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Women and Posthumanity: The future looks large and sexy
Kristi Scott   Mar 24, 2010   The Yellow Canary  

The body has a lot of change to go through on the path to post-humanity. There is a lot of room for improvement and enhancement. Even with all of these cool improvements and enhancements though, my cynical side emerges. While these would be great, are we giving ourselves too much credit that the choices we will make on the route to post-humanity will be practical? Isn’t society a little more vain that that? Seriously? The desire for youth and beauty is by no means a new phenomenon.

However, I was caught off guard, just a bit when I was forwarded a video of an interview with Tom Ford, the fashion designer and director of the film A Single Man.  In the video

Tom talks about women being posthuman and makes some good points in the interview all of which tied in to a paper I wrote on cosmetic surgery awhile back.

He mentions that breasts today do not bear any resemblance to what actual breasts look like. He is right, they try to look natural, but the key word is “try”. Several points that his statement make me think of is, if they are unnatural looking why do we want them to look natural? As a woman who has a genetic predisposition on the higher end of the size curve, I do not understand. The unnatural version of natural looks nothing like my own natural ones, even if we are the same cup size. I have friends who fall in to the same category that I do and talked to them about it and they agree. There is a level of insecurity, but it is not insecurity about size, but about gravity. The posthuman breasts go against the body’s natural inclination to succumb to gravitational pull, if you will. My friends and I however cannot pay to fight gravity; we are left to lesser forms of posthuman enhancements such as the push-up bra. This leads to my second point about Tom’s statement: actual breasts. Is the desirable path one where breasts do not bear any resemblance to natural breasts? Form over function. Breasts work, but do we still need them to work in the same way?

We have formula now, that while it can in no way match breast milk, it does work and many women use it. It is an alternative. Before you send me any hate comments, I breastfed all three of my children, not for a year, but I did. I did eventually switch over to formula. Regardless, if we want surreally attractive breasts, does the functionality need to remain the same or will sex and sexual appeal transition to be the exclusive function.

As adults, we can talk and think about these types of questions and issues, but what about the young girls. Tom Ford makes another point in the video that girls are seeing the adults with their unnatural breasts and think that they need to get their breasts done. He goes on to mention that we have lost touch with what a real breast actually looks like. Again, as adults that is one thing, as a young girl it’s another. In the adoption of the posthuman form are we taking critical examination of what images and ideas we are passing on to the next generation. Further examination though should include the messages conveyed and the impact of these messages on young girls. When thinking about the posthuman woman, the girls of today, how will their lives change by the choices made today. They could very possibly choose to go against the grain of the constructions of beautiful breasts and choose the au natural route. Insecurity about breast size is a facet of growing up that girls deal with. Plastic surgery enables them to address these insecurities, but what do they gain and what does it solve? Large unnatural breasts are not something a mother can pass on to her daughters naturally, it will require, at this point in time, a monetary investment of perpetuation within culture.

Tom points out that we are becoming our own art by manipulating our bodies and creating them the way we want them to look. He also says that it desexualizes, comparing these beautiful bodies to cars. Since they are so glossy, polished and an idealized form of perfection, they are too scary and not human. I would love to hear the answers to the questions he poses about after these surgeries of breast enhancement does it help ones sex life? Or is it intimidating? A body in its artistic form is admirable at a distance without touching. Not like a ball of clay where you want to get your hands dirty and really play with it intensely

Last night, as I was thinking about what I was going to say in the piece I turned on VH1, yes, I think it is a valuable source for pop culture insight. It did not fail me. The show that I turned on was “VH1News Presents: Plastic Surgery Obsession”. It fit in perfectly with what I was thinking and wanted to say, without the reference to post-humanism. The show is about the rise in popularity of plastic surgery, in and now out of Hollywood. The show supports both the new ideals of women’s bodies and that the younger generation is picking up these ideals. The fact that VH1 aired the show, despite a voyeuristic appeal that shows like this have, says something about what we want to see on TV. Finally, at the end of the episode the show touched on males and cosmetic surgery. Tom Ford did not talk about the men being posthuman in his interview, or at least the clip I heard, but VH1 talked about how tricky it was for men to undergo plastic surgery and come out of it looking “natural”. Does this mean that with women getting around 98% of the plastic surgeries they are more willing to transition to a posthuman form or is it just easier for them? What does this mean and how does this reflect on men? Are men going to, can they follow the same path as women? These are interesting questions to think about in addition to the critical examinations of the decisions of women. I look forward to hearing and thoughts.

Kristi Scott M.A. is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. Her work centers on the way popular culture presents issues of identity, body modification, cosmetic surgery, and emerging technologies. She has been a freelance writer since 2003 writing for a variety of magazines over the years, most recently as a writer and copy-editor for h+ magazine.



