that the sex industry is inherently misogynistic and calling sex workers (or anyone else) sluts. Or they pretend not to know the difference because it benefits them and makes their ludicrous arguments seem like they have a gram or so more merit.

As a joke, I’m going to pretend that people who accuse radical feminists of slut-shaming really believe that’s what we’re up to and explain to them why they’re mistaken.

I’ve written before about the idea of women (or anyone, for that matter) calling other women sluts. I’m not for it. You see, I’m a feminist. That means that I want women to be treated like human beings rather than like caricatures, which means I’d like for us to have the opportunity to define our identities for ourselves rather than choosing to be a) a slut, or b) wife material. I don’t want my or any other woman’s identity defined by our sexual availability to men. When men have sex with a lot of people, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because men are human beings. There is more to men, our cultural assumptions tell us, than their sexual practices (unless they’re gay, which makes them more like women than men). But women, our cultural assumptions tell us, are either whores or prudes, and that’s about all that matters.

Sounds like a socially-constructed gender role to me. Guess what radical feminists are totally opposed to?

As a woman who isn’t a virgin, I’ve been called a slut before. It’s shitty, it sucks, it’s uncool, it reduces the person it’s aimed at from a human being to a worthless piece of trash. Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways that women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means. As such, it’s a divide-and-conquer tool, and I don’t try to use the master’s tools to tear down his house because that shit doesn’t work.

I want women to have sexual freedom. I want us to get to decide who we want to have sex with, when we want to do it, how it should happen, and how often it should happen. I don’t want anyone coming and telling women that they can’t or shouldn’t do something that they want to do. Sex is private, our desires are unique, and no buttinskis should be coming around to tell us what we should desire to do in our private sex lives.

And even when sex becomes public and commodified, I’m not here to tell the sex worker to quit doing what she does, nor am I telling her she ought to be ashamed of herself. Like I’ve said before, we all find our own ways to make living in a patriarchy tolerable, and I’m not at this to judge other people’s choices. Knowing as I do that a lot of women face a pretty shitty set of options in this here oppressive society of ours, I won’t tell a sex worker that she’s selling us out to The Man. However, I will ask anyone who claims stripping, porn, and other forms of prostitution are empowering whence they derive their empowerfulness, and whether that empowerfulness remains once the transaction has been concluded.

Are women who engage in the business of catering to men’s fantasies exercising their own sexuality? That’s a tough question. I mean, we’re conditioned from such a young age to believe that female sexuality consists of catering to male sexuality that maybe it is for some people. Still, I would tend to argue that, since they’re being paid to fulfill a desire that comes out of someone else’s psyche, sex workers are exercising very little of their own sexuality and almost no real power (though they are exercising what agency they have within a patriarchal system). I’m open to discussing that with anyone whose experiences it doesn’t mesh with.

As for plain ol’ promiscuity and general Girls-Gone-Wild-esque behavior, I’d ask a similar question: do flashing one’s boobs, handing out blowjobs, and having sex with random dudes equal sexual empowerment for women? I know that there are women who genuinely enjoy doing such things, but I wonder where the enjoyment comes from. I’m not going to tell anyone where their sexual desires stem from, but I would like to ask people to consider the question for themselves, and tell me whether I’m full of shit for supposing that women who do enjoy such things like them because they’ve been bombarded with the idea that female sexual enjoyment should be dependent on the ability to arouse men.

You see that? I’m asking other human beings to think about some of the issues involved in the realm of human sexuality. Raising theoretical ethical issues with the sex industry and its impact on women’s lives and asking women to consider some of the more tangled cultural aspects of female sexuality does not equate with calling women sluts for engaging in this or that sexual activity.

So, how could anyone possibly accuse me of slut-shaming?

Ah, maybe because I ask people to consider the wider implications of their actions? Reducing that to slut-shaming is dishonest and provides a pretty lame foundation from which to engage with my arguments (if that’s even the intent, which I doubt). Human sexuality is a complex subject, and this argument is much more sophisticated than simplistic bullshit conceptions of sexuality like the Madonna/whore complex can account for. Let’s give it the respect and intellectual honesty it deserves, hmm?

