Cold, Hard, Shiny Plastic

Casting calls are already out for the next movie in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Aspiring actresses seeking a role in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” must be “beautiful female fit models” between the ages of 18 and 25. In addition, they should be between 5’7” and 5’8”, fall somewhere between a size four and size six, and have a “lean dancer body.”

Oh, and possess real breasts. Yes, you heard right.

As an unidentified former casting agent clarified in the New York Post: “In the last movie, there were enhanced breasts to give that 18th-century whorish look […] and no one worried. But times are changing, and the audience can spot false breasts.”

The Times of London also notes that potential actresses will be required to undergo an implant detection exam. Apparently, fake breasts “move less freely than the real thing during action sequences.” I guess they want their actresses to be able to get jiggy with it.

Not to mention that the actresses must be able to dive and swim for the scenes that will be shot in Hawaii because producers are concerned that the artificially-enhanced won’t be able to maneuver well underwater, considering that they have two built-in flotation devices in their chests.

But in all seriousness, does Disney’s stance signify a growing backlash against breast implants and, on a larger scale, cosmetic modifications in general? Or is it an anomalous development in a plastic-crazed society?

Let’s start with breast augmentations. According to Joan Kron of Allure Magazine, a thousand American women receive implants every day. That’s about 365,000 per year. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that breast augmentation is now the country’s most popular type of cosmetic surgery.

In fact, according to a National Women’s Health Resource Center poll, half of all American women claim to know someone who has received implants. As a sign of their prevalence, many college seniors obtain implants as graduation gifts, and mothers often acquire them after nursing their children.

And what of the bastion of glamorized artificiality — Hollywood? The number of big-name celebrities with boob jobs is astounding. Here’s a shout-out to the high priestesses of plastic: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Katherine Heigl, Jessica Alba, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Lady Gaga, Blake Lively, Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Megan Fox, and, most notoriously, Heidi Montag.

Considering her innumerable body jobs, one can even coronate Ms. Montag as the undisputed queen of cosmetic surgery (though Cher would beg to differ). In an infamous interview featured in a 2010 issue of People Magazine, Montag revealed that she had simultaneously undergone ten plastic surgery procedures in one day… this on top of the breast augmentation, collagen lip injections, and rhinoplasty (nose surgery) she’d received in August 2007.

Montag says that plastic surgery is “in” to her critics’ bemusement, who decry her surgeries as indicative of America’s out-of-control obsession with artificial beauty. Which brings us back to the question: is there a backlash against plastic surgery brewing?

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), yes. The ASAPS found that the economic recession has led penny-pinching Americans to eschew pricey cosmetic procedures, causing cosmetic surgeries to dip two percent in 2009.

As Newport Beach plastic surgeon Dr. Joseph Cruise notes, many cosmetic surgeons have shifted “from plastic surgery to non-cosmetic reconstructive surgery” because of dwindling revenues.

Also a sign of the times: once-popular plastic surgery reality shows such as “Extreme Makeover,” “The Swan,” and “Nip/Tuck” have gone off the air.

However, while the ASAPS claims that cosmetic surgeries were down last year, the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery counters that procedures were up eight percent. And then you have the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery chiming in with the number of surgeries that have gone up an astronomical 47 percent.

Even more confusingly, all three surveys yielded different results in other areas of cosmetic alteration: “Nose jobs were down nine percent, up 74 percent, or down 13 percent […] Facelifts were down 29 percent, up 44 percent or up 14 percent.”

What to make of these seemingly contradictory statistics? As stated by the Orange County Register, one could point to the fact that each set of questions was “submitted to a particular group of specialists — plastic surgeons […] dermatologists, and ear-nose-and-throat specialists.” The surveys also don’t account for numerous non-surgical cosmetic procedures or those executed by non-certified doctors.

Plastic surgery is both as popular and as detested as ever. In short, our love-hate relationship with cosmetic surgery maps out a cultural landscape as convoluted as the features on Montag’s body.