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Cosmetic Surgery, Racial Identity, and Aesthetics

From: Configurations
Volume 19, Number 2, Spring 2011
pp. 243-286 | 10.1353/con.2011.0012



Human motives are varied, often hidden, and sometimes highly complicated, and this point applies with special force to persons’ motives to modify their bodies. The motives to undergo cosmetic surgery in order to change one’s appearance have, or at least seem to have, racial dimensions that are both particularly complicated and peculiarly obscure. In the case of cosmetic Asian eyelid surgery, at least six theories shed light on the explanation, analysis, and appraisal of this class of body modifications. The theories are here called benign explanation, performance theory, aesthetic oppression, internalized racism, Foucauldian care of the self, and complicity with a racist society. These theories, as articulated here, illuminate bodily alterations that relate to racial identity, especially in regard to minority races. Several of these theories make room for the exercise of freedom in the face of pressures to succumb to a seeming aesthetic ineluctability created by a dominant race.

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