Accepted Paper:

Ideal bodies and anxious selves: aesthetic surgery and social distinction in Beirut  


Caitlin Robinson (Culture Stories)

Paper Short Abstract:

Exploring anxiety among elites as it relates to the articulation of class status and networks of prestige in Beirut, this paper considers the practice and democratization of aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention and interrogates local appropriations of beauty as a form of social capital.

Paper long abstract:

In contemporary Beirut, Lebanon it is increasingly apparent that elites no longer have a monopoly on the access to, and affordability of, aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention. In recent years, the proliferation of private beauty clinics and hospitals alongside the availability of bank loans for plastic surgery procedures has created an atmosphere of intense competition between surgeons in order to attract clients. The democratization of these beauty services has lead to the local normalization of aesthetic procedures and made possible the literal cutting of the body and marketing of the self as a commodity for visual consumption.

This paper addresses the challenges that beauty as a form of social capital presents for elites in achieving and maintaining status in a post-civil war environment historically informed by networks of prestige and sociability. In considering the aspirations for social mobility and security espoused by members of the lower, middle, and nouveau riche classes, the manner in which ideal bodily forms are appropriated and understood by these groups presents a noteworthy challenge to the presumed elite direction and ownership of idealized beauty and glamour. Narratives of social distinction according to competing notions of taste between relevant groups are explored alongside personal anxieties about how the body should be appropriately managed and presented.

I argue that uncertainties stemming from past conflict(s), present economic and social disparities, and fears of future marginalization are intimately connected to local imaginings of beauty and success derived from the competitive consumption of aesthetic surgical forms of bodily intervention.

Panel IW006
Anxiety at the top (EN)