The Jenner Files: A Hollywood Surgeon Mansplains ‘What Makes a Woman’

Photo by Joe Bergantine
A Nordstrom mannequin (photo by Joe Bergantine)

The Daily Beast has me fuming with their latest article about Bruce Jenner. But not for the reasons you’d expect.

If you live in the world, you’ve no doubt seen Bruce Jenner’s rumored gender transition in the news. Articles have run the gamut from somewhat respectful (if that’s possible, considering Jenner hasn’t yet made a statement) to downright horrifying.

I don’t want to write about Bruce Jenner. No announcement has been made, so there’s really nothing to talk about. I don’t even want to talk about the media circus that has accompanied the rumors — Jenner has always courted fame as a means to an end, and we already knew how badly the mainstream media can step in it when trying to report on trans issues.

But over the weekend, I happened upon this article from the Daily Beast

Bruce Jenner's New Face: A Renowned Plastic SUrgeon Explains Facial FeminizationAs I started to read the article, I expected to be made vaguely uncomfortable by the speculative nature of the “reporting” (it it not confirmed that Jenner has undergone almost any of the procedures the surgeon describes). But I didn’t expect to have accidentally wandered into an informercial for Jeffrey H. Spiegel, MD. I didn’t realize I was about to be lectured to about the acceptable ways of being “feminine.” I didn’t realize I was about to be COMPLETELY APPALLED.

Okay, I know that plastic surgeons aren’t always the kings (and queens) of tact. But somehow I expected better from a surgeon who (I assume) specializes in gender confirmation surgeries.

I started to get kind of itchy under my skin as soon as I read the pull quote:

For starters, beauty isn’t only skin deep. It turns out that an attractive feminine face has certain bony characteristics. And, the most important of these is the shape of the brow bone.

Dr. Spiegel goes on to describe the attributes that “attractive women” all share; principally, our “bright eyes,” which are apparently the result of the way light bounces up from our full cheeks and how our brow ridges don’t jut out and cast deep shadows. (As I read I kept imagining our cheeks as sunlit savannas, the brow ridges of cis males as the angry jutting buttresses of a canyon wall). Luckily, if you were assigned male at birth, you can still be an “attractive woman” with the requisite bright eyes, Dr. Spiegel explains — there’s a surgery for that!

It’s called a frontal cranioplasty and includes three parts. First, I reduce the size of the male forehead to create an attractive female shape to the forehead. This involves more than just removing excess bone, as we need to adjust the size of some of the sinuses and open up the eye sockets. As part of this procedure I bring the hairline forehead and round it to reduce the signs of male-pattern-baldness and I lift and shape the eyebrows.

That’s right, friends — in order to be an “attractive female” you may have to have a procedure that involves removing excess bone FROM YOUR SKULL, altering the sockets that hold YOUR PRECIOUS EYEBALLS, and messing around in your SINUSES.

I should take a moment to explain I have no problem with any sort of gender confirmation surgery. I recognize that surgery plays a vital and completely necessary role in many trans people’s journeys. If you are a trans woman and you want or need to have a procedure like the ones Dr. Spiegel talks about, that is 100% your prerogative. Your body and your choices are yours, always. Anything you do to help you feel and appear more like yourself is a-ok with me — not that you needed my validation.

But: Dr. Spiegel spends this article telling us that a) that beauty is a purely physical attribute, b) that “attractiveness” always looks a certain, specific way, and that c) if you want to be “feminine,” you must have this prescribed set of facial characteristics.

Dr. Spiegel is telling women — trans and cis alike — that there is only one way to be valid, worthy, fuckable.

He is telling us that there is only one way to be a woman.

He doesn’t stop with the bright eyes thing, either. “What else needs to change?” He continues, mansplaining (plastic-surgeon-splaining) what it means to be feminine to his readers, many of whom, like me, are, well, women. Thank god this man is here to tell me what my gender is supposed to look like.

He talks about the “wider, heavier-looking jaws” that men (cis men, I assume he means) have; then he launches into the age thing. “Looking feminine also involves looking young,” he tells us conversationally.

Ac-excuse me?

