Addiction to Cosmetic Surgery: Representations and Medicalization of the Body

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Abstract

Contemporary social transformations of the body are essentially mediated by medical discourse. With the body conceived of as “soft and modifiable,” we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in recourse to medicine in order to validate primarily social conditions. In this context, plastic surgery functions as a modality of social control and management, not only of the physical body as such, but at the social level as well. Physical, because plastic surgery allows one to modify the external and visible organs (face, breasts, legs, nose, etc.), and social, because it proposes a social model of the ideal body that goes beyond the one inherited from the biological parents. If the past sheds light on the present, one might wonder whether there are any representations of the body in history that can help us understand better the contemporary phenomenon of cosmetic surgery. What do we mean by the medicalization of bodies? How does a psychosocial condition change from having a social status to a medical one? How can we explain the extraordinary popularity of plastic surgery as a socially acceptable, and desirable, behavior? To answer these questions, based on a review of the literature, this article analyzes the social trend towards the medicalization of bodies via plastic surgery. To that end, four main aspects will be examined: (1) a brief overview of the body’s representation throughout history; (2) a reminder that medicalization is a mode of social control; (3) psychosocial factors that influence the recourse to plastic surgery; (4) cultural examples that demonstrate how important cultural values are in shaping the different trajectories regarding plastic surgery. In conclusion, the author suggests considering social ties as a major component in the social intervention process.