Crowdfunding and social networking website My Free Implants allows users to donate money towards cosmetic surgery in exchange for photos and videos. The site co-opts the language of charitable organisations for a superficial, and creepy, cause.
Online crowdfunding websites have made enormous achievements in making the world a better place. Funding has been granted for research initiatives and amazing arts projects. In some cases the sites have funded important healthcare and education costs, with life-changing results.
However not every crowdfunding campaign is created equal. Some are bizarre, some are just plain bad ideas, but overwhelmingly it is a way for worthy projects to get off the ground with community support.
If there was a list of unworthy crowdfunding campaigns My Free Implants would be right up the top. The site features the profiles of women looking to fund their breast augmentation surgery and users can pledge money towards that surgery while interacting with the women through pictures and videos.
The website boasts over 1,200 "success stories" and claims to have raised over US$13 million towards these surgeries.
There are a host of reasons why this website is problematic. First the power dynamic between benefactors and the women (referred to on the site as "girls") receiving donations is slanted. Typically in crowdfunding campaigns donors may receive a small reward like a tote bag or a T-shirt but the donation is made without strings attached. On this website, however, women who receive donations are obliged to share images and videos of themselves. Donating money essentially entitles a donor (presumably a man) to their time, attention and body, regardless of how they feel about him.
This is how the website itself illustrates the donor/girl relationship:
Another problem is that it is obviously degrading towards women, framing them as in need because their breasts could be bigger, as well as framing their ambitions purely in terms of upgrading their appearance. The site tells interested women that they can "earn donations to help you achieve your cosmetic surgery goals."
It fails to articulate the risks of surgery or the possibility that the women (and their breasts) might be absolutely fine just the way they are.
The website gained media attention in the U.K. recently because it recommends the services of specific surgeons without their consent. Given that it is possible for surgeons to be struck off the medical register for performing crowdfunded surgeries, this issue has the potential to ruin careers.
But creepiest of all is the way the site uses the language of charity in order to raise funds for something as superficial as breast implants. It says that contributors can "make a difference for as little as $1" and that "with your contributions and support, you play an active role in helping the women reach their goals."
The implicit idea here is that "helping" more women fit narrow beauty standards makes the world a better place. Such added beautification is represented as being on a par with scientific research, arts initiatives, paying for medical bills and paying for education. Donors are made to feel like they're doing a good thing, when really they're reinforcing the idea that women should appear a certain way and that by helping them to you are owed something.
The logic the website uses to reinforce sexist, superficial attitudes is creepy but it is a part of a wider, general creepiness in society. While many of us no doubt find the idea disturbing, the fact that it exists and has raised millions of dollars shows that it is persuasive to many out there. The idea that women exist to be beautiful, the idea that their needs revolve around attracting men, the idea that they should undergo unnecessary procedures to procure male admiration: these are nothing new.
Where My Free Implants reaches a whole new level of creepiness is that it carefully articulates its sexist mission. It doesn't hide its view that women want "help" to perform to norms. Instead it attempts to disguise ordinary sexism as altruism.
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