In his essay, “How the media biopoliticized neoliberalism: or, Foucault meets Marx,” Toby Miller uncovers Foucault’s practical and theoretical ties to Marxism throughout his research and biopolitical activism in understanding how neoliberalism is focussed on creating an “enterprise society.” Miller focuses upon how from the crash of Wall Street from the 1930s grew a language of Keynesianism which brought the economy into to social discussion whereby the economy was anthropomorphized as if a living being with needs and wants, to include the needs and wants of this economy to investors, the public, and banking sectors. Miller claims that neoliberalism controlled populations through the anthropomorphization of the economy while being largely cemented and structured by the media “because a popular unity was established between the assayed social body of biopower and the anthropomorphic figure of the economy.”
This essay brings to mind many of the whirlwinds on-going today surrounding identity politics and the concomitant health and diet trends that people have undertaken since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. As people were laid off and offered early retirement incentives, what replaced this economic dearth was bizarrely a boom in the beauty and plastic surgery industries around the planet. Across cities like London, Seoul and New York, beauty salons have proliferated with many estheticians working on appointment out of their homes. From salons offering facials to dermatologists and plastic surgery centers offering non-invasive procedures we are seeing a bizarre economic trend where a large portion of the population is struggling to make ends meet, while a niche market of body care is rising in popularity (presumably by those not struggling financially). And one article by Chad R. Gordon et aldemonstrates “a direct (ie. positive) statistical correlation” between cosmetic surgery volume and the economic trends of the three major US stock market indices, the NASD, the DOW and the S&P.
How is it that such luxury practices are flourishing in times of economic recession? And what drives this business sector in a time of financial uncertainty for most? The answers were relatively surprising to me.
Daniel J Gould et al’s study, “Emerging trends in social media and plastic surgery,” links social media use to this rise of plastic surgery. Noting how the average American spending two hours a day on social media, Gould and his team evidence how patients would discuss with each other new procedures, results, and levels of satisfaction. This in addition to a solid presence of plastic surgeons who are using social media has resulted in an extraordinary rise of the use of these services, noting: “A surgeon’s presence online can dramatically increase their perception as an expert, despite their actual fellowship or residency training or their years in practice.” These online interactions enable patients to understand the many new technologies and treatments as well as to directly interact with surgeons despite not really having any material basis upon which to judge their own needs. In essence, this study shows how social media has been a marketing boon for the field of plastic surgery proving that the best form of advertising is word of mouth, now edited for today—the word on social media.
In New York and London, I witnessed the shuttering of many independent and small businesses and in their place rose beauty salons. In Montreal, I saw a bizarre boom of “oxygen bars” and in Bangalore, plastic surgery and “skin clinics” have expanded beyond belief. Make no mistake—cosmetic companies are cashing in on this as well by producing elixirs that promise the fountain of youth such asVictoria Beckhams “blood cream.” Even social media is abuzz with what you can do to look younger—even if can’t afford these treatments or potions—by following in the steps of Hailey Baldwin who uses diaper rash cream as a skin moisturizer.
As I witness this booming industry of the self in search of its deeper, more beautiful essence amidst a flailing world economy, I have to wonder if the technologization of beauty care is being brought to us by the very makers of financial disaster, lay-off culture, and listicles—the media. Is the media invested in plumping up the economy and making us all feel as if we must better ourselves to be better citizens? Given that the anthropomorphization of the economy is still spun by the media today, why can’t the individual “recover” her body and youth in parallel with the stock market in “full recovery” as if it had been newly released from a sanitarium? To what end will the beauty market continue to be thrust upon us as if a necessary extension of our bodies where we are obliged to continue the upkeep of the self in perpetuity? Like the anthropomorphized economy, the beauty industry is similarly rendered human, linking us to the economy that is smitten and obsessed by our obligation to contribute our money and flesh to it. The bottom line is this: Can we resist the technologies of beauty or must we just join the stock market, await our facial and make a “full comeback” to our authentic selves?