I’ve just been listening to an interview on the BBC with an academic from Amsterdam who has completed an interesting academic study which has just been released as a book – an ethnography of beauty and cosmetic surgery: Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. The author posits plastic surgery as part of a new modern experience of beauty outisde of previous studies which dealt with the subject which reflected broader social phenomenon such as class and race. On a personal level its quite obvious that the Brasilian culture values and promotes an importance of beauty – at times not separable from bigger health based issues. I remember being surprised by the number of consumer magazines reflecting the market for aesthetic surgery
As the book highlights, plastic surgery touches on all levels of brazilian society. The research associates plastic surgery with issues of female empowerment / social mobility / improve marriage hopes / social capital but also a means of potenntialy disrupting existing social hierachies. One of the key features of the discourse of beauty is its significance as a defining feature of the cultural mixing in Brasil. Two of the trends identified in the book have strong links to racial identity - skin lightening and body sculpting are both sought to replicate supposed (european) and (african) elements of beauty. The findings of the ethnography argue that Brazilians don’t want to totally remove their african traits- unlike in other south american cultures which seek to distance themselves from more indigenous body traits. Im not sure if the book deals with male plastic surgery here in Brasil…could be an interesting follow up subject?