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Amending the Abject Body

Aesthetic Makeovers in Medicine and Culture

Deborah Caslav Covino

Publication Year: 2004

Feminist theorists have often argued that aesthetic surgeries and body makeovers dehumanize and disempower women patients, whose efforts at self-improvement lead to their objectification. Amending the Abject Body proposes that although objectification is an important element in this phenomenon, the explosive growth of “makeover culture” can be understood as a process of both abjection (ridding ourselves of the unwanted) and identification (joining the community of what Julia Kristeva calls “clean and proper bodies”). Drawing from the advertisement and advocacy of body makeovers on television, in aesthetic surgery trade books, and in the print and Web-based marketing of face lifts, tummy tucks, and Botox injections, Deborah Caslav Covino articulates the relationship among objectification, abjection, and identification, and offers a fuller understanding of contemporary beauty-desire.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

For their early support, I am grateful to my teachers and mentors at the University of Illinois at Chicago: Clark Hulse, Peggy McCracken, James Sosnoski, Michael Lieb, and Donald Marshall. The Department of English at Florida Atlantic University provided me the time and encouragement so essential to this project. James Peltz, Kelli Williams, and the SUNY Press staff ...

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pp. 1-16

Feminist critics have been particularly vocal about the fortunes and misfortunes of body-image conformity. Their concerns establish many of the questions that continue to occupy us in the early twenty-first century, as the aesthetic surgical industry’s prominence and influence upon prevailing conceptions and narratives of body image become increasingly widespread. In this ...

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CHAPTER 1. Abjection

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pp. 17-34

For Julia Kristeva, the intolerable, or abject, body leaks wastes and fluids, in violation of the desire and hope for the “clean and proper” body, thus making the boundaries and limitations of our selfhood ambiguous, and indicating our physical wasting and ultimate death. In her view, human and animal wastes such as feces, urine, vomit, tears, and saliva are repulsive because they test the ...

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CHAPTER 2. Normalizing the Body

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pp. 35-54

The “clean and proper body” is a condition for our ability to be articulate subjects in the social world; however, the orderliness and stability of this body are always under threat, and always illusory: “The more or less beautiful image in which I behold or recognize myself rests upon an abjection that sunders it as soon as repression, the constant watchman, is relaxed” (Powers 13). A form of...

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CHAPTER 3. Outside-In

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pp. 55-64

Abjection is at once a psychological, emotional, and physical phenomenon,which—in the case of, say, my repulsion at the sagging, wrinkled skin on my face and neck—involves the tension between the reality of an unruly semiotic (body) and the desire for an orderly symbolic (mind), along with the interanimation of reality and desire that keep the semiotic and symbolic, body and ...

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CHAPTER 4. "I'm Doing It for Me"

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pp. 65-82

The transformation of abject realities into tidy materializations of conventional, individualistic, bourgeois desire and belief finds a willing medium in turn-of-the-century television, which, while it has always been absorbed with the packaging of reality,1 turns increasingly to “reality” shows during the first part of this century, in which the camera watches nonactors living out parts of ...

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CHAPTER 5. Making Over Abjection

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pp. 83-104

In 2000, the Oprah Winfrey Show had been the most popular program on daytime television for thirteen years (Twardowski 30, Squire 98), with its star an established cultural icon who, like Elvis and the Beatles, has become the subject of university courses studying her influence. At the same time that Oprah Winfrey, as a black woman, belongs to the gender and race groupings ...

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pp. 105-112

Through many venues—trade books, advertisements, reality television, web pages, talk shows, magazines—the aesthetic surgical imaginary (which is now so pervasive that it may inform all media all the time) has created responses to the charges voiced by second-wave feminism that commercialized beauty objectifies and commodifies the body. This is accomplished, as we see in ...


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pp. 113-136

Works Cited

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pp. 137-148


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pp. 149-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780791484333
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791462317
Print-ISBN-10: 0791462315

Page Count: 162
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Michelle A. Massé See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 62395523
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Amending the Abject Body

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Body image in women.
  • Self-perception in women.
  • Women -- Physiology.
  • Human body -- Social aspects.
  • Surgery, Plastic.
  • Feminist theory.
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