MAKING THE BODY BEAUTIFUL by Sander L. Gilman

MAKING THE BODY BEAUTIFUL

A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery
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KIRKUS REVIEW

From rebuilding syphilis-ravaged noses in the 1600s to the current rage for breast sculpting, this is an enlightening consideration of how aesthetic surgery arises from and is shaped by cultural concerns of the age. University of Chicago professor Gilman (The Jew’s Body, not reviewed; Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence, 1996) clearly differentiates aesthetic from other types of plastic surgery: reconstructive, for instance, restores function, while “the name aesthetic surgery seems to be a label for those procedures which society at any given time sees as unnecessary, as non-medical, as a sign of vanity”. He identifies the roots of such procedures in the syphilis epidemic of the 15th century. The disease caused the nose to collapse in on the face, so the first nose re-sculptings were devised to repair the obvious marker and stigma of having syphilis. Gilman goes on to look at “The Racial Nose” (Jewish, Irish, Asian, and black): there was a notion of 18th and early 19th century anthropology that Jewish and black noses indicated a “primitive” character. Similarly, he traces changes in the significance ofo the breast; at the turn of this century, large breasts were considered “primitive,” small breasts were considered “modern—; only after WWII, he notes, did breast augmentation surgery overtake breast reductions. Gilman also considers how the ideal profile has changed with the ages, and how the treatment of war injuries has influenced aesthetic surgery. Gilman is not trying for a comprehensive survey of the field—rather, he follows certain threads through history with the goal—fully accomplished—of awakening readers” interest. A scholarly, if quirky, look that serves as a history of our notions about the body and the significance of its parts.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-02672-6
Page count: 396pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999




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