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Saving Face

Saving Face: Disfigurement and the Politics of Appearance

Heather Laine Talley
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Saving Face
    Book Description:

    Imagine yourself without a facethe task seems impossible. The face is a core feature of our physical identity. Our face is how others identify us and how we think of our self. Yet, human faces are also functionally essential as mechanisms for communication and as a means of eating, breathing, and seeing. For these reasons, facial disfigurement can endanger our fundamental notions of self and identity or even be life threatening, at worse. Precisely because it is so difficult to conceal our faces, the disfigured face compromises appearance, status, and, perhaps, our very way of being in the world.InSaving Face, sociologist Heather Laine Talley examines the cultural meaning and social significance of interventions aimed at repairing faces defined as disfigured. Using ethnography, participant-observation, content analysis, interviews, and autoethnography, Talley explores four sites in which a range of faces are repaired: face transplantation, facial feminization surgery, the reality showExtreme Makeover, and the international charitable organization Operation Smile,. Throughout, she considers how efforts focused on repair sometimes intensify the stigma associated with disfigurement. Drawing upon experiences volunteering at a camp for children with severe burns, Talley also considers alternative interventions and everyday practices that both challenge stigma and help those seen as disfigured negotiate outsider status.Talley delves into the promise and limits of facial surgery, continually examining how we might understand appearance as a facet of privilege and a dimension of inequality. Ultimately, she argues that facial work is not simply a conglomeration of reconstructive techniques aimed at the human face, but rather, that appearance interventions are increasingly treated as lifesaving work. Especially at a time when aesthetic technologies carrying greater risk are emerging and when discrimination based on appearance is rampant, this important book challenges us to think critically about how we see the human face.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4005-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the summer of 1990, my tween friends and I invented a game. The rules were simply this: One girl posed a question, and everyone in the room had to answer . . . honestly. Our game worked differently from Truth or Dare, the ubiquitous slumber party game in which adolescents, most often girls, ask each other revealing personal questions or challenge fellow players to embarrassing tasks. In our version, players were faced with telling the “real truth” aboutanotherplayer. These questions had tricky answers. The game, tinged with all kinds of girlhood sadism, always ended with someone in...

  5. 1 About Face
    (pp. 7-23)

    In 1994 writer Lucy Grealy publishedAutobiography of a Face,a memoir tracing her life as a self-identified facially disfigured person.¹ The book chronicles Grealy’s experiences with facial difference resulting from Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer of the bone and soft tissue. The cancer metastasized in her right jaw, and the illness and subsequent surgeries resulted in a highly asymmetrical face. Grealy’s book was a national bestseller, earning distinctions as aNew York TimesNotable Book and one ofUSA Today’sBest Books of the Year. Reviews praised the book not only as an exceptional work of nonfiction, but also as...

  6. 2 Facial Work: Aesthetic Surgery as Lifesaving Work
    (pp. 24-46)

    Metaphors that invoke the face abound. We take things “at face value.” Sometimes we “face the facts.” We make an “about face.” We “fly in the face” of tradition. Ultimately, the word “face” is remarkable in its capacity to communicate a wide range of meanings. This is not unlike the variation and nuance that exists amongst human faces. We see faces everywhere— on billboards, in the supermarket line, via social media like Facebook, across the dinner table. In fact, faces may be the single most commonly beheld entity in our daily lives, and yet no two are precisely identical....

  7. 3 Making Faces: Life Makeovers through Facial Work
    (pp. 47-75)

    In 2002, ABC introducedExtreme Makeover,an innovative and controversial reality television show that chronicled makeovers facilitated through cosmetic surgery¹ In each of the fifty-five episodes that aired over the course of three seasons and in subsequent syndication on the Style Network, real-life people (most often women) moved to Hollywood to begin surgical, exercise, dietary, and other cosmetic regimes. Under the supervision of the Extreme Team (comprised of cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, cosmetic dentists, eye surgeons, hair restoration specialists, physical trainers, stylists, make-up artists, and hair stylists), participants’ appearances were radically altered—in many cases making them unrecognizable to family, friends,...

  8. 4 Not Just Another Pretty Face: The Social Value of Unremarkability
    (pp. 76-105)

    The pictures of Arlene Lafferty’s face featured in a 2005San Diego Union Tribunestory are startling. Not unlike most women over fifty, her face exhibits signs of aging. Wrinkles and frown lines etch the contours where her facial muscles move thousands of times each day, and some loss of elasticity, what we commonly call “sagging skin,” is apparent too. But Lafferty’s face is altogether different from the faces of most women her age. Globular masses of congealed industrial grade silicone contour her profile. The substance, commonly used as window sealant, floor wax, and bathroom caulk, was injected into Lafferty’s...

  9. 5 Saving Face: Redeeming a Universal Face
    (pp. 106-144)

    Each year, vaccination campaigns funnel over $1 billion dollars from international aid organizations and private foundations to eradicate polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.¹ Travel cautions circulate, warning of impending global pandemics from Avian flu to the recently identified “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus.”² In a historical moment increasingly defined in “global” or transnational terms, relationships between nations and populations are forged through global health crises (and, relatedly, the specter of impending catastrophes). Cadres of international medical philanthropic organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, the ONE Campaign, and Mercy Corps, have emerged to cure, fix, and treat bodies around the...

  10. 6 Facing Off: Debating Facial Work, Constructing a “Vital” Intervention
    (pp. 145-178)

    On November 27, 2005, a team of French surgeons, led by Jean-Michel Dubernard and Bernard Devauchelle, performed the world’s first partial face transplant in Amiens, France. Face transplantation (FT) is an experimental procedure in which a face is surgically removed from a donor and replanted on a recipient’s head for the treatment of facial disfigurement, resulting from congenital conditions or trauma. News coverage alleged that the recipient’s dog had chewed off her lips, chin, and nose in an effort to rouse her after a suicide attempt.¹ Initial stories announcing the transplant were followed with reports that the recipient’s results were...

  11. 7 At Face Value
    (pp. 179-200)

    While writing this book, I noticed a small blemish on my face. My complexion is not one that could be described as “clear.” In fact, every day I spend time monitoring my skin, applying acne treatment, lathering on sunscreen, and, honestly, picking and prodding in exactly the way the dermatologist tells you not to. But unlike other blemishes, this spot was warm to the touch, extraordinarily sensitive, and over several days it tripled in size. Some years earlier, I’d watched a scrape on my brother’s abdomen swell exponentially until he was put on an intravenous antibiotic regimen. The diagnosis was...

  12. Losing Face: A Postscript
    (pp. 201-208)

    Academics are so often asked why we study what we study. Some of us have clearly delineated narratives. We situate moments from our lives or facets of our identities in logical order, suggesting that we could think of nothing else besides what we research and write about. Others of us retroactively construct stories that will be compelling to editors, colleagues, students, or strangers at dinner parties. Too few of us anticipate the political problematic of our projects, but some of us do craft explanations that we hope will garner forgiveness for persons and communities our work objectifies and overlooks. My...

  13. APPENDIX: Methods, Methodologies, and Epistemologies
    (pp. 209-216)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 217-234)
    (pp. 235-250)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 251-258)
    (pp. 259-259)