Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture

Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture

Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture

Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture


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.


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 to body contouring, which includes body lifts, breast implants, and liposuction. His patient Lydia is an affluent widow who is very enthusiastic about cosmetic surgery. Over several years, Dr. McCullen performed multiple surgeries on her face and body. But he has come to believe that Lydia is never satisfied; she is always seeking more beautification or rejuvenation. As he put it in an interview: “She has the money and she wants every little thing done and she's never going to stop.” He believes that no matter how much surgery she gets, there will always be another part of the body she will want lifted, tucked, or transformed. Eventually, McCullen decided to end his doctor-patient relationship with Lydia. The last straw for him came when Lydia, as he put it, “went off to New York and had an arm tuck done.” When she was unhappy with the resulting scars, she asked Dr. McCullen to do another surgery to fix the problem. He refused, because he no longer saw Lydia as . . .

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