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  1. 1. 1 Imagining the ‘Other’ and Negotiating the Self in Cosmetic Surgery Debra Gimlin, PhD University of Aberdeen
  2. 2. 2 Focus of the research • Women’s experiences/narratives of cosmetic surgery, compared cross-nationally • Views the practice as a body project that women and surgeons jointly undertake • Associated meanings are supported and enhanced through interactions between these individuals • Informed by symbolic interactionism and McNay’s (1999, 2000) writings on narrative identity
  3. 3. 3 The Surgical Other
  4. 4. 4 Methods • Semi-structured interviews with: – 40 British women (2003-4) – 40 American women (2007) – 6 British cosmetic surgeons (2005-2007) – 8 American cosmetic surgeons (2007) • Observations in US surgery practice, including several operations (2007-8)
  5. 5. 5 Surgical Others: the US & UK • British imaginings: – Locate the Other in the US ‘Over here, we’re not like those American women who have loads of surgery without a second thought’. – British respondent, aged 47 – Reflect ideas about American affluence, behaviour and values ‘People are so wealthy in the States. They don’t have to worry about things…so they can have as much surgery as they want’. – British respondent, aged 48
  6. 6. 6 Surgical Others: the US & UK • American imaginings: – Locate the Other on the West coast of the US ‘I’d never want to look like one of those ageing Hollywood starlets who’s gone under the knife a few too many times. I mean, like, why didn’t someone tell Michelle Pfeiffer to stop!’ – American respondent, aged 27 – Reflect ideas about celebrity lifestyles in Southern California ‘All the women in Beverley Hills have had lots of work done … But that’s how it is there. Looks are everything’. – American respondent, aged 46
  7. 7. 7 Surgical Others: the US & UK • Central characteristics – Obsessive concern with appearance – No appreciation for the ‘natural’ look • A few (American) exceptions here – Little consideration of the costs involved – Motivations are petty, groundless – Unreasonable expectations for surgical outcomes
  8. 8. 8 Uses of the Other • Constructions enable women to demonstrate (to surgeons) their rational desires and decision-making ‘I told him, “I just want to be proportionate for my body. I just want to have something. I don’t want to walk into a room, people go, oh my god, look at her big, big boobs”. I didn’t want to be that’. – American respondent, aged 35 – Surgeons reinforce such identity claims ‘He was like, “So, you want a really natural look. That’s the right decision. I can do that … and I think you’ll be very happy with the outcome.” I really am’.
  9. 9. 9 Uses of the Other • Constructions provide a tool for displaying professional competence ‘I pride myself on high standards. I don’t hesitate to say, “I won’t do that” when patients want too much’. – surgeon, UK – Define what the body in cosmetic surgery is and can be ‘I explain to them, bodies aren’t made to do that. It won’t look proportioned…They’ll have rippling and eventually the breasts will sag, which is often the problem we’re addressing in the first place’.
  10. 10. 10 Uses of the Other • Involve understandings about surgeons associated with the Other ‘The biggest thing in dealing with plastic surgeons is, how do I say this nicely? I didn’t want a boob job surgeon doing my face’. – American respondent, aged 54 – Dis-embodies ‘professional’ surgeons ‘Dr. B…he’s not like a lot of surgeons…He’s very easy going…He doesn’t try to sell you anything… and he’s, well, he’s very average looking. Like you can tell that his appearance isn’t a big issue for him. I like that’. – American respondent, aged 30
  11. 11. 11 Conclusion • Constructions of surgical otherness entail jointly created narratives (and cultural imagery) – Involve the identity claims of both cosmetic surgeons and women who have aesthetic procedures – Define acceptable, possible and ideal bodies – Serve as a form of boundary work for delimiting involvement in this practice