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Cosmetic Surgery and Individual Identity Essay Sample

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Cosmetic Surgery and Individual Identity Essay Sample

Elizabeth Haiken, “The Making of the Modern Face: Cosmetic Surgery,” Social Research, Spring 2000. The American culture that produced cosmetic surgery is the increasingly visual, psychologically influenced culture of the twentieth century United States. For those surgeons who perform cosmetic surgery, the relationship between the physical face and the construction of individual identity has always been and continues to be central. “In our modern twentieth century United States, our attitudes toward cosmetic surgery have been based on a series of assumptions: that inside every person who looks different is an American struggling to get out; that inside every homely girl a confident girl is trying to emerge…” These surgeons, often known as “beauty doctors,” argue that well-being is dependent on mental as well as physical health, thus justifying their thoughts about cosmetic surgery being medical by assisting patients in their development of an identity. “If cosmetic surgery is only about changing external appearance, then it is not deep and meaningful but superficial; it may not be medicine at all.” At this point in time, as the number of Americans who perceive their identities as being largely defined by their faces and bodies increases each year, questions about the evolving relationship between identity and cosmetic surgery are significant.

Questions of Author:

(1.) The main idea of the article is that the modern society in the United States often pairs individual identity with exterior appearance. People wanting to improve their identity to fit the mold society has created often choose cosmetic surgery as a quick fix. Contrary to this fast “improvement,” identity evolves through a complex social and cultural process of perception and reflection. (2.) The author’s perceived “situation” and “strategic response” seems to be that she feels the common trend in Americans understanding their identity as exterior in origin is damaging the society. She goes on to discuss the future stating, “Imagine a not too distant future, in which babies are made to order, down to the size of their noses and the longevity of their hairlines, a future in which post birth alteration is remembered nostalgically as the primitive practice of well-meaning but technologically handicapped medical practitioners.” The author’s purpose is to inform society of the misconceptions that have been formed over the history of cosmetic surgery, and what will happen if the trend continues. (3.) The author conceives her role not only as a scholar, but also as a prophet.

Haiken is seen as a scholar when she further advances the knowledge of American society when discussing the history of cosmetic surgery and how it evolved. Haiken is also seen as a prophet when she predicts the future of the procedures of cosmetic surgery if there is a future in store at all. (4.) Haiken writes in a straightforward but slightly slanted tone. She is very straightforward when she addresses the issues that many Americans know but are afraid to acknowledge. She is also biased because she talks about the issues surrounding surgeons’ influence on what identity has become, but she does not address the issues of how cosmetic surgery has positively influenced the self-esteem and confidence that people who undergo the procedures gained.

Questions of Craft:

(5.) The article’s content is structured mainly around surgeon’s who perform cosmetic surgery and their patients who are changing their “identity” solely based on external appearances. The article is physically structured opening with a narrative from the CBS television show The Twilight Zone. Then Haiken reviews the history of cosmetic surgery and dates it back to BC in India when members of a brick maker caste tried to reconstruct noses cut off as punishment for adultery. Haiken goes on to address the current trends in cosmetic surgery, and concludes with what she feels the future holds concerning the extinction of the procedure. (6.) The phrase that best crystallized the article is physical construction of identity. This phrase describes the article as a whole because it’s main idea is all about how and why Americans feel the need to reconstruct their exterior to fit the mold society has created for the “perfect identity.” (7.) Haiken gives substance to her explanations by referring to several experts on the topics of cosmetic surgery, self image, and culture. First she refers to Richard Stark wrote an article titled “The History of Plastic Surgery in Wartime.”

Stark discusses issues concerning the history of cosmetic surgery. Secondly, Haiken uses Warren Susman as a reference. Susman wrote an article called “Personality and the Making of Twentieth Century Culture.” This referred to the American society and the overall views of what type of appearance is acceptable. A third expert Haiken refers to is David Thomasma who wrote “The Goals of Medicine and Society.” This article discussed the surgeon’s point of view on the procedure of many surgery options as well as common motives behind the patients they perform the procedures on. Haiken’s article appeals to our value system because she discusses the sad reality of the harsh judgmental modern society we live in. In the introduction she acknowledges the surgeon’s sympathy to his patient, but he will not openly confess his confusion to her in person, she he confides in his nurse. She also addresses the assumptions that rest on a complex web of beliefs about what is good, desirable, and aesthetically pleasing concerning standards of beauty. The majority of women who read the article do not fit into the category of “beautiful” and can sympathize with women who chose cosmetic surgery as an option because they may have felt the same way before. This makes us feel “sorry” for the patients, but then as we read on into the article, we understand that these surgical procedures are not necessary.

Questions of Explanation:

(8.) The connection that the author makes among the disparate levels of experience is pairing the individual with the larger social environment. In fact she is comparing the individual to the popular culture that the larger social environment has created. She shows how the individual, being the cosmetic surgery patient, uses the surgical procedure as a way to change their identity and as a means to fit in with what the social environment has created as “good.” (9.) The author’s basic locus of cultural reality is located in television, magazines, and all other forms of media. The locus of control is based on ideas. The ideas are generated from the society as a whole, but media translates it to the general population. (10.) The author explains the motivation behind the actions being taken very well. This whole article discusses that the motivation behind changing an individual’s identity through cosmetic surgery is the need to fit in with the what society has determined “good.” Society’s sense of good often starts with the exterior.


(11.) I feel that the article “The Making of a Modern Face: Cosmetic Surgery” has a negative feel. This negative feel is because it is trying to explain that the reality of life is not all about what you look like because people’s appearances have nothing to do with the person they are. This article is negative toward the cosmetic surgery procedure and the surgeons that perform it. This article also has a negative conclusion when discussing the genetic manipulation of fetus’ to get a aesthetically pleasing child. (12.) I learned many things from this article. One of the things I found really interesting was the history behind cosmetic surgery. I find it amazing that even before all of the medical phenomenons of our modern society, cosmetic surgery was practiced as a way to repair the appearance of nose’s once they were broken for committing adultery.

A second fact that I thought was quite interesting was the fact that many people who don’t look “American” or fit into the white persona often receive surgical procedures to make them look more “American.” This was also disturbing to me because I feel that people should embrace their cultures and be proud of their ancestry. (13.) If I were to improve the article, first I would include a concession about the emotional appeal of cosmetic surgery. Secondly, I would have included a diagram of the popularity of procedures. Liposuction, followed by breast augmentation and then face lifts were the three most commonly performed surgeries, and a diagram would have better illustrated the most popular procedures.

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