Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer

November 5, 2009

Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer is worth its cover price for the collection of essays in Part One alone, a grouping of four papers under the heading "Revisiting Feminist Critique". The rest of the collection is icing on the cake.

I don't wish to downplay the value of the other papers, because they are diverse, thoughtful and critically engaging, but Part One gathers together four of the most important feminist scholars in the field: Susan Bordo, Kathy Davis, Kathryn Pauly Morgan and Vivian Sobchack. These women essentially carved out a research area within feminist studies of the body at a time when cosmetic surgery was more routinely fodder for supermarket tabloids. Their reflections on their own work, the development of the field of feminist research of cosmetic surgery, and the "extreme makeover" of the cosmetic surgery industry over the past two decades is poignant and timely.

The remainder of the collection exemplifies a moment of breakthrough in feminist studies of cosmetic surgery, as authors explore theoretical angles and conundrums that move past simplistic binaries of agency/victimhood; binaries that have been central to cosmetic surgery studies for too long.

While not abandoning altogether the questions raised by issues of agency and the "empowerment" of people who undergo cosmetic surgery, the collection moves in new directions and sheds light on areas of study that demand new questions and theoretical exploration. Topics of note include the discourse of female genital cosmetic surgery (creating the "designer vagina") in online advertising (Virginia Braun); the use of cosmetic surgery to treat HIV-related facial wasting in a group of gay men in western Canada (Cindy Patton and John Liesch); the relationship between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery and the moral distinctions made between breast augmentation and breast reduction surgeries by breast reduction patients, feminists and national medical systems (Diane Naugler); and the normative assumptions that underlie feminist criticism of cosmetic surgery that is said to erase ethnicity, such as eyelid surgery performed on Asian women to create a double fold (Cressida J. Heyes).

Meredith Jones' exploration of the changing subject positions of cosmetic surgeons in a technologically advanced age presents an informative picture of doctor-patient relationships as they are perceived by cosmetic surgeons, now that patients are more likely to position themselves as educated consumers. One of the most interesting essays in the collection appears at the end of the book: Diana Sweeney's "Farewell My Lovelies" recounts the author's experience of breast implant removal, and her position as model/mother/scholar offers a fresh take on what is often a hollow caricature of women who undergo cosmetic surgery.

Editors Heyes and Jones have put together a collection of essays that is invaluable for anyone interested in the subject. It examines cosmetic surgery in relation to neoliberal discourse, national identity in an increasingly globalised industry, the makeover television genre, and what Nikki Sullivan has elsewhere called "white optics". The collection also examines carefully the ways that cosmetic surgery straddles the border between traditional medicine and elective procedures, and the moral and ethical questions that arise as a result. It is a pertinent collection given the popularity and presence of cosmetic surgery in Western global media and popular culture.

Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer

Edited by Cressida J. Heyes and Meredith Jones

Ashgate Publishing Company

6pp, £55.00

ISBN 9780754676997[QQ] Published 28 August 2009

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