Alright, enough about sex for today.

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Where are the sex-positive dudes at? (An invitation)

I’ve noticed, because I can read, that there are an awful lot more women out there fighting for women’s “right” to get naked, get fucked, and have the whole thing taped than there are men doing so. Why might that be? Every time I get into a conversation about sex positivism or third wavism (coinage!) with a group of people (that doesn’t include any radical feminists), the men (even the ones who use porn) seem more likely, if they’re being honest, to agree with me that porn and prostitution exist in inherent conflict with feminism, whereas the women want to tell me I’m blowing it as a feminist because I’m excluding women who engage in sex work from feminism. I’ve even met a few women who have told me that I’m worse than men are because I’m trying to tell them what to do, because I’m trying to limit their choices, as opposed to the men, who are all about letting them exercise their freedom and express their sexuality. That’s a real knee slapper.

Where are the men who want to argue vociferously for women’s “right” to participate in their own exploitation? Where are the men clambering to convince me that (women) getting naked for money is empowering? Where are all the dudes who want to tell me that feminism is about “choice” and that women who are making the “choice” to suck a bunch of dicks for money are leading the charge toward some future utopia in which women will be safe, free, and human? Not many of these men exist, because most men know that they’d have a hard time keeping a straight face while making such claims. So why are women making the claim for them?

As stupid as I think most (MOST – calm down) men are, it’s pretty goddamn brilliant that they’ve gotten women to run around fighting the porn/prostitution battle for them. “Sex-positive” “feminists” are the greatest allies men have ever had in their quest for ever more unfettered access to women’s bodies and a free pass to degrade and abuse women. I mean, if you can get a few women to acquiesce to your porn fantasies and call it a feminist choice, you’re the fucking man, right? You don’t have to claim responsibility for the damage caused to some women because you’ve got a few other women who will call the women hurt by your support for the sex industry anti-woman and anti-sex. Fuck yeah!

I’ve had untold numbers of dudes make comments to me that let me know how men really see sex positivism. One example: some asshole, in trying to belittle my blog and feminism in general, commented, “Get off the internet. But if you’re one of those sex-positive types, I do oral.” Mmmhmm.

Most men love sex positivism and hate radical feminism. That should tell us something.

There are some ethical issues involved in sex work of all kinds. Performing sex acts for money isn’t apolitical, and it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Women who participate in sex work and run around telling people that it’s a “choice” and that it’s “empowering” and that it’s somehow a feminist act have an effect on other women’s lives, whether they like it or not. They shove a detour into feminist discourse and make it possible for the public to ignore the chief problems women still face while they’re arguing about whether pole dancing is what feminism is all about.

But, apparently, asking someone to think about something is akin to telling them they’re worthless and have no agency, according to the sex-positive types I’ve been reading. Well, I’m not doing that, and I expect people to discuss things like rational adults, not get all whiny because they are uncomfortable with the issues my questions raise.

I want to say first that this post is in no way directed toward women who are unwillingly involved in sex work, but rather toward women who conceive of sex work as a choice, and a feminist one at that. I have said this before and I’ll say it again now: I’m not here to take pity on “choice” sex workers for not “getting” what I “get.” I understand that we all live under the same oppressive system, that we get by in whatever ways we can, and that we all face different obstacles and have different priorities. I’m not calling sex workers sellouts, I’m not saying they’re deluded, and I’m not going to decide the consent issue for them. But I, unlike many purportedly pro-sex-worker feminists, will not patronize “choice” sex workers or their advocates or treat them like babies by refusing to ask them to explain their positions (pisaquaririse brought my attention to that tendency, which I thank her for because it helped me tremendously as I formulated this post).