COMMENTS

Dear Kristi:

“Breasts today do not resemble what breasts actually look like”? Huh? As far back as I can remember, breasts came in all shapes and sizes. They still do.Tom Ford was speaking of his own narrow, fashion designer, world. Maybe they don’t look real in his world but his world isn’t the real world.

In as far as “post-human” forms go, I’m not a post-humanist but I never fail to find amusement in the way in which post-humanists attempt to force ideas, intrinsic to being human, into the context that would be its opposite.

In other words, why fret about what functions the body parts of some artificial form have? It’s artificial, so human conventions wouldn’t matter anymore because you wouldn’t be human in the first place.

Isn’t that the whole point?

I’ll have to let you answer that as I’m more interested in the extension of human life than the fantasy of uploading or downloading my consciousness into some machine…

Marshall, lighten up. But good news for you, I wont write the comment planned; you threw cold water on it. You win again.

Hi Marshall,

The quote you reference is what Tom Ford says in the video. I didn’t exactly quote, I paraphrased it. He says that they look like half-grapefruits stuck to women’s chests, which they do. I know breasts come in all shapes and sizes, the kind created with plastic surgery don’t tend to occur naturally. Feel free to correct me though of course. And you are right, Tom Ford his a fashion designer and his “world” is different, but it is still a human world so there is some merit to his perspective.

I am not sure what I’m called per se, but I do fret. I think it’s interesting to examine the, transition (?) that is going on. Looking at the fact that the decisions, trends and technological adoptions of today have an effect on the path of the future. You’re right at some point they might not be human, but if they originated from humanity it is worth looking in to. In addition, there are multiple options and choices to make all with their own impact. Watching the popularity of certain trends over others, the way these trends become popular and how they are discussed is an important aspect to me.

That is why I brought up critical examination. If these decisions make a future broader impact, what can we learn today to help understand the changes on society. For instance currently I’m trying to wrap my ahead around the way technology is communicated through popular culture. Whatever you think about popular culture, Tom Ford and the fashion world, etc. it makes an impact and it communicates to people. They pick it up and use it as a reference point.

This may be off-tangent, but I thought of it after I posted and this seems like a good place to put it. Economics factors in to this too. I would like to pretend it doesn’t, because it bothers me, but for better or worse, I concede it does. So, the people who are making money off of the larger breasts are they thinking any farther than profit? These broader implications extend outside of a select few people into a larger audience.  I wonder because if money is a motivator, it seems others need to be keeping in step to look at the other factors. The importance of making money may seem grand, but the lasting impact is on us and where we as a society are headed.

Kristi:

That’s what happens when you paraphrase without saying so. The context would have been nice as well - saying breasts today instead of artificial breasts left it open to interpretation. As far as the grapefruit kind, those are also the bad ones. The ones that are good are nearly impossible to tell unless you feel them and even those are getting better.

As far as the impact on society, artificial breasts have been around for over 20 years. There is a lot of hype but because of the cost, the penetration into society has been less than if they were cheaper. Simultaneously, however, there has been an explosion in size acceptance movement. There are many men that don’t like skinny women with fake breasts. There men’s magazines just for men whom prefer natural breasts. Even on plus size women. Especially on plus size women. In fact, there were two types of men’s magazines found at Michael Jackson’s Wonderland ranch - one was for plumper babes. The other, older women. Both types have skyrocketed in terms of popularity just over the last 20 years.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of hype which creates counter-reactions which are then hyped, and in the real scheme of things it’s not as relevant as it would seem because it all reflects a very narrow worldview, and is not reflective at all of the larger reality.

I just got finished playing the video and I didn’t see any of those women with the half grapefruit boob jobs because they were all celebrities and they wouldn’t have anything like that. What I did see was a lot of push up bras and boobs which I couldn’t tell for sure if they were natural or not. But listening to Ford talk, you would think that he’s talking about women walking down the street every day, but he’s not. He’s talking about a very narrow part of society which thinks it’s more important and has more impact than it really does. Who cares if some chick makes herself look like a real life Barbi doll? The reality is that today, Kristi, you could start a career as a model for Bodacious magazine and men would think you’re hot.

Try that in the 50s…

I don’t get it. It should be quite obvious to any transhumanist or techno-progressive futurist that by the time women become post-humans we will have transcended the gender dichotomy ages ago. Wake up, male and female are gonna merge together and become two poles on a continuum, which posthumans will be able to fully move along. This will happen before we transcend the concept of species as well, which is assuming that we don’t transcend substrate all-together before all this, in which case the gender issue will be the last thing to worry about since we will be busy figuring out how to retain our ‘humanity’. And this is all assuming that we will manage to retain our separate personal identities, which is far from certain. It’s ultimately all about sentience in any case, If you are a realistic transhumanist then you’d do well in realizing that male-female are a temporary, soon to become outdated construct.

finally, Alexxarian; a replier who possesses genuine foresight, which isn’t a crime—as of yet.

