When did cosmetic surgery become a common practice, the stuff of everyday conversation? In a work that combines a provocative ethnography of plastic surgery and a penetrating analysis of beauty and feminism, Virginia L. Blum searches out the social conditions and imperatives that have made ours a culture of cosmetic surgery. From diverse viewpoints, ranging from cosmetic surgery patient to feminist cultural critic, she looks into the realities and fantasies that have made physical malleability an essential part of our modern-day identity.
For a cultural practice to develop such a tenacious grip, Blum argues, it must be fed from multiple directions: some pragmatic, including the profit motive of surgeons and the increasing need to appear young on the job; some philosophical, such as the notion that a new body is something you can buy or that appearance changes your life. Flesh Wounds is an inquiry into the ideas and practices that have forged such a culture. Tying the boom in cosmetic surgery to a culture-wide trend toward celebrity, Blum explores our growing compulsion to emulate what remain for most of us two-dimensional icons. Moving between personal experiences and observations, interviews with patients and surgeons, and readings of literature and cultural moments, her book reveals the ways in which the practice of cosmetic surgery captures the condition of identity in contemporary culture.