LOOKING FEMININE INVOLVES LOOKING YOUNG? TELL THAT TO MY BEAUTIFUL GRANDMOTHER WHO DRESSED IMPECCABLY AT 96 YEARS OLD, ALWAYS PAINTING HER EYEBROWS AND LIPSTICK ON PERFECTLY, CURLING HER FLUFFY WHITE HAIR UNTIL IT LOOKED LIKE GORGEOUS PERFECT CLOUDS, AND SHE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANY OF THAT BECAUSE SHE WAS ALWAYS HAPPY AND THE LOVE SHE FELT FOR HER FAMILY LIT UP HER FUCKING FACE EVERY SINGLE DAY AND THERE WAS A GODDAMN STORY BEHIND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT WRINKLES. TELL THAT TO…Oh my god, I can’t even. I am dying over here.

Since looking feminine involves looking young, Jenner should consider a facelift, the good doctor continues, oblivious that I am yelling at my computer screen. He talks over me to expound on the benefits of lip lifts and and tooth veneers, and finally, takes a moment to remind us that sexist and uniform standards of beauty aren’t just for trans women to live up to:

One of the most interesting things to realize is that these same facial feminization procedures that could help someone like Bruce Jenner to look more feminine if he chose to have them can also greatly improve the appearance of any woman.

After helping so many transgendered women to look like the beautiful women they know themselves to be, I’ve had so many non-transgendered women come see me to look their best. It’s nice to know that all women can benefit from the same approach of considering femininity in the analysis of beauty.

Dear Dr. Spiegel (the word is not “transgendered,” by the way), dear Daily Beast, but most of all, dear women (trans and cis) everywhere, please listen. Please, please, listen closely:

There is no one way to be feminine.

There is no right way to be attractive.

There is no inherent physical attribute that makes you a woman.

You do not have to break your jaw to be beautiful. You do not have to have your skull (the bone that HOUSES YOUR BRAIN) surgically altered to be attractive. You do not have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to a surgeon who will carve up your face in order to be a woman.

You are a woman if you feel that you are a woman. You will be attractive if you do your best to take care of your well-being and work to be happy. You are beautiful because you are alive, and because you are unique. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably selling something.

Like Dr. Spiegel, who lists the contact information for his plastic surgery practice at the bottom of the article.

I’m about to drop Dr. Spiegel a quick message via the Contact Us page on his practice’s website. Read his article in the Daily Beast here, and then see if you don’t care to join me.

*CORRECTION: Dr. Spiegel may sound like a Hollywood surgeon, but it turns out his practice is in Boston.

3 thoughts on “The Jenner Files: A Hollywood Surgeon Mansplains ‘What Makes a Woman’

  1. “You are a woman if you feel that you are a woman. You will be attractive if you do your best to take care of your well-being and work to be happy. You are beautiful because you are alive, and because you are unique. ”

    Thank you so much for those kind words.

    But, right as you are, the glance test is what we’re really after, what gender are you perceived as when being but glanced at? and the things Spiegel describes are the fundamental qualities that work.

    Also, no ciswomen have the brow or jaw or etc. of that of your average man. Testosterone deforms the transgender women’s face and body during puberty. It is a birth defect that waits until your most vulnerable years of maturation and hands you the wrong fucking pill, “I SAID THE RED ONE!!! THE RRREDDDDDD ONE.”

    *sobs in corner, pathetically, occasionally and involuntarily snorting in her lower lip*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts! I didn’t get into the politics/interpersonal aspects of “passing” (the glance test) in my article because it’s something I’ve never had to deal with as a cis woman. And as a cis woman, I realize it’s really easy for me to say “you’re beautiful!” when I’ve never had to deal with the pain or safety issues of having a face that didn’t match up to my true gender.

      Wanting or needing a face that reflects who you are is undoubtedly a huge issue (for safety AND for happiness) for many trans women, particularly those who transitioned after their first puberty and not before (like some of the plucky, lucky kids these days are doing). If facial surgery is an option for someone and it will make them happier or make their lives easier or make it safer for them to move through the world, who am I to deny them that?

      This doctor is still a total asshat, though. He just doesn’t leave any room for any other definition of beauty, femininity, or womanhood than his incredibly narrow one. What about cis women without full cheeks? What about trans women who are perfectly happy with their brow ridges? What about any woman over 50? Are we all by default “unattractive?”

      Dealing with oppressive standards of beauty is something that we all deal with on different levels and in different contexts…I think we have to keep pushing back and claiming our beauty. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your article is wonderfully written! Such deep perspectives are embedded into it that truly define the true attributes of femininity. I’m really glad that I read this – always a great appreciator of your writings 🙂

    Like

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