Skin Deep

Sherwin B. Nuland in The New Republic:

Book Lying on a couch in the office of one of the hairdressing salons that she owns in London, Sharyn Hughes perused the advertising brochure she had been sent by Makeover Getaways: “Our Malaysian Makeover Package is a brilliant combination of surgery treatments, sunny beaches and shopping. Offering the latest technological facilities in an exceptionally clean hospital environment, and with guaranteed five star hotel accommodation for postoperative recovery and holiday, you will return home fully revitalized and looking wonderful.”

Within minutes, she decided that this opportunity for what she called a “thorough overhaul” was precisely what she and her partner, Grant, had been seeking. They would join the 100,000 other men and women who became surgical tourists to Malaysia in 2006, up from 40,000 only three years earlier. For Sharyn’s breast enlargement, liposuction, and cosmetic dentistry and Grant’s liposuction and cosmetic dentistry, the total cost would be £9,000 (considerably less than the same surgery in London), with a tour of the country included. She phoned Grant about her discovery, and began making arrangements for both of them to fly off to Asia for their rejuvenation.

In his thought-provoking and disturbing new book, Anthony Elliott describes Asia as having become “the world’s hotspot for surgical tourism, particularly Thailand, Singapore and India.” Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Latin America, the Caribbean states, and parts of the Middle East have witnessed a similar phenomenon, as cosmetic surgery has become as globalized as any other industry — not only for patients, but also for the professional personnel who provide it. The demand for such services and the mobility of the providers has magnified in recent years, and by every indication it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the entire concept of periodically re-imagining oneself – -more, re-designing oneself — has taken its place in the culture of Western societies.

Elliott is a professor of sociology, and he has trained his keen sociologist’s eye on the astonishing phenomenon that cosmetic surgery has become. Using the methods of his field of study, he now presents us with this small and insightful book that is sure to alter the perspective of everyone who reads it. It is Elliott’s contention that there are three cultural forces, acting together and separately, that create the conditions driving the urge for the periodic reinvention of the self. It is an urge that has gripped many members of our society and will affect increasing numbers of those influenced by Elliott’s three forces — numbers that include just about everyone. Those forces are the cult of celebrity, consumerism, and the new economy characterized by globalization.

More here.