VENUS ENVY by Elizabeth Haiken


A History of Cosmetic Surgery
Email this review


 An entertaining and enlightening history of how the practice of cosmetic surgery has been shaped by the priorities and demands of 20th-century American culture as much as by those of the medical profession. To characterize the shift in American attitudes toward cosmetic surgery, Haiken (History/Univ. of Tennessee) notes that when Fanny Brice had her nose bobbed in the 1920s, Americans asked why, whereas in the 1960s, when Barbra Streisand didn't, they asked why not. Haiken's history is full of anecdotes about surgeons and patients, excerpts from the popular press, especially women's magazines, and quotes from the medical literature. It is also extensively illustrated with movie and television stills, cartoons, before-and-after photos, and advertisements--including an astonishing one for a ``Homely Girl Contest'' run by the New York Daily Mirror in 1924. Haiken details how this field of surgery developed after WW I, the attempts of the American Board of Plastic Surgery to control its practice, and the discovery by surgeons that prosperity lay not in reconstructive but in purely cosmetic surgery. She reveals how surgeons who were reluctant to be linked to ``beauty'' doctors found medical justification for cosmetic procedures in psychology: They were curing inferiority complexes caused by patients' perceived imperfections. While facial surgery receives the greater part of Haiken's attention, she also gives a brief history of breast surgery and touches on liposuction and penile enhancement. Perhaps most interesting is her discussion of the use of plastic surgery to conceal or minimize physical signs of ethnicity. Using Michael Jackson as a case in point, she demonstrates the desire of many members of minority groups to conform to narrow American ideals of beauty. A warts-and-all portrait of a medical speciality that still evokes ambivalence in individuals and in the culture at large.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8018-5763-5
Page count: 370pp
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


by Rod J. Rohrich