With that out of the way, I’m inviting anyone who calls her/himself a sex-positive feminist or who refers to sex work as a feminist choice to answer the following questions, and I promise to be fair, civil, and reasonable in discussing them:

  • Do you believe that women would participate in sex work if we did not live in an oppressive, misogynistic culture? If so, what would the sex industry look like in a world in which women were seen as possessing the same humanity men do?
  • Do you believe that pornography and prostitution negatively affect some women’s lives (obviously some sex workers suffer abuse, but I am referring to women outside the sex industry here)? If not, why not? If so, does any of the responsibility for that lie with sex workers, or does it lie solely with the producers and pimps? Or somewhere else?
  • Why aren’t there more men out there arguing for women’s “right” to participate in sex work? What do you make of the fact that very few men call sex work a feminist choice? I’d also be happy to discuss the arguments of men who do make such a claim.
  • Can women like Jenna Jameson be considered feminists for taking leadership roles in the production of pornography? Why or why not? If the answer is yes, how can we reconcile the negative effects pornography has on women’s lives with referring to a producer of mainstream pornography as a feminist?
  • How can sex work empower individual women when it requires that women submit to being objectified and performing acts for money rather than out of genuine desire to do them?
  • Alternatively, if one genuinely enjoys something and gets paid for it, does it become a feminist act?
  • In other words, does feminism exist to advance the cause of women as a whole or for individual women to use as a justification for their personal choices?
  • If sex work is a valid, feminist choice for individual women, what are we to make of women who say that their participation in sex work resulted from their dire poverty, drug addiction, etc. being exploited by pimps and porn producers?
  • I see sex work as a reductionist commodification of human sexuality. Do you think that the reduction of sex to a commodity has a negative effect on our ability to explore and express the potential of human sexuality? If not, why not?
  • If you’re a sex-positive dude, tell me why. Why are you in such a huff to help women out? And why does it manifest as sex positivism? Why is your desire to help women out limited to arguing for their “right” to serve you sexually?

I realize I’m asking a lot of big questions and that I’m leaving a lot out. Please feel free to bring up anything you think germane, and to pick and choose what to address.  I also realize that I’ve framed the debate, but I don’t care. I’ve wanted the answers to these questions for a long time, and I have to pose the questions if I’m going to get the answers I seek. You see, these questions stem not from a desire to trap anyone, but from my own honest sticking points when I think about what I’ve seen of the sex-positive position.

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I sure hope my parents don’t read this.

L posted a comment on my Cosmo post (the comments section of which has gotten a little racy, be warned) that has got me tuh thankin’:

Usually, period = blowjob week, at least in my experience.

I for some reason forgot to comment on this before, but it really struck me as odd when I read it (probably at least in part because I’m sure it isn’t the case for L’s radfem self these days). I don’t know very many dudes who would refuse to have sex with a woman when she’s having her period, but assuming there are men who will refuse, I’d hope they wouldn’t expect oral sex. I mean, that’s completely nonreciprocal! (Note my feigned surprise.)

I had a conversation with a male friend once about women having been brainwashed by our culture’s conception of what sex is to the point that women tend to consider their own orgasm a part of foreplay rather than the actual “sex” that is intercourse. I told him that a lot of women don’t assume that they will even be having an orgasm in a sexual encounter, and that many women feel guilty for taking up valuable time with their silly little sexual needs instead of letting the man get on with the “sex” part.

He told me that was ridiculous, and that he’d never have sex with someone who didn’t care whether he came.

That isn’t such a startling concept coming from a dude, but it’s important. It should strike us as just as ridiculous as it struck him that women would be engaging in nonreciprocal sex.

I don’t think women should have sex with men who don’t care whether they have orgasms. The orgasm ratio needs to be equal, if not skewed in the woman’s favor (I mean, we’re the ones who can have multiple orgasms, sheesh). That means that if a dude isn’t into having sex and doing what it takes to give his partner an orgasm when she’s on her period, he ought to just go without until the period’s over, and he CERTAINLY ought not to expect oral sex. There are plenty of ways to make it happen, and if the guy gives a shit about anyone’s pleasure but his own, he’ll figure it out.

And that goes for non-period sex, too. I’m a sexual revolutionary, I know. Get on board with real sex-positive feminism here. I mean, what’s more sex-positive and feminist than demanding orgasmic equality?

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Jesus Christ. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.

