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Plastic surgery

October 27, 2010

In the land of excesses, plastic surgery is the queen.  It is biologically transformative and extremely expensive.  It is vain and jealous, feared and desired.  It symbolizes—gaudily—either the mad embrace of the artificial or, to its believers, the opening, once more, of a newly happy future.

The social logic of plastic surgery is scandal, the sex scandal in particular.  There is secrecy and physical intimacy and the violation of established norms.  There is, always, the implicit confession of a boredom sometimes deepening into hatred.  The most scandalous aspect of plastic surgery rests with the various delicious overtones, both positive and negative, that it holds for bystanders.  On one side is vicarious indulgence, on the other a pleasurable form of disgust, the anxious delight of seeing a familiar brought slightly lower and oneself thereby raised.  A difference is that with sex, the possibility of scandal is rarely the aim of the business.  It is not done (usually) to attract wide attention.  Plastic surgery by its very nature seeks attention, and whether that attention comes in the form of scorn or approval is often irrelevant—its power is confirmed either way.

For Hollywood celebrities, plastic surgery may as well be stage makeup, the grotesquerie needed to keep up appearances in front of a hundred random cameras.  But what about ordinary people who never go before that general audience?  It is a truism that many who seek plastic surgery have a distorted view of themselves.  Is this the result of not being able to see themselves as others see them?  Or is it rather that they never develop for themselves the generous, unguarded eye that can, at least in private, see their own flaws as dear?  I suspect that the psychology of plastic surgery arises when people see themselves always and only in the petty, impatient way that they see celebrities.  They can imagine only two roles, the mass and the idol, each the inverse of the other and each in need of the other.  So the only perspective from which they imagine themselves is that of an alternately adoring and punitive crowd.  We live increasingly in a world that forgets and devalues genuinely private spaces where one or two people might exist without thought of a third.  And in return we get far less than the luxury and privilege once granted to royalty.

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