It’s not easy being beautiful. As famed beauty Samantha Brick said, “other women hate you”, and that’s hard and stuff. But in our patriarchal, career-stifling hegemony not looking good can be even harder. Little wonder, then, that many choose to go down the route of cosmetic surgery. Let’s take a look at the evolution of this divisive topic.
The Hills star, Heidi Montag, who had had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day.
The first records of rhinoplasty (nose jobs) come from India in around 800BC. Suśruta, often referred to as the ‘Father of Surgery’, had all kinds of knife orientated adventures: probing, chopping, burning, draining. You name it, he tried it- which is why in many ways Suśruta was way ahead of his time but he also killed LOADS of people.
Meanwhile across the Himalayas, Chinese foot-binding could be seen as a kind of cosmetic surgery. Here, upwardly mobile bastards bound kids’ feet to ensure they stayed small and childlike in the hope of snaring a kinky suitor. Needless to say, foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects and the practice has died out.
Some so-called "Lily feet" contrasted with the natural feet of Chinese women around 1902.
By the early 1900s, nose jobs (rhinoplasty) had become popular with Europe’s high society. The process involved injecting hot paraffin wax into a nose, sculpting into the right shape and then allowing it to dry. The process took 30 seconds. Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough (see below) is one example of it going wrong – the wax wandered and clumped and she became a recluse.
Despite this, the first half of the 20th century was a time of great improvements in this discipline due to the horror of two world wars. Facial reconstructive surgery grew quickly, as represented by the character of Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire.
Indeed, a real life example is that of British sailor Walter Yeo who sustained awful facial injuries during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The result was New Zealand surgeon - Sir Harold Gillies - performing one of the first photographically recorded skin grafts. Gillies’ technique was to train cartilage into areas it had not previously grown, a practice he continued when he performed the first female to male sex change in 1946.
Walter Yeo - before and after
In 1961 American plastic surgeons, Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, developed the first silicone breast implants and opened the door to a host of body augmentation. With huge steps being made it wasn’t long before plastic surgery became commonplace in the dream factory - Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe is widely cited as having chin implants while it’s also claimed Dean Martin also opted for rhinoplasty. Indeed, though the initial focus was on ironing out imperfections in an actor’s face it wasn’t until the economic boom of the 1980s that these kind of cosmetic treatments of became commonplace- with occasionally disastrous consequences.
(Clockwise from top left – Mickey Rourke, Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers and Donatella Versace)
But then again, beauty is not just about bigger tits and sharper noses. How boring the world would be if we all subscribed to a kind of aesthetic fascism that boils attraction down to a mathematical formula! Dennis Avner, who goes by his native American name ‘Stalking Cat’ and whom holds the world record for the most body modifications is a fairly robust example of this.
Dennis Avner, or ‘Stalking Cat’ as he prefers to be known.
Which brings us to French conceptual artist, Orlan, whose ‘Carnal Art’ manifesto is all about radically transforming herself to challenge traditional perceptions of beauty. Essentially, plastic surgery is another artistic tool; she has surgery done on her face to emulate classical art, from the chin of Botticelli’s 'Venus' to the lips of François Boucher’s 'Europa'.
“Art has to shock to justify itself”, she says, which is bullshit, but then again she is a French conceptual artist.
Orlan: ‘Art has to shock to justify itself’
So where do we go from here? As the population ages further over coming decades, will we accept our looks, and see old as beautiful (a la the Dove adverts)? The stats would suggest not, and despite the recent scandal regarding PIP implants - where around 3,000 women in the UK were exposed to sub-standard silicone – there is a continuous upward trend regarding surgery as it becomes more affordable and, in theory, safer.
But what might we see? Well there are certainly grounds to suspect there will be more bum jobs on the way, following in the popularity of the Brazilian Bum Lift.
Additionally, the latest crazes from the Far East include double eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty), whereby Asian women have their eyes reshaped to look more Western. Even more creepy is the ‘yaeba‘ treatment, which involves giving girls deliberately crooked teeth to make them look more - you guessed it – childlike. Its tough being a girl, but it’s even tougher in the Far East.
Yaeba teeth – they make you look like a little girl, apparently.