Book a Month Challenge #4: Beauty


Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery
by Alex Kuczynski

Beauty JunkiesThe initial tone of this book is wildly uncritical — she skims quickly past the notions that half the American population isn’t comfortable with their looks and are subjected to a constant barrage of images of surgically-sculpted perfection and gets right into the how-to without a backward glance at the deeper issues. Kuczynski is a journalist, not a scientist or an investigator, and she clearly goes for sensationalism over depth or meaning. For example, she leaves uncommented this interview with Dr. Suzanne Lepine, a Manhattan specialist in cosmetic surgery for, of all things, feet:

We live in a fifteen-second culture,” she said. “That’s how long it takes, I believe, for a man to look at you and decide if he will be in love with you. That is it. And if you’re wearing stiletto sandals and your feet look like hell, he’s not even going to give you the time of day.”

A man won’t love you, Levine reasons, or even give himself the chance of falling in love with you, if you have a bunion peeping out of your $500 evening sandal. Tough town, I said.

“Tough town, that’s for sure,” she said. “It sets its own standards. People overreact. I had one woman come in who wanted me to do liposuction of the toe. I mean, that’s even over the top for me.”

What happened to the patient?

“I told her to go see a shrink instead,” Levine said.

When I left, Levine asked me if I knew any good single men.

Yikes. Talk about the need for a psychiatrist and a smack upside the head with a book on feminist theory. To be clear: if a man rejects you on the basis of fifteen seconds’ worth of gazing at your unpedicured, unsculpted toes, your foot should be applied swiftly to his ass as you boot him out the door, not taken to a surgeon. (But I digress.)

In later chapters Kuczynski does a reasonable job at covering the risks of surgery and gives a fairly impassioned schpeel on the need for potential clients to check the qualifications of their putative surgeons; she doesn’t skip discussion of the risks at all. Still, she doesn’t ever really address anything beyond the who, what, how, and how much money of plastic surgery — the background societal issues remain unexamined. Which, to be fair, is probably beyond what might reasonably be expected from this book: Kuczynski set out to explore the world of plastic surgery, and given that parameter she’s done a fine job. It’s a very decent factual piece which would make a respectable accompaniment to some deeper analysis.

3 thoughts on “Book a Month Challenge #4: Beauty

  1. “And if you’re wearing stiletto sandals and your feet look like hell, he’s not even going to give you the time of day.”

    Wow, I think that may actually be the *definition* of “shallow”.

    I think just wearing stilleto sandals should rule you out of the dating pool, who the heck can walk in those? A good pair of Crocs, that’s what you need, and then you wouldn’t have bunions in the first place…

  2. Blah.
    A million years ago I read several good books on plstic surgery for a paper I wrote. Most interesting to me was the transformation of modern plastic surgery as a way to help WWI soldiers live normal lives to a way to enhance sexual attractiveness of non-deformed people. I also loved reading about Fanny Brice’s nose job– even after, she still didn’t get the leading lady roles she wanted.

  3. She did briefly cover the WWI history and how it slowly transformed into, as you say,a way to enhance sexual attractiveness of non-deformed people.

    I find it frankly astounding that people will have actual, voluntary surgery on their perfectly normal toes and labia. What’s next, eyeball reshaping? (NO don’t tell me if it already exists! Fifteen years ago a friend and I thought up what we thought was an obvious — but unlikely, as it was so gratuitous — next step in body mod: branding. And so it came to pass.)

Comments are closed.