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American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfectionby Laurie. Essig
Synopses & Reviews
The riveting story of how cosmetic surgery and plastic money melted together to create a subprime mortgage crisis of the body
Plastic surgery has become “the answer” for many Americans, and in American Plastic sociologist Laurie Essig explores how we arrived at this particular solution. Over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in cosmetic work, and we now spend over $12 billion annually on procedures like liposuction, face-lifts, tummy tucks, and boob jobs. In this fascinating book, Essig argues that this transformation is the result of massive shifts in both our culture and our economy—a perfect storm of greed, desire, and technology.
Plastic is crucial to who we are as Americans, Essig observes. We not only pioneered plastic money but lead the world in our willingness to use it. It’s estimated that 30 percent of plastic surgery patients earn less than $30,000 a year; another 41 percent earn less than $60,000. And since the average cost of cosmetic work is $8,000, a staggering 85 percent of patients assume debt to get work done. Using plastic surgery as a lens on better understanding our society, Essig shows how access to credit, medical advances, and the pressures from an image- and youth-obsessed culture have led to an unprecedented desire to “fix” ourselves.
"Essig, assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College, argues that our national obsession with plastic money and plastic surgery is more than a cultural fad; it's a capitalist conspiracy engineered to persuade Americans that problems of economic insecurity, downward mobility, and lack of opportunity for the poor can be solved by consumption. Essig posits that the national tendency toward self-reinvention has been hijacked into a new and impossible American Dream: attaining the perfect body. She traces this shift to the 1980s, when trickle-down Reaganomics, financial deregulation, and the AMA's decision to allow cosmetic surgery marketing converged with a neoliberal rhetoric wherein 'public issues became defined as personal troubles and problems of lifestyles.' America's classic preoccupations with 'rugged individualism' and 'self-improvement' shifted to the literal canvas of our physical bodies; the result, Essig cautions, is a 'plastic ideological complex,' a relationship to our personal and national self-image that will lead to an economically and emotionally insecure future. Essig has a brisk, smart style and she approaches her subject with a welcome serving of wit--which keeps her message on target even as some of her prescriptions (forming 'reality-check' groups with our friends) are woefully insufficient. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
Essig (sociology, Middlebury College, Vermont) explores America's increasing obsession with plastic surgery, and how our easy access to credit cards feeds this obsession. In