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Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery

Virginia L. Blum
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    Flesh Wounds
    Book Description:

    When did cosmetic surgery become a common practice, the stuff of everyday conversation? In a work that combines a provocative ethnography of plastic surgery and a penetrating analysis of beauty and feminism, Virginia L. Blum searches out the social conditions and imperatives that have made ours a culture of cosmetic surgery. From diverse viewpoints, ranging from cosmetic surgery patient to feminist cultural critic, she looks into the realities and fantasies that have made physical malleability an essential part of our modern-day identity. For a cultural practice to develop such a tenacious grip, Blum argues, it must be fed from multiple directions: some pragmatic, including the profit motive of surgeons and the increasing need to appear young on the job; some philosophical, such as the notion that a new body is something you can buy or that appearance changes your life.Flesh Woundsis an inquiry into the ideas and practices that have forged such a culture. Tying the boom in cosmetic surgery to a culture-wide trend toward celebrity, Blum explores our growing compulsion to emulate what remain for most of us two-dimensional icons. Moving between personal experiences and observations, interviews with patients and surgeons, and readings of literature and cultural moments, her book reveals the ways in which the practice of cosmetic surgery captures the condition of identity in contemporary culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93873-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ONE The Patient’s Body
    (pp. 1-34)

    My first nose job was performed by an otolaryngologist (otherwise known as an ear, nose, and throat doctor) who, in concert with my mother, encouraged me to have surgery. Without consulting me, my mother made an appointment and then convinced me to go with her—just to see what he had to say. He had operated on the nose of a neighbor, and my mother liked her result.

    Having a parent criticize a physical feature is a complicated emotional experience that induces both anger and guilt. You feel as though you have let the parent down. Why didn’t you come...

  5. TWO Untouchable Bodies
    (pp. 35-66)

    A young woman took a summer job as a receptionist in a local plastic surgeon’s office. Always troubled by the fullness of her lower face, she read about a procedure for removing the pockets of fat (buccal fat pads) from either side of the mouth. Eager for this slimming effect from what was described in the literature as an extremely simple operation, she asked her summer employer to perform the surgery.

    She woke up from surgery without cheeks. In place of what were once sumptuous curves now extended a flat plain that had been liposuctioned clean. Meanwhile, the fat on...

  6. THREE The Plastic Surgeon and the Patient: A Slow Dance
    (pp. 67-102)

    The surgery lasted seven hours. The patient was a woman in her midfifties—in for a face-lift along with an endoscopic brow-lift, upper and lower blepharoplasty, and fat injections to her lips. She complained that her eyes seemed increasingly deep-set, and she disliked her forehead creases. She told her surgeon that she wanted to “soften her look.” I entered the room just as the patient was going under. It’s easier that way. Linking the surgical process to someone I’ve met makes it impossible for me to achieve an emotionally neutral, aestheticized distance during the operation.

    Each time, I anxiously watch...

  7. FOUR Frankenstein Gets a Face-Lift
    (pp. 103-144)

    Plastic surgeons say they won’t operate on patients in the midst of emotional crises. The loss of a parent or child, the commencement of divorce—these are among the “red flags” for the surgeon considering operating.¹ “The key is timing. If you’re going to do it just after you found out that your spouse is leaving you—no. That’s not a good time to do it, when they’re just going crazy and they’ve finally stopped crying after five days, and they come in and say, ‘I’m going to get an augment.’ But, once all that is over it’s like the...

  8. FIVE As If Beauty
    (pp. 145-187)

    Brian D’Amato’s updatedFrankensteinnovel,Beauty, makes clear the narcissistic side effects of celebrity culture. The narrator, Jamie Angelo, transforms aging faces with a combination of Artificial Skin, photography, painting, and, later, computer generations. He calls his craft “beauty technology”: “industrial materials designed to imitate or . . . surpass nature” (39). He specializes in celebrities (“celebrity-makeovers,” as he calls them) whose faces desperately need to measure up to the camera’s intense scrutiny (127).

    Jamie creates the template for his girlfriend’s new face on the computer. She is not intended to seem quite real; that her beauty is unnatural is...

  9. SIX The Monster and the Movie Star
    (pp. 188-219)

    By way of celebrating Oscar’s seventieth birthday in 1998, we were treated to “Oscar’s family album.” This was a collection of former Academy Award winners packed on stage to have their Oscar turns recited. Never before had I beheld such a density of surgically altered faces in a single place. As the names of actresses such as Lee Grant, Ellen Burstyn, Shirley Temple, and Cloris Leachman were announced, I was unsettled by the radical difference between their current incarnations and clips from their award-winning appearances that hovered around them like ghosts from someone else’s life. Of course, it was not...

  10. SEVEN Being and Having: Celebrity Culture and the Wages of Love
    (pp. 220-261)

    InFrankenstein, the creature’s horrifying encounter with his own reflection is a direct reversal of the Greek myth of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own beautiful reflection. Instead, the creature plummets into intense self-hatred. While the ancient Greek myth worries about the dangerously intoxicating potential of one’s own mirror image, this earlynineteenth- century novel suggests that the primary narcissistic encounter with the perfect counterpart is one of abjection. “I was in reality [in the reflection] the monster that I am” (Shelley 90). Looking at the reflection has become a metaphor for the inadequacy of the viewing subject to...

  11. EIGHT Addicted to Surgery
    (pp. 262-290)

    When you look in the mirror and begin to imagine the imperfect part traded in for the improved version, you cannot help but see your body as in need of or lacking the pretty jawline or upper eyelid. The economic aspect only underscores the flows of exchange, deficit, possession. You buy a nose.

    What did it cost you?

    Did you get what you paid for?

    Did you find love through the new body part? A partner? Does your mother love you now? Your creator?

    Your surgeon?

    So what are the consequences of becoming surgical? The lifetime effects? These are...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 291-314)
    (pp. 315-340)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 341-356)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 357-357)