Taking a Scalpel to Plastic Surgery

"Body Buy Back: A Temporary Installation Reflecting on the Practice and Social Dimensions of Cosmetic Surgery"

Others are more complicated: "How did you become discontented with your body? We interfere with our 'natural' body all the time, through wearing clothing, using socially accepted behavior, etc. So where do you draw the line between acceptable alterations of the body's 'natural' appearance and unacceptable, 'unnatural' ones?" "Do you want the wisdom, tranquility, confidence, and sense of accomplishment that comes with aging, but not the aging body?"

A few of the questions bring what's obviously Diggs' feminist slant into sharper focus: "Cosmetic surgery often amplifies sexual differences. What kind of freedoms do you imagine achieving by having your sexual characteristics enhanced surgically? On the other hand, how might enhanced sexuality be a kind of bondage?" "Do you think cosmetic surgery helps to maintain the social inequality that exists between the sexes?"

It's fairly clear from the cumulative tone of the installation that Diggs is highly critical of what she refers to at one point as "aesthetic surgery." Fine. Many of the questions she raises are certainly worth contemplating, and at her best she stimulates such contemplation.

Any way you slice it, Diggs makes sure her message is heard
Melissa Jones
Any way you slice it, Diggs makes sure her message is heard

But what of other perspectives? Diggs seems blind to any possible good that might come of cosmetic surgery. The complicated experiences of women who undergo reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, for example, are dismissed with an incredulous "Can you imagine why a woman might want to do this?" There seems to be an underlying assumption here that cosmetic surgery is invariably a matter of vanity.

Has Diggs stacked the deck? Of course she has, and as an artist that's her prerogative. But in a piece that's so reliant on text, Diggs has also left herself open. By emphasizing words, sometimes at the expense of imagery, she has set her work up for debate and then failed to follow through on that debate. And it's not for lack of space -- there are big stretches of wall that are empty except for the smears of red pigment.

Maybe I'm expecting too much from a single art installation, or maybe Diggs wants to provoke a degree of skepticism, the better to throw her points into harsher relief. Or maybe "Body Buy Back" just hits a little too close to home for someone who has always wondered how he might look with a different nose.

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