Looking fitter and younger can certainly be helped by healthy diet, exercise, sports, and muscle building. Some people also turn to hair coloring and cosmetic procedures, and this is the fourth article discussing these topics in some detail. It may be easiest to scroll down to the earlier posts, which appeared on January 2, 2010 (https://www.irasabs.com/?p=3400), December 28, 2009 (https://www.irasabs.com/?p=3287)and December 20, 2009(https://www.irasabs.com/?p=3153).

Millions of women modify their features thru cosmetic surgery, so they will look like: celebrities they admire; their own ideas of what is beautiful; or what will make them more attractive to men.

A totally different approach to altering one’s looks took place from 1990 to 1993, when a performance artist named Orlan carried out a series of nine surgeries viewed live by audiences during which her face was transformed through plastic surgery. Orlan’s “Carnal Art” was an attempt to question stereotypical ideas about beauty promoted by advertising, fashion and media professionals.

Orlan long before any surgeries—1977

Orlan long before any surgeries—1977


Orlan—1977

Orlan—1977

You can see what she looked like in these pre-surgery pictures of her in 1977.

Years after the surgeries, she said, “…with cosmetic surgery, you can look like a Barbie doll, or some big star, or you can try to create you own inner portrait.”

One of her objectives was to embody the enduring visions of beauty created by renowned painters throughout history. She accomplished this seemingly impossible goal by surgically replicating the most cherished facial feature as it was presented in each famous artist’s most revered artwork.

Orlan after some of the surgeries—1992

Orlan after some of the surgeries—1992

For example, she has the chin of Botticelli’s Venus, the nose of Gerome’s Psyche, the lips of François Boucher’s Europa, the eyes of Diana from a sixteenth-century French painting and the forehead of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Orlan picked these characters, “not for the canons of beauty they represent… but rather on account of the stories associated with them.” Diana because she is inferior to the gods and men, but is leader of the goddesses and women; Mona Lisa because of the standard of beauty, or anti-beauty, she represents; Psyche because of her fragility and vulnerability within the soul; Venus for carnal beauty and notions of fertility; Europa for her adventurous outlook to the horizon, the future.

Orlan as Frankenstein's fiancee

Orlan as Frankenstein's fiancee

Yet another surgery implanted two symmetrical bumps that look like horns in her forehead to mimic the protruding brow of Mona Lisa. Sometimes she highlights these protrusions with glitter.

Orlan with forehead bumps

Orlan with forehead bumps

The events that brought her closer to achieving ultimate beauty were celebrated and special. Each surgery was captured on video, fed to live international audiences via satellite link-ups, and exhibited in a number of galleries in Europe and the U.S.

Instead of the sterile environment of the operating room, she constructed an operating ‘theater’ in which everything was choreographed, and the space was decorated with flowers. Famous designers, such as Paco Rabanne and Issey Miyake, designed costumes for Orlan and her doctors to wear during the surgeries. Poetry was read and music played, while she lay on the operating table fully conscious of the events taking place (only local anesthetic was used) read from scripts and answered questions from viewers around the world.

In all these ways she demonstrated that there are many standards of excellence and diverse models of beauty.

This surgical montage recalls the practices of two ancient Greek and 15th Century Italian artists, who extrapolated the most ideal features of several different models and morphed them into one. But Orlan has taken these methods to a different level.

Orlan’s art offers commentary not only by questioning the notion of an ideal beauty, but also the lengths to which people will go to achieve it. Says Orlan: “My work is not a stand against cosmetic surgery, but against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of a dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on feminine . . . flesh.”

Michael Jackson after many private surgeries

Michael Jackson after many private surgeries


Now I also read someone’s views about Michael Jackson’s changes to his looks: “Michael Jackson was the penultimate post-modern artist; the indelible impression of a person being able to transform race, gender, age, and identity with the use of mass media is an artform beyond the realm of acceptance for many. Like a human collage, Michael had a tiny doll nose, pretty pink lips, fawn eyes, opalescent skin, Liz Taylor hair and Kirk Douglas jaw line, his thin frame absolutely perfect in the “You Are Not Alone” video. Only in our futuristic present are people able to transform their physical being to match their internal identity; anyone can change their look, even in the slums of Brazil breast augmentation is big business.”

Yet another site I found went well into some of the bizarre aspects of the subject, including shocking pictures that were too strong to show you:

“Body Modification is a broad term. Common forms of “acceptable” body modification include ear piercing, tattoos, breast augmentation, and liposuction. Body builders exploit their musculature, while anorexics waste away. Some people manipulate their faces in ways that are generally considered pleasing and undetectable. Others on the “fringe” of society give themselves elvish (yes, elvish) ears, use sub-dermal implants, brand themselves, indulge in scarification, and enjoy tongue splitting. These are the people who wish to change themselves into their fantastic views of beauty.

“The converse of these people would be the Cult of Barbie—fountain-of-youth, Bod Mod enthusiasts. Know them by their obviously “Natural” artificial hair, their breast implants, nose jobs, lip implants, inflated cheeks, new chins. Their fantasy is natural…super natural. Sadly, the Barbie body and face is an uphill battle against time, gravity, and elasticity.

“Plastic Surgery and other forms of Body Modification are not the enemy. Let us reserve judgment on those persons indulging in their desire to exploit the fluidity of their human bodies. Shaping the body to meet our aesthetic specifications has been a constant of the human experience for thousands of years.”

Ok. Enough of this exploration for now. It all started when I colored my hair and began thinking about other kinds of physical changes (including simple gym exercise) people undertake to enhance their appearance and retain the illusion of youth…

An earlier post of mine reported that 92% of cosmetic surgery in America is done for women. What is there about our society that pressures females—including young teenagers—to change their natural bodies? Why don’t men feel the need to alter their appearance in such major ways? What do you think?

Oops…prior to posting, I just bumped into a partial answer. A magazine in Australia just published an un-retouched cover picture of a nude woman to celebrate her “natural” body. Prior to this decision, the magazine had surveyed 5500 of its readers and learned that only 12% of them were happy with their own bodies. Can you believe a former Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins, was picked to make readers feel better about themselves? Many subscribers are ticked that the editors thought Jennifer’s body would be a good one to publicize as a desirable body type. No wonder women want to change the way they look, when the messages being sent out rave about beauty contest winners as the idealized female shape.

My thanks to Linda Weintraub, who introduced me to Orlan’s work, wrote some of the words in this post, and is the author of Art on the Edge and Over, which was published by a company that I founded and operate.