I am guessing that Kristi is referring to Trans-humanism, rather than meaning Post-humanism? Which all adds to the subjective confusion over what qualifies articles and content for discussion here at IEET?

Anyways.. what about the discussion regarding women having three or four breasts? Is it only men that contemplate these radical ideas? Four small ones.. or two really big ones hmm?

Good point, Alexxarian. At which juncture you will become a “thing”, and a tool to be used by those who see the majority of humanity as resources, tools and things to be manipulated, used and then thrown away.

I have always found it curious and even amusing to read the rants of trans and post humanists who like to act as if they’re superior to the rest of humanity with all their technological orientation and fantasies of up loading their consciousness and living in cyber bodies which will make them immortal, and for all of their supposed superior intelligence they never can see the very obvious reason why that the method of their self delusional salvation will be the method of their enslavement and destruction.

But who am I to say anything. I’m just a lowly human…

It’s harmless. Mostly, IMO breast interest is a tad immature, a remnant of infantile-suckling fixation—and notice how if a man is interested in phallic enlargement, he is rightly considered conceited. All IS vanity.

We’re ALL lowly humans; so it was unnerving to read the comment at the blog on China: “postfuturist: I not only have the answers to all those questions, I know where to start and how to finish[...]” Only God can do that—if She really does exist.

@Alexxarian It should be quite obvious to any transhumanist or techno-progressive futurist that by the time women become post-humans we will have transcended the gender dichotomy ages ago.

Agreed, well said.

Let me suggest an alternative hypothesis:  That for most of the women getting breast augmentation, unnatural breast shape is a tolerated but undesired side effect of the real goal of the surgery- an increase in breast size.  Furthermore, there is now an alternative to implants in the form of autologous fat transfers (fulfilling the desire that the fat be routed to the breast line from the waistline).  Were it not for the limitations of such surgery, the size increase at the moment maxes at 1-1.5 cup sizes and the cost of the procedure is high $18,000-25,000 (source: http://www.living-with-small-a-cup-breasts.com/fat-breast-implants.html), I would confidently predict that this procedure would displace implants as the procedure of choice.

As for the video, let me point out that, since Tom Ford is gay, (http://www.advocate.com/Print_Issue/Cover_Stories/The_Visionary_Tom_Ford/) his desexualization hypothesis is hampered by a lack of personal experience upon which to base such predictions.  As a straight male, my response when I got to this part of the video was: “WTF?!”  In fact, as a “car guy” I’d like to point out that that his metaphor fails there too.  Automotive icons of beauty (Jaguar E types, Ferraris, Corvettes) are all cars whose beauty makes you want to drive them all the more.  The main reason that unattached, straight males are cautious in approaching stunningly beautiful women is fear of a soul-crushing rejection, not because such women are seen as desexualized.

As far as males and surgery, let me point out this there is only one aspect of the male body that I believe has the same intimate association with a guy’s self-image that physical attractiveness has for women and that is size in general and genital size in particular.  Sure, all of us would like six-pack abs, a whole head of non-gray hair, and the rest.  But all that stuff is means to an end: attracting partners.  If one feels “undersized” and particularly undersized “down there”, that can lead to feelings of inadequacy regardless of attractiveness.

As to the post-human aspect of all of this, what I expect to happen is that the ease of modifying one’s body will continue to increase and such modifications will be more effective and have fewer side-effects.  In the case of breast augmentation, for example, I can foresee where, instead of surgical modification, we could end up reprogramming the body to grow more breast tissue and supporting musculature.  As we get more and more sophisticated in the ways of body sculpting I imagine that it will become easier to achieve an improved, but natural, look.  As the risk/benefit ratio tilts further toward benefit, I would predict that more men will be willing to partake of this technology.

One interesting distinction that I would like to point out, one which has importance for a posthuman world, is the concept of relative standards.  The problem, one I have been mulling for quite some time, is that advantages accrue up to the point where one reaches ~75th percentile in height for men, but Lake Woebegone to the contrary not withstanding, we can’t all be above average in height.  Will there be an arms race (actually, more of a legs race) should height become easily alterable?  If this does happen, will women be dragged along or will we be come more dimorphic (contra Alexxarian)?  Is genital size (for men) and breast size (for women) more of a relative or an absolute standard?  My suspicion on this last one is that there may be an arms race which might end up limited by esthetic reaction to the disproportion of the part in question to the rest of the body.  I would a,lso expect that as body sculpting becomes easier, cheaper, and freer of side effects the range of modifications some folks will do will increase significantly but the majority of humanity will stick with an idealized version of the currently existing human body.  The question of whether and, if so, how much the mean of this standard (to use a bell curve metaphor) will shift over time is also fertile ground for speculation.

