VIBE caught up with celebrity psychologist Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis to chat about why so many women are killing themselves for bigger butts and why society needs to embrace diverse standards of beauty.
VIBE: Why are women now more than ever risking their lives for dangerous plastic surgery?
Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis: I think that women have long been victims of objectification where we are being told that our worth is based on our looks and there is what’s considered⎯this Western beauty myth where there’s only one idea of what beauty looks like and so whatever gets held up in the moment everybody strives to be like that and if you don’t match that then you’re somehow unworthy of love and you’re not good enough. It’s important to keep in mind these aren’t just issues that are in the heads of a few individuals but it really is a massive issue that affects everybody when we look at research, the impact that women feel about their self esteem just based on the magazines they look at, music videos⎯all of these images have an effect at how we look at ourselves. In terms of growing numbers of people going to surgery I think a part of it is how more available certain plastic surgery is becoming whether it’s through legal or illegal means. Unfortunately women do report that they are treated differently based on how they look so this feeling of, if I had these particular features then more people are going to pursue and someone is going to want me are increased. That’s what people are hungry for. That affirmation that validation and unfortunately we’re willing to pay the price not only the financial price but also the price of their health.
Even though we’re subjected to the European standard of beauty, now we have women like Kim Kardashain and Jennifer Lopez who are glorified for having big butts—
Right. Here’s the challenge that we have to remember: It’s a balancing act because it’s not a negative thing that people are holding up more examples of fuller figured women and they’re not even really full figured when we think about average women, but in comparison to their Hollywood counterparts, they’re fuller figured so I think it’s not that we need to demonize them or be upset that they’re being celebrated. It’s more so the message that we want to get out that there are multiple images of beauty. So whether you are thin or fuller whatever complexion you are whatever your hair is whatever your eyes are, learning to see beauty within ourselves is critical as opposed to the one idea that if I don’t have the behind and the breasts and a small waist and a thin nose and long straight blonde hair then I’m not acceptable, so it’s not that we want to be upset about people seeing that as beautiful but to know that that’s not the only example of beauty.
When you watch people who get plastic surgery on TV we know that they consult with a surgeon first but is it ever recommended to see a psychologist beforehand?
Sure. We really recommend that, especially for surgeons who are having people come repeatedly and sometimes there are ethical surgeons who their warning lights will go off that someone is having some deeper challenges and issues and they may say to them before the surgery, “I want to recommend that you go talk to somebody.” Unfortunately, there are those who are unethical and their priority is the money and not your health, not only physically but emotionally. But I think it’s important for people to talk through and it’s not that you come to speak to a therapist for them to talk you out of it but just so that you can be very clear about what is your expectation. How are you hoping your life with be different as the result of this? Are you fully aware of the different risks, and to challenge this idea of you are not beautiful? So, we talk through that and then you can make an informed decision. That’s not to control women⎯women and men, men are getting surgeries too⎯but it’s not to control women but so that you can make an empowered decision because it is a big decision.
How did we go from denouncing the what happened to Venus Hottentot to doing the same thing to ourselves, in essence?
I think what we have in a lot of ways mistaken is we have bought into the myth that if I do it to myself it’s empowering, so it’s like, you’re not gonna do it to me, I’m gonna do it to me but it ends up with the same effect that in essence we’re on auction blocks and those auction blocks are now the street corners, those auction blocks are on tables when I’m feeling like I have to give lap dances to get my college tuition, those auction blocks are standing in line hoping to be chosen for a rap video. A lot of times these are girls who actually have dance training. Some of them just woke up and decided to show up but several of them actually have talent. But unfortunately in our community, there have been a lack of celebration and recognition for people who are doing the right thing. It’s not that we don’t have sisters holding it down, it’s not that we don’t have brothers who are very respectful of women but they don’t get highlighted. They don’t get the big commercials. Like, the big commercial is the guy sitting there and three women standing behind him with their bikinis on and that becomes the hero, and people want to be that so I think we really have to alter who it is we have to give our power to and really start to acknowledge those who are doing incredible things. It’s not to demonize those who create videos, they’re doing what they do but we have to be clear about putting forward to our young people and to ourselves other examples of heroes and sheros so that there’s a better balance.