The Social Complex

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A Blog dedicated to the exploration of height bias and discrimination.


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  • January 30, 2012 5:46 am

    Cosmetic Surgery verses HGH for Healthy Children

    TSC: Here is another must read from Aeon_Blue.  The issue being discussed here is whether a parent who gives her female child a voucher for liposuction and other cosmetic surgery is analogous to a parent who gives her male child Human Growth Hormone injections in a bid to “cure” his idiopathic short stature (genetically caused)

    To be clear, we are comparing cosmetic surgery for children with (non-medical) growth hormone injections for children.  No one is arguing that Growth Hormone should not be provided to a child who has an underlying medical condition, just like no one is arguing that surgery should not be provided to a child burn victim in order to save his/her life. 

    But still, some would argue that the social stigma which arises from being a “severely short” male child would be so great as to constitute a medical condition while the social stigma which arises from not meeting female gender expectations would be minor and trivial. 

    I disagree, and apparently Aeon_Blue disagrees.  You have GOT to read this:


    I think this article raises interesting questions about what we regard as cosmetic procedure and what we regard as medically necessary.

    For the wealthy, tummy tucks and breast enhancements are part of a woman’s responsibilities to look good. (And even the average housewife is taking pole-dancing classes these days). By virtue of her socioeconomic background and beauty (bought and nature-made), this little girl is unlikely to marry poorly. If she ends up in porn, it’s going to be because she wants to, not because she has no other choice. What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s disturbing that a child is already looking forward to the day when she can mutilate her body to satisfy an unappeasable insecurity, or learn that teasing a man might be among the most important roles she can perform. What’s at the root of this is an inability to be satisfied with what one was given.

    And I think that is what is also at the root of Jeffrey Stern’s case. Is being short a medical condition? For those that can afford it, it looks like it is. The only symptom mentioned in the article is shortness, and it goes out of its way to point towards a trend of, as Geoff says, “idiopathic shortness.” That’s cosmetic, not life-threatening. This woman talks about what nature owes her son like medical intervention is necessary, but the truth is that his nature is how he was born. You can’t say he should have something, just because his parents did. I don’t think we could get away with saying that someone is “owed” beauty because they have beautiful parents. For some reason, it works with height, though.

    Sarah Burge’s first major cosmetic surgery was a correction after she suffered disfigurement from domestic violence, and then her desire for beauty got out of control. Stern’s hormone injections began as a medical “correction” too, but the way his mother speaks, you’d think he couldn’t grow tall enough. She’s suing her insurance company to make sure he grows taller, even though he’s well past the height where he would be majorly impeded in life. Both parents are taking it too far because, when a capitalist society tells you that you have flaws you can “fix” with money, you’re never going to be satisfied. Can’t be thin enough; can’t be tall enough.

    Both parents are hounded by the same beasts: Insecurity. Gender performance. Social expectations. Burge is reprehensible because we know people should learn to accept themselves for who they are (or, at the least, pay for their physical improvement with hard work, like we poor people have to do.) Why aren’t we inclined to think of shortness in the same way? Why is this kind of forced bodily change so much better than another kind? One pain better than another? Why is it easier to feel entitled to height than it is firm breasts?

    I think part of the difference must be sexuality and prestige. It’s easier to dismiss a desire for sexual attractiveness because that’s degrading. Height, however, *is* prestigious. It’s one of the ultimate vehicles of prestige. It’s also about disadvantage. Unquestionably, it’s more difficult to be a short man than it is to be a woman lacking a porn-star body. It’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to appear “normal.” This may explain why you believe that Burge is being irresponsible by making her daughter fit for porn, without believing the boy’s mother is irresponsible for grooming her boy to be an alpha male?

    I think the main crime Burge has perpetrated is that her daughter may have to pay for the way people view her for embracing the commodification of her sexuality. I don’t think Stern is going to suffer for undergoing what many people view as medical “correction”. But that’s what makes it particularly insidious, in my opinion. It’s more reinforcement of the privilege height has in society - like, it’s so important that it’s something you’re owed? That few people will question whether it was necessary? The idea that one should accept their shortness, instead of viewing it as a flaw to fix, seems so radical. That’s worth thinking about.

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