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Surgery Junkies

Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Publication Year: 2007

The ease of accessibility, improvements in safety and technology, media attention, growing acceptance by the public, or an increasingly superficial culture: whatever the reason, cosmetic surgery is more popular today than ever. In 2005, in the United States alone, there were nearly two million aesthetic operations-more than quadruple the number from 1984, along with more than eight million non-surgical procedures. Innovative surgical methods have also brought cosmetic improvements to new areas of the body, such as the ribs, buttocks, and genitalia. Despite the increasing normalization of cosmetic surgery, however, there are still those who identify individuals who opt for bodily modifications as dupes of beauty culture, as being in conflict with feminist ideals, or as having some form of psychological weakness. In this ground-breaking book, Victoria Pitts-Taylor examines why we consider some cosmetic surgeries to be acceptable or even beneficial and others to be unacceptable and possibly harmful. Similarly, why are some patients considered to be psychologically healthy while others deemed pathological? When is the modification of our appearance empowering and when is it a sign of weakness? Drawing on years of research, her personal experience with cosmetic surgery, analysis of newspaper articles and television shows, and in-depth interviews with surgeons, psychiatrists, lawyers, judges, and others, Pitts-Taylor brings new perspectives to the promotion of "extreme" makeovers on television, the medicalization of "surgery addiction," the moral and political interrogation that many patients face, and feminist debates on the topic. While many feel that cosmetic surgery is a deeply personal choice and that its pathology is rooted in the individual psyche, Pitts-Taylor makes a compelling argument that the experience, meanings, and motivations for cosmetic surgery are highly social. A much needed "makeover" of our cultural understanding of cosmetic surgery, this book is both authoritative and thoroughly engaging.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

I am very grateful to all of the people who agreed to be interviewed for this book. There are also many other people who need to be thanked. They include my colleagues and friends at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York: Patricia Clough, Deidre Conlon, Paisley Currah, Mitch Duneier, Hester...

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pp. 1-15

Dr. James McCullen, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New England, believes that Lydia Manderson, one of his former patients, is a “cosmetic surgery junkie.” Dr. McCullen is a well-regarded, board-certified plastic surgeon who once specialized in reconstructive surgery of the limbs, and now devotes much of his practice...

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Chapter 1: Visible Pathology and Cosmetic Wellness

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pp. 16-38

Cosmetic surgery transforms the outer, physical body, and this very fact renders it controversial. But I want to argue that the cultural, medical, and political relations of cosmetic surgery reach a great deal further than the physical, to what we think of as the self’s interior, to the identity and psyche of the subject. In this chapter, I...

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Chapter 2: Normal Extremes: Cosmetic Surgery Television

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pp. 39-72

When three people in their twenties and thirties, Luke, Stephanie, and Stacey, collectively underwent over twenty-five hours of cosmetic surgery, documented in a two-hour special episode of network television, we were witnessing the beginning of a significant shift in the public discourse about cosmetic surgery. Before then...

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Chapter 3: Miss World, Ms. Ugly: Feminist Debates

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pp. 73-99

While Extreme Makeover presents the possibility of whole-body surgical overhauls without a trace of addiction or pathology, many feminists have had difficulty imagining any cosmetic surgery, however major or minor, that is not both pathological and addictive. Most...

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Chapter 4: The Medicalization of Surgery Addiction

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pp. 100-127

Many critics of cosmetic surgery have expressed worries that people who undergo it will become hooked, wanting more and more procedures and aiming to look ever more beautiful and young. But what it means to be hooked, and how people get that way, is becoming a...

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Chapter 5: The Surgery Junkie as Legal Subject

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pp. 128-157

When cosmetic surgery is linked to mental disorder, it becomes a social problem, raising a significant set of worries for medical decision making and the public. Possible scenarios of surgical excess and addicted or obsessed patients trouble cosmetic surgeons...

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Chapter 6: The Self and the Limits of Interiority

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pp. 158-185

The analysis I have presented here challenges various attempts to understand and identify the subjectivity of the cosmetic surgery patient. I argue that the hermeneutics of the self around which cosmetic surgery culture turns are themselves expressions of power relations. In this chapter, I address the implications of this...


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pp. 187-194


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pp. 195-200


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pp. 201-203

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About the Author

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pp. 205

Victoria Pitts-Taylor received her PhD from Brandeis University and is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of In the Flesh: the Cultural Politics of Body Modification (2003), as well as many articles...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541624
E-ISBN-10: 081354162X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540474
Print-ISBN-10: 081354047X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007