Obsessed with perfection

by Mary McNamara ,  Los Angeles Times | 2008-06-16

If you think the plastic-surgery boom is just another sign that our culture is shallow, death-denying and youth-obsessed, think again. Because according to sociologist Anthony Elliott, a "mommy job" is not just shorthand for the breast augmentation/tummy tuck many women choose to have after giving birth, it's a toxic side effect of globalization, rampant consumerism, the electronic economy and, perhaps, a worldwide epidemic of good old melancholia.

Elliott is chairman of the Sociology department at Flinders University in Australia. His book is called "Making the Cut: How Cosmetic Surgery Is Transforming Our Lives." So you can't say you weren't warned. His purpose, and really at times it feels more like a quest, is to examine how cosmetic surgery is at once a driving force and a result of the new, international, techno-speedy, obsolescence-included economy -- an almost perfect model of how capitalism not only meets consumer needs but creates them as well.

Quoting experts as disparate as Pamela Anderson and Sigmund Freud (surely this is a first), citing cultural events as diverse as reality television and various corporate scandals, Elliott makes the case that millions of people are getting cosmetic surgery not because they are narcissists but because they are afraid. Not just of losing a job to a younger colleague or a spouse to a younger competitor, but of losing the chance to engage in what has become the hottest hobby in America: reinvention.

The replacement of humans with ever-refined robots is a staple of science fiction, but reading "Making the Cut," one can't help but wonder if we all aren't just a few saline implants away from becoming Cylons.

Elliott argues that people, at least the old definition of people, i.e. creatures whose bodies go through a predictable set of changes called "aging," are increasingly perceived as not only a drag on the new capitalism, with its enjoyment of downsizing and corporate shake-ups (the former CEO with the bags under his eyes is probably tired, the woman with the pooching belly might have children who require her at home some of the time), but also a sign of woefully limited imagination.

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