What in the FUCK can this possibly mean? I’ve about exhausted my mental capacities trying to figure it out and have come up with almost nothing aside from a few unfathomably stupid possibilities:

  • I worship porn
  • I think porn is cooler than Jesus or evolution
  • Follow me to the porn
  • Porn is my religion
  • I’m so into porn that I can’t find enough ways to let people know
  • I’m equally into porn and seafood
  • I’m really into porn starring members of the band Phish
  • I’m into porn involving fish

What kind of person picks out an item like this and affixes it to their vehicle? Among all the bumper stickers and decals in the world, someone thought this one said more of what he wants to communicate to the world than any other. He liked this better than a Buckcherry sticker. He thought this was wittier than a “Bad Cop, No Donut” decal. He was feeling this more than a decal of Calvin pissing on the logo for whatever brand of car he doesn’t drive. He even went for this over a set of Trucknutz.

And, leaving the purchaser aside, let’s not forget that someone made this thing. Someone had to dream this up, think it was so fucking awesome that he just had to share it, make a mock-up, pass it by a few people, and tool a machine to make it. At no point was he dissuaded. Right now, someone is either profiting on this item or, worse, willing to operate at a wash or a loss because they so desperately want to put this message out there.

Seriously, someone help me. What can this mean? It’s a mystery to rival figuring out why people think Adam Corolla is the international spokesman for manhood.

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Adventures in Plastic Surgery

About a year and a half ago I had breast reduction surgery. The experience was tremendously interesting, irritating, depressing, enraging, etc., but I’ve yet to write anything about it, which I cannot really explain. I mean, what kind of feminist blogger waits until she’s had a blog for seven months before writing about a personal experience with the wild world of plastic surgery? Weak.

When I was about 21 or 22 my upper back started hurting constantly, and I was always trying to learn new and bizarre stretches in an attempt to alleviate the pain. I went to the doctor, I went to yoga, I went to get acupuncture. The doctor told me I was too stressed out and gave me Ativan (good job, asshole), the yoga just made me feel like a fruitcake, and the acupuncture was just a rather funny experience in which an earnest dude from Zimbabwe practiced an ancient Chinese art on a skeptical American asshole. None of it worked.

This is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I had failed to even consider the possibility that it might be the several pounds of weight I was carrying around on my chest that was causing the problem. I’d taken birth control pills which had caused me to gain two cup sizes, and even after I stopped taking them things never went back to normal (yet another reason I think hormonal birth control sucks). Still, I assumed there was just something amiss with my back, figured I was just doomed, and got used to the serious discomfort and the fact that I couldn’t sit up straight without resting my elbows on a table for support lest I find myself in heinous pain.

I also lost the good posture my parents had gone to great lengths to teach me and got used to slouching and hiding under shirts that were way too big for me in order to avoid unwanted attention and comments like the one I received from a Mexican dude when I was on my way to work one morning: “I want some leche for my coffee.” Uh huh.

After a few years of feeling like I was carrying a papoose around, I had to give serious thought to how to remedy the situation. I’m not going to pretend, however, that physical pain was the only factor involved. I started traveling to Asia regularly in 2002, and the unwanted attention I got there catalyzed things. I decided after returning from a particularly annoying trip to China that the time had come to see whether I could get my insurance to cover a reduction. You see, among women in East Asia, breaking an A-cup is practically a mutation. I was like an anime character come to life, being fair, comparatively tall, and massively enboobened. People in China, especially, all stare at foreigners, but the stares I got all seemed to point in the same direction. Nobody was being particularly gross, but I knew what was up.

I had a serious problem deciding whether the whole thing was kosher. I mean, I’m a radical feminist. I’m opposed to people yielding to social pressure by wearing uncomfortable shoes, for fuck’s sake. Undergoing elective surgery in service of the fucakbility mandate is, like, the worst thing in the world as far as I’m concerned. But I eventually decided that living my entire life with heinous pain wasn’t an acceptable option, and that if I had a knee problem that was causing equivalent pain, I’d have had the surgery years ago. That there was the added discomfort of being stared at did not obviate the pain factor. I decided that if an evil health insurance corporation agreed that the surgery was medically sound, I’d do it. I mean, their desire to save money by avoiding providing what they’re in business to provide is even stronger than my disdain for capitulating to the patriarchy by having surgery, so I figured if they were willing to pay, it must be necessary. I also reminded myself that I wasn’t fucking with nature, but rather restoring it after birth control pills had altered it.