ummm, this is such an ethnocentric croak of plastic.. Are all people of the world getting or even thinking about getting plastic inserted? Are all socio-economic-classes? I think if you looked beyond the “western” world you’d see “natural bodies”. I think “real” breasts are still the norm. In the majority of the world. huh? Billions in india, china, africa. where eating is more important then… fake breasts. Holla

So much obsession with the visual field in these debates.  Nobody every talks about natural ‘feeling’ breasts, natural ‘feeling’ sexual functions, natural ‘feeling’ senses of selfhood.  The semiotic complexity postmodernity gave us hasn’t been matched by similar developments in our colloquial understandings of somatic, emotional and (postmetaphysical) spiritual awarenesses.  Feeling, tasting, sensing, relating, resonating, trusting, loving, ‘witnessing’ (etc) eachother beyond the visual field just ain’t getting a mention in these dreadful debates, and I have no idea why we’re not counterbalancing with those…

Some interesting questions here.  From my standpoint as a plastic surgeon and sculptor, I believe there are aesthetic rules.  They are the reason that both artists and the lay public, across all cultures and levels of education, can appreciate and agree that a piece of art is beautiful.

The ogee curve, for instance,  applies to many facets of the human body, including the curve of the lower back, the transition from hip to abdomen, and the flow of the upper chest into the breast.  Again, most individuals will agree that this form is beautiful when I show them photos during a consultation. 

The form also happens to be an attribute of youth, which I believe many males are programmed (gentically and culturally) to regard as desirable. (We’ve all heard about the hips-breasts-fertility link)

Plastic surgery is simply a means to achieve a measure of youth and/or beauty. For individuals who understand the risks and benefits, it can go a long way in improving their confidence an in some cases, their self esteem.

The media have of course picked up on our fascination with plastic surgery’s ability to transform. 

I was pleasantly surprised that the Discovery Health show “Big Medicine” (which featured many of my patients) receved such a wide viewership.  In those patients, we did not create beauty as I defined it above, but rather restored “normalcy” in patients who had many pounds of excess skin removed after massive weight loss.

Does all this mean women are becoming “posthuman”?  Well, if you define pothumanism as moving away from the more archaic concepts of human nature, then no.

The desire for youth, beauty, and attraction to the opposite sex are about as “human nature 101” as you can get.  I’m with Richard Dawkins and his “selfish gene” theory on this one.

CygnusX1 “Anyways.. what about the discussion regarding women having three or four breasts? Is it only men that contemplate these radical ideas? Four small ones.. or two really big ones hmm?”

No, I don’t think so. This makes me think of “Total Recall” actually. Personally, if this was a choice, I’d go w/ two. It’s challenging enough to function that way. Four would make things much more complicated.

@Greg, “autologous fat transfers” that’s interesting, I’ve missed that. I will have to look at that more. 
“the ease of modifying one’s body will continue to increase and such modifications will be more effective and have fewer side-effects” Yes, I agree and why I am interested.
And yes “the concept of relative standards”. During my weekly commute in the midwest I drive through a relatively smaller city that offers plastic surgery. I’ve seen the ads in the smaller and my own larger midwest city. Whenever I drive by them I want to inquire what the surgeries are that are popular in these locations. How do these compare to larger cities. I do not expect them to be dramatically different, but I’m curious. What’s become popular, when did the industries come to town? etc. Many questions. I think your concept of relative standards has merit in looking in to, particularly in other countries. Things like ethnic surgeries, etc. like @Jordie brought up. You make a good point Jordie, it is a bit ethnocentric. I realize the divide. Regardless of that, it is worthy of discussion. Understanding both what is going on in the countries where it is prolific, and then too the countries where it is not. However in those countries they have their own methods of body modification that coincides with their perspectives on beauty. I didn’t cover that though in this piece because there are so many different facets of this topic I can’t cover them all in one short piece of writing.

@Dr.LoMonaco, the ogee curve…interesting will need to look at this more, thank you. I watch the type of shows you have mentioned quite frequently. It fascinates me.

My idea of the posthuman has arguably been changing over the past year as I’ve really tried to understand both the history of human enhancement and the potential futures that lay ahead. While these views are still in development and require a much longer elaboration than I will take here. I’ve begun to see that the posthuman is not much different than the human. The “Tipping Point”, ala Gladwell, is something of particular interest. At what point do we realistically move from just doing what we’ve always done to something beyond the definition of “human”. Still thinking about that one.

I remember learning here that through selective breeding (which is just a very crude form of genetic engineering), carrots were not originally orange, and faced with a ‘natural’ carrot, many people would not eat, or even recognize one.

And we’re okay with that.

I consider that as one relevant precedent, among many…

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