Do you remember when Courtney Love was only Pretty on the Inside, Lil’ Kim was truly Hard Core, and Tori Amos was Under the Pink, not under the knife? Those were the days. Each one of these women built careers on fearless self-expression, which, in turn, attracted loyal gay followings. Now each one has undergone obvious, err, “physical restoration.” When the straight girls we turned to to find beauty in ourselves now require a surgeon to make themselves feel pretty, what are we supposed to think of them? Does undergoing plastic surgery undermine their original take-me-as-I-am-or-fuck-off messages?
In her prime, Courtney Love represented to me what Patti Smith and punk icon, Exene, represented to her: female freedom. And in 1995, female freedom was synonymous with queer freedom. Watching Courtney on stage hoarsely screaming at God and the heavens until she exploded into a stage-dive was downright cathartic. She was rage personified. She even scared Madonna. What’s better than that?
In 2003, a New York Times rock critic revealed his editor ordered him to prepare an obituary for Courtney Love — just in case. Maybe the newspaper should’ve published it: The Courtney Love I admired died six years earlier.
Spearheading what would be one of her many “I’m-clean-and-sober-now” campaigns, she appeared on the cover of a December 1997 issue of Us Weekly clad in a bikini, boa, and retooled face as “The New Courtney Love.” That’s not very punk rock.
Courtney’s behavior was so erratic that it wasn’t entirely shocking when she got her tits done. But then she got her nose done. And then her chin. And her eyes. And probably a few things you can only see when she wears shredded clothing (which is often). As the title of her first album, Pretty on the Inside, suggests, Love has long been preoccupied with how one’s external appearance affects perceptions of one’s internal appearance. Can you cover rage with make-up? Make-up, like drugs or plastic surgery, is a temporary fix. Today, Courtney’s patchwork physical appearance pays homage to the insanity within her.
At least Courtney admits to having plastic surgery. “How couldn’t she admit it? It’s so obvious,” you’re thinking. Tell that to Lil’ Kim, who dare not speak the scalpel’s name. When a BET reporter inquired about her plastic surgery during a March 2009 phone interview, Kim hung up on his ass. Girl power!
At four-foot-eleven, Kimberly Denise Jones — aka Lil’ Kim aka Queen Bee aka Queen Bitch aka Miss White — was the essence of “fierce” before Tyra Banks raped that word. With the help of the Notorious BIG, Kim tasered the misogynist rap fraternity into submission with her own brand of crass rhymes that, for once, sexually objectified the boys. It was a game of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” and Kim could fuck, suck, steal, and kill better than any man. She made chicken-heads out of thugs, bragging about “buffoons eatin’ [her] pussy while [she] watched cartoons.” She was the boss bitch, the female Don Dada. Her unapologetic vulgarities could fill even the most oppressed person with delusions of grandeur.
Which is why I fell in love with her.
In the gangsta rap game, confidence is of the utmost importance. Confidence equals power and the moment you show vulnerability, you’re through. As a result, when Kim started altering herself physically, her power began to dwindle. Each physical augmentation was an albatross dangling between her inflated bosoms, revealing Kim’s deep-rooted self-hatred and insecurity. Kim is only 34 and she could trump Joan Rivers and Cher combined for the total number of “medical procedures” she’s enjoyed. So how can I listen to her rap how about how fly she is when it’s clear clear she doesn’t even like herself? And how is she going to claim she’s hardcore when she’s on “Dancing with the Stars?”
Biggie Smalls is his rolling in his double-wide grave.
Of all three women, Tori Amos seemed to have the most integrity. An outspoken critic of the patriarchy, Amos has long been a modern-thinker, tackling social issues like religious oppression, feminism, and homophobia head on. Fans turned her into a deity, relied upon to represent their own views. She is a pied piper for social outcasts and, like Courtney Love, has never been shy about expressing her opinions or emotions. Unlike Love, the more professional Amos keeps her fire confined to interviews and performances.
So weren’t we dumbfounded when our beautiful leader began to transform before our very eyes?
Her skin tightened, her hairline crept upwards, and her formerly sleepy eyes were suddenly shocked wide open leaving one noticeably smaller than the other. In a 2002 conversation with music critic Ann Powers, Amos briefly reflected upon the difference between sex symbols and people with “heart”: “Some people have become sex symbols in their careers, and that’s a very different road to take than if you’re talking about the heart. That doesn’t mean I won’t get my Botox shots. I don’t know what I’m going to do because that’s between you and your dermatologist.” Well, between you and me, I think she went with the Botox and might have gone as far as a brow Lift.
Good plastic surgery is hard to detect. The patient is left looking refreshed, not altered. Each of these women built careers on an image of proud authenticity: Courtney was a shit-kicker, Kim was a dick-licker, and Tori was the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Nerds.”
Whether it’s right or wrong, my perception of each of these women and their work is affected by their decision to drastically manipulate their appearance. Every vanished wrinkle, swollen lip, and frozen facial muscle brings into question their previous messages of female freedom.
Gay life ain’t no place for sissies. But it should be. The Unabashed Queer (Government Name: Matt Siegel) serves to affirm the vast array of queer identities. Originally from Atlanta, Siegel realized his independence above the Mason-Dixon Line at Northfield Mount Hermon School and subsequently, Sarah Lawrence College. In a marijuana- induced haze, Siegel came to Los Angeles and has found himself employed in the homes of Adam Carolla, Arianna Huffington, and Jill Clayburgh. How queer is that? Read Matt’s blog here.