(The best part about the whole thing was telling people about it. I’d say that for every 10 dudes I told, 9 of them asked me if me having the surgery was OK with my then husband! I think I was almost as convinced to have the surgery by their dumbass questions as I was by back pain.)

I made an appointment to see a doctor and ask for a referral for breast reduction surgery. I told her how shitty constant back pain was and got all melodramatic about the pain I endured while wearing the torture devices that some medieval asshole had designed and called bras. She told me I was a perfect candidate because I was clearly “out of proportion.” If it hadn’t been for the fact that the extra flesh had been the result of birth control pills I would have probably been offended, but I was just glad she was going to sign the form. The next step was to find a surgeon and have her (no fucking WAY I was going to a dude) send a proposal to my insurance company, then wait for them to approve the procedure.

I searched high and low for information about the plastic surgeons in San Francisco, and eventually found out about a doctor who was known for her pro bono work for low income women who had undergone mastectomies and wanted reconstructive surgery. Now, I know there are some people who question whether having reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy is cool (be fuckable or die, even if the only reason you aren’t fuckable is because you almost died), but I was glad to find a doctor who, despite being involved in one of the most nefarious industries on Earth, at least made some use of her skills to help people who needed (or wanted) help. Plus, she went to Stanford, she was a big star at school, and she’d worked with some leaders in the plastic surgery field. She also did more breast reduction surgeries than anyone in town.

I knew I wasn’t going to like dealing with a plastic surgeon no matter what, but she was pretty cool. She didn’t give me a bunch of bullshit about how “beautiful” I was going to look or try too hard to convince me to undergo procedures I wasn’t into. I hear that’s the difference between male and female plastic surgeons: female plastic surgeons for the most part listen to their patients, while male plastic surgeons try to sell their patients on procedures they hadn’t even considered, knowing that their duderific opinions will likely create enough self-doubt in the patient that she’ll consider the additional procedure. I suppose the fact that I was in her office to have a procedure done to alleviate pain rather than to make dudes want to pork me might have had something to do with it, but she was business-like and didn’t patronize me or try to get too schmoozy, and I liked her enough, for a plastic surgeon.

Her office was another story. She shared a practice with two other female cosmetic surgeons, and they really played up the fact that they were women doing shit for women and that they conceived of their practice as one big, pink, flowery, sisterly, chocolatey self-esteem-boosting party. As soon as I walked into the place, I knew I was going to have to put on my most impressive poker face to avoid snarling and laughing at everyone and everything in the joint. Seriously, if I hadn’t already committed myself to the surgery (and gotten the referral), that office might have made me reconsider.

When I walked in I thought I had entered an Enya video.  I imagined the thought behind the decor in the waiting area, and I kept seeing a gay dude nodding knowingly at my doctor, who had just told him, “What I want is a special little world where women can feel good about capitulating to the patriarchy in the most egregious of ways. Make it feminine as fuck. Is there any way it can be candlelit?” The end result: a reception desk covered in artsy, tremendously expensive flower arrangements, boxes of some kind of luxury brand of tea for us ladies (all ladies love tea), and boxes of chocolates and other sweets, manned by a woman so gracious and accommodating she didn’t even seem to notice the retina-searingly tacky relief in white faux marble of a naked, 36-24-36, recumbent woman adorning the wall behind her. The seating area was inundated with throw pillows, copies of that fucking awful magazine Oprah puts out, and brochures telling you why you “deserve” to “indulge” in Botox and other forms of self-mutilation, not to mention even more flowers. I felt like those cats on Halloween decorations look, all bristly and alarmed and shit. It was just so fucking gay (think about what I mean by that before you get mad at me).

The examination room walls were all covered in framed articles about my doctor and her colleagues, articles clipped from various “women’s” magazines on how great it was that more and more female plastic surgeons were cropping up each day because these female doctors were much more likely to be compassionate, to pay attention to what their patients really wanted, and to create more “natural” results. I felt like someone had dosed the herbal tea I drank in the waiting room with 8 drops of acid, like I’d entered some alternate universe where customer demand had supplanted patient health (har har, I mean health insurance company profit) as the central concern of the medical profession, where people needed to cut up, remove, and rearrange nature to achieve a “natural” look, where it didn’t strike anyone as strange that we should allow ourselves to be cut open and have our flesh removed and objects inserted into us and risk death and disfigurement in order to meet a beauty standard set by the fickle minds behind the advertising and entertainment media.

I was jittery as fuck. I didn’t ask any questions, I just put on the plushy bathrobe and followed the nurse into the room where they’d take photos of me, topless, to send to my insurance company to prove that my boobs were big enough to warrant being made smaller. Yep. I then went in to discuss the whole thing with my doctor, who told me that she might have to suck fat from the space between my armpit and my chest to add to the flesh she’d be removing from my breasts, because the insurance company required that she remove a certain weight in grams. Besides, she told me, most women don’t like having that little bit of fat there, and I’d probably like the result. Ugh. I told her that I had somehow managed to avoid worrying about that little bit of flesh and wasn’t going to start, and that if that was going to be the deciding factor I didn’t need to do the surgery. Like I said, I was basing my justification of the whole thing to myself on my insurance company’s agreement that it was medically necessary, because I figured they’d be loathe to grant the approval unless it was.

After submitting to the humiliation of my first ever topless photo shoot and of being scrutinized, poked at, fondled, and discussed as if I were not there, I left the office and returned to the streets of Pacific Heights, where only 60 — rather than 100 — percent of the women around me thought injecting botulism into one’s face was cool. You know, back to reality.

I waited a few weeks, found out I’d been approved, and made an appointment to have the surgery. The day of the surgery things were a little less nauseating since we were at a regular medical facility rather than the beauty salon environment of my doctor’s own office. I don’t remember much about the whole thing except asking for my underwear the second I came to. I spent the entire day and night in the hospital in a morphine nod, intermittently noticing some show on television about lemurs and complaining that the stupid nurses kept coming in and messing with me too much.

I don’t think I’d realized beforehand how serious this surgery was. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t move my arms, couldn’t do shit for a whole day, and then had to spend two weeks at home on drugs with my mom and then-husband doing pretty much everything for me since my entire torso and both of my arms were useless unless I wanted to rip my internal stitches and suffer excruciating pain. The doctor wouldn’t let me shower for three goddamn days, which would have kept me from having the surgery in the first place had I known about it. (Seriously, I hang out in the shower all day. That was the worst torture I’ve ever endured.) But even when I could get in the shower, I needed help doing the simplest things. I was so incapacitated that I had to have people hand me things that were sitting a foot away from me, and I even had to have my mom wash my hair for me. Ridiculous.

I kept reminding myself the whole time that, once I had endured this nonsense, I’d be done with being in pain all day every day, but I still felt like I’d betrayed myself somehow, like I’d invited physiological injury on myself out of psychological weakness. I think that had something to do with the fact that I had two weeks to lie there and think about the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of women who endure exactly what I was enduring without the excuse of back pain, and I had plenty of time to doubt the decision I’d made once I was actually suffering the consequences of it. My doctor had given me a packet of papers, one of which discussed the psychological after-effects of cosmetic surgery. An all-purpose sheet, it lumped me in with everyone else, and helped me feel like I’d capitulated to fascistic beauty standards rather than chronic pain. It warned that pain, painkillers, and something called “post-op letdown” might make me doubt my decision, that unsupportive family members might bum my party out, but not to worry! Once I was up and about it’d all be good and everyone would see how awesome I looked! Party!

I really wish she’d made a separate sheet for people like me, maybe with some information about how our back pain would end once we’d recovered, because after I got off the Percoset and out of the house, and once I could pick up a book without crying from the pain, I decided I really had done the right thing, and that my mind had been playing tricks on me. My back doesn’t hurt anymore, my posture has returned to normal, and I can find cheap bras and clothes that actually fit me. But I told her to go with the least invasive surgery option, which meant I didn’t go that small, and that I still get stared at all the time. Oh well. At least now I really know I did it for the right reason and that I wasn’t just bullshitting myself.

So, I suppose all this means I’m qualified to discuss the ethical issues involved in the plastic surgery industry, which I’ll get to shortly.

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