Book Review article, Coming face to face with cosmetic surgery

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By the 1920s, cosmetic surgery had a hold on the imagination of the American public, thanks in large part to the efforts of journalists, who, then as now, were fascinated by its possibilities. In 1923, the famous Jewish comedian Fanny Brice submitted to a much-publicized nose bob in hopes that it would enable her to play a wider range of roles. “Hurrah for the intrepid Fanny,” The New York Times editorialized. (Writer Dorothy Parker, @also Jewish, saw it differently, commenting that Brice had “cut off her nose to spite her race.”)

 

In the 1920s and ’30s, trained plastic surgeons realized the importance of establishing the legitimacy of their specialty and brought it under the auspices of the American Medical Association. The American Board of Plastic Surgery was founded in 1941 to set standards for the profession. In the years between the wars, many plastic surgeons had concentrated on performing reconstructive surgery and were reluctant to operate on patients motivated by vanity. But by the ’40s most had realized that vanity was where the future lay, to say nothing of the money. The doctors were shortly persuaded that these patients weren’t @motivated by (unhealthy) vanity but by a (healthy) desire for self-respect through self-improvement. If a new nose or chin would help them land a job or a husband, the cosmetic surgeon was ready to help. It was, and is, the American way.

 

As Haiken’s research reveals, popular psychology played a crucial role in the triumph of cosmetic surgery. Alfred Adler’s concept of the inferiority complex was much in vogue in the 1930s and ’40s. The cosmetic surgeon was thus seen as serving a psychological @function by helping patients overcome feelings of inferiority engendered by an unattractive appearance. The link between cosmetic surgery and psychology is stronger than ever today. Many patients seek surgery hoping it will improve what we have learned to call self-esteem.

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