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Synthetic beauty: American women and cosmetic surgery
Anderson, Lenore Wright
Tyler, Stephen A.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation constitutes an anthropological inquiry into the current American boom in facial and bodily cosmetic surgery. The exploration of this phenomenon utilizes the messages of the print media, the literature of the social and medical sciences, and the voices of women who tell their stories and interpret their experiences. The dissertation begins with a perspective on American society as a commercialized entity and also as a post-modern phenomenon. The commodification of American medicine is discussed as a related and yet distinct process. Chapter II provides an historical look at medical advertising in the United States and offers interpretive data on a collection of advertisements for cosmetic surgical procedures. Chapter III describes the conceptions of female beauty in the United States from the 1800s until 1989, and additionally supplies a feminist take on beauty and the viewpoints on female attractiveness held by cosmetic surgeons. Chapter IV overviews social science studies that discuss the importance of physical appearance, and psychological literature that establishes the nature of body-image over the life-cycle. This chapter also provides data on the interactions between plastic surgeons and their patients and discusses the potential psychiatric problems that might plague those who seek cosmetic surgery. Chapter V presents a discussion of the rhytidoplasty (facelift) and blepharoplasty (eyelift) operations, and outlines methods, side-effects, and complications. Additionally included are the stories and words of three women who have undergone these procedures and an analysis of the themes that recur and seem pivotal to the process of having a facelift. Chapter VI discusses augmentation mammoplasty (breast enlargement) procedures and presents an overview of how the operation is done and the common side-effects and complications. Once again the stories and quotes of three women who have had this operation are provided, and the recurrent and relevant themes found in their discourse are analyzed. The final chapter provides a gloss on cosmetic surgery using the scaffolding of symbolism, ritual, and myth. The surgical rituals of facelift and breast augmentation as well as other American beauty rites are compared with feminine rituals in other cultures and the elements of pain and danger are discussed as common to many beauty rituals, across several cultures.
Cultural anthropology; American studies; Women's studies