We’ve heard countless stories of women who go through procedure after procedure in an attempt to improve their looks, but when I first read about Orlan, a French performance artist, I was shocked. She has also undergone several surgical alterations to her face, but for a different reason – to challenge the standards of beauty that society has set for women. She makes use of plastic surgery as a part of her art, to transform her face and body in such a way that it questions traditional perceptions of beauty.
Orlan has done things to herself as bizarre as reshaping her face to resemble Zimbabwe’s Ndebele giraffe women. The whole purpose of her art, she says, is ‘to shock’. “The whole point is to be against the idea of social pressure put on a woman’s body,” Orlan is reported to have said. Her present day career is inspired from an incident that occurred in her life, way back in 1978. She was preparing to speak at a symposium one day, when she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency surgery. “I almost died because I had an ectopic pregnancy,” she said. “They had to operate to save my life and remove what they told me was a non-viable fetus.” What was most unusual about this incident was the way Orlan chose to handle it. In what can only be called the beginnings of reality television, she took a camera crew along with her to film the operation as it happened. She also insisted that she remain conscious throughout the procedure. “I wasn’t in pain and what was happening to my body was of profound interest to me. Pain is an anachronism. I have great confidence in morphine.”