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Exploring Lebanon’s warped approach towards plastic surgery and waste


TextJessica Heron-Langton

Juxtaposing raw photographs of Lebanese women getting surgical procedures with stark images of waste piled high, PLASTIC is a new zine from photographer Mary Morgan about societal values

According to Mary Morgan, a photographer and social rights activist, there is only one thing defining modern Lebanese culture: plastic. An obsession with plastic surgery and an apathetic attitude toward plastic waste – two cornerstones that form the basis of Morgan’s new zine, PLASTIC.  

Raised in Upstate Western New York, and now based in London, Morgan uses art, notably analogue photography, to expose and change injustices throughout the world. It is with this drive, rooted in a “passion to give a voice to individuals who would otherwise be unheard”, that has led her to create her zine.

After living in Beirut, Lebanon's capital, for two years, Morgan began to notice the country's absolute infatuation with plastic surgery, with more than 1.5 million procedures taking place each year.

“You notice it instantly, especially at restaurants, bars and beach clubs”, Morgan says. “Teenage girls and boys wearing their nose bandage as a badge of honour; a way to brag about their socioeconomic status and their soon-to-be beauty. Many women (I spoke to) said they didn’t feel they had a choice, but rather, they knew the beauty standard they should try and live up to. I was saddened but also offended by the Lebanese men who told me that a woman’s main job is to be beautiful so that she can make a man happy.”

At the same time, Morgan also started noticing the high amount of plastic waste, “piled up on the streets, scattered across the beaches, floating into the sea and burning into the air,” she recalls.

Over 3,000 tons of garbage is generated per day from Beirut and its suburbs alone. Lebanon’s trash epidemic began in 2015 when Lebanese authorities shut the main landfill site near Beirut and provided no alternatives. Since then, Lebanon has failed to establish a real solution, resulting in quick fixes, such as trash burning. “In short – little, if anything, is being done to prevent Lebanon’s garbage crisis,” Morgan reflects. “Some people care about it passionately, but unfortunately the government has not taken any strides to make improvements to waste disposal or to recycling. And there’s no end in sight.”

According to locals, the main reason behind Lebanon's fickle relationship with plastic is due to The Lebanese civil war, which took place from 1975-1990 and instilled a carefree attitude within Lebanese society. “Lebanon’s post-war mentality of living like there’s no tomorrow has created an atmosphere where plastic surgery thrives, but the environment dies,” she says. The same attitude is applied to the cosmetic industry. “In Lebanon, plastic surgeons and cosmetics have capitalised on a society that doesn’t prioritise investing in the future. Money is being poured into plastic surgery, but not into preserving the environment.”

Juxtaposing raw photographs of women getting surgical procedures with stark images of waste piled high, Morgan hopes to highlight the extreme contrast between the lengths some Lebanese people will go to chase beauty ideals and the rather laissez-faire cultural attitude others take toward saving their planet, with the aim being to “encourage people to reflect upon how societies structure their values. As a whole, we need to reassess our values — and that’s not just the case for Lebanon, but worldwide.”

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