A woman dubbed the Human Barbie after under-going layer upon layer of plastic surgery has gifted her seven-year-old daughter vouchers for liposuction and a boob job when the girl reaches the appropriate age of 16. Not surprisingly, her actions have offended and her mothering ability has been publicly called into question. Probably for most of us there is an initial negative response at the idea of encouraging a child to give up on the self-esteem of their own body before it has even developed, leading her instead toward an idea of homogenous “beauty.” Perhaps some even feel vaguely threatened, that if this sort of thinking inches toward the norm then how could we protect our own children from being swallowed up into this culture of manufactured appearance. These feelings can swell into condemnation of the Human Barbie and an attendant feeling of self-righteousness. But Killin’ It in this case is not giving in to that temptation.
Our culture has already betrayed “naturalness” in so many ways. Take, for example, orthodontics. Most parents wish, and pay for, their children to have perfect teeth. Or at least improved teeth. It has become such a standard that to compare it to plastic surgery might seem laughable. “Well, yes,” one might say, “but everyone has their teeth done, it would be weird to choose purposefully not to.” But to a child the lesson is the same. To make it in this world you will need to go through painful physical manipulation at the hands of expensive experts to fit in. And it’s important enough to fit in that your parents insist upon it. So the judgement against Human Barbie Mothering is not one of fundamental ethics, but really of drawing a line that is well under flux anyway.
Perhaps of greater importance is the implicit judgment of happiness, however, that comes with admonishing this mother. What we are really saying is “you are lost and confused and fake and therefore not really happy and now you’re passing that on to your daughters who will have no chance at true happiness.” But what if we are simply wrong. What if her fake tits and smile and hair and body make her feel good, as hard as that might be for us to swallow. What if she has found a path to happiness, and like any other mother her instincts tell her to pass that knowledge along. In which case, what if the only real threat to the daughters is being forced to doubt the values their mother is teaching them. Now it might be easy to scoff at that notion, but let’s consider what other values are being handed down without reproach. Think about an insurance company manager whose job is designing ways to legally fleece people with endless red tape and bureaucracy, what are they teaching their children about values. About what it takes to make it in the world. That is not to demonize them, for they are not bad people either simply for their job, but to suggest that what we consider ‘acceptable’ value passing is already rife with ideas we’d find repugnant if they were spelled out.
The essence of Killin’ It is self-definition. And to defend and allow for that, we must be able to defend and protect those who define themselves in ways we may not choose for ourselves.