Accepted Paper:

Constructing A Perfect Ten: Acceptable Cosmetic Surgery in Multicultural Societies  


Alka Menon (Northwestern University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes how personal identity and the physical body are linked through the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery in the U.S. and Malaysia. It argues that surgeons define acceptable bodily modifications in terms of the identities they are discursively connected to.

Paper long abstract:

Cosmetic surgery is a worldwide phenomenon associated with local manifestations. The countries perhaps best known for expertise in and popularity of cosmetic surgery are Brazil and South Korea. But these cases represent extremes; this paper explores the motivations that surgeons and patients express for undertaking cosmetic surgery in two multicultural societies, the U.S. and Malaysia, with careful attention to what is considered acceptable and good and what is considered bad. It argues that surgeons conflate what is seen as technically possible with what is socially/morally possible and desirable with respect to cosmetic surgery outcomes. Flagging surgeons' use of a discourse of natural/artificial to describe outcomes, it shows how cosmetic surgery is used to realize or enhance certain personal identities, such as race, gender, and class in two distinct multicultural contexts. That is, this study demonstrates how surgeons define acceptable interventions as enhancement or mitigation of certain culturally-specific identities. Based on semi-structured interviews with cosmetic surgeons and patients in Malaysia and the U.S., this paper takes up how personal identity and the physical body are linked through the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery. This study investigates cosmetic surgery as a medical technology, but also considers how the technologies that surgeons use affect eventual outcomes. Attending to race and gender, this paper aims to advance STS thinking about the relationship between the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery and social identities by exploring the binary boundaries that cosmetic surgery in multicultural societies reinforces as well as those it disrupts.

Panel T166
Biotechnology, Personal Identity, and Boundaries Across the Globe