Words by: Felice Lok Art by: Natalie Tran
“You see, more often than not, the people who shame women the most are actually women themselves.”
I remember first grappling with the notion of internalised misogyny while preparing for my Year 12 oral exam. My topic was about why all men play a role in eliminating violence against women, and the way I wrote it fixated heavily on how men were always the main perpetrators. While I was rehearsing in my English teacher’s office after school one afternoon, she said something that I didn’t really understand at the time, but has stuck with me ever since. She said: “you see, more often than not, the people who shame women the most are actually women themselves.”
Internalised misogyny displays itself in many subtle ways — often so subtle that we pay no attention to it. And perhaps one of the biggest ways this is reflected is through how some women shame others for choosing to have plastic surgery. It seems that all along, plastic surgery was bad; not only did it mean that you were too fixated on your appearance, but it also meant you were flouting the norm of embracing ‘natural’ beauty.
It begs the question: can women ever get anything right? That is, can they ever get anything right under a patriarchal system? Women are criticised as being too materialistic when they choose to have plastic surgery, but when they choose not to have plastic surgery, they’re criticised for failing to appease the aesthetic needs of the patriarchy. Either way, women get shamed. And for most of my teenage years, I didn’t realise that my own internalised misogyny contributed to that.
The first time I heard someone challenge my negative perceptions towards plastic surgery was in Year 8, when my friend said that she supported celebrities who chose to have plastic surgery. “They are idols after all, so having surgery demonstrates a form of respect for their fans and themselves,” she said. Although her words reflect how we feel obliged to change our appearances to please other people, it made me question why I thought I had the right to judge other women for their beauty choices.
As I reached the later years of high school, I read more widely about feminism and the objectification of women in our everyday lives. It was also the time of the #MeToo movement, and I felt increasingly indignant about how women were treated, while being ashamed of how I felt it was ever acceptable to put down and make judgements of other women.
We’re often quick to point the finger at men in perpetuating misogyny (and for very valid reasons), but we need to recognise how internalised misogyny is more common than we think — and often more harmful, too. A choice to have plastic surgery is a right of any woman that shouldn’t be subject to shame. And acknowledging this is a nod in the direction of undoing our internalised misogyny.