Today in Disablism

Shaker Laurakeet sent in the following advertisement for a thyroid surgical procedure from the University of Illinois Medical Center:

print ad for the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Surgery, offering a scarless thyroid surgery that won't 'take away your beauty'

Image description: A smiling, blue-eyed, thin, young blond woman in a white camisole is at the top right of the ad, next to the words “Don’t let thyroid surgery take away your beauty”. Below is a series of three photos: one of the same woman with her arms around a young white man; a photo of a silver-haired white male doctor; and an image of the University of Illinois Medical Center.

This is the ad copy for those who can't read the image:
Don’t let Thyroid surgery take away your beauty.

Dr. Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti

The University of Illinois Medical Center understands that beauty is important to every woman.

The University of Illinois Medical Center is one of the few hospitals in the country offering thyroid surgery—without the need for a neck incision.

For more information visit or call 312.355.5562

University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Surgery College of Medicine

University of Illinois Medical Center—Changing Medicine. For good.

Mention this ad for a FREE CONSULTATION to see if this procedure is right for you.
Emphasis is in the original.

This surgery ad is failful on so many axes—impossible beauty standards, disablism, classism, racism, sexism, commodification of health care—that my brain shorted out for a bit and I put off writing about it.

But today, I hereby create a Today in Disablism tag and start peeling back the layers.

First, we see that “beauty” means a fairly young, thin, white, blond and blue-eyed woman with smooth, even-toned, flawless skin and no visible signs of disease or disability. We discover that what's at risk is not life or quality of life, but beauty. And we learn that the threat to that beauty is not disease, but surgery.

Thyroid disease can (note I say can) “take away” socially approved signs of beauty—thinness, smooth skin, firm eyelid skin, thick healthy hair and eyebrows, etc. in those who happen to have them in the first place. But those with illnesses requiring thyroid surgery may well feel that their looks are the least of their problems. For some patients viewing this ad, surgery may save their lives or quality of life, but they are admonished to prioritize their beauty, even under such circumstances. (If and only if they are women, naturally.) For some, avoiding a neck scar may indeed be important for psychological well-being at a difficult time, but this ad presents the surgery as a woman's obligation, not as a patient's option.

The ad assumes that all women are the same and should value their beauty first (“beauty is important to every woman”). In the middle row of small photos, though, it also shows us the purpose of that beauty: to please a man.

Women who don’t fit the beauty mold to begin with learn once again that they are worth less than those who do, and those who do get a reminder that they risk losing their only recognized value.Thanks, kyriarchy!

The surgery center emphasizes that the procedure is available at only a few hospitals in the country, yet implies that women who cannot obtain access to it have “let” their beauty be ruined and their worth reduced. This is an especially egregious message to send to women whose social worth is already decreased by illness. It is just one more way in which we are defaulting on the social contract, and we let it happen—how dare we?

Finally, direct-to-consumer marketing of surgery says a lot about our conception of health care as a commodity and not a right.

I'm sure there's more, so have at it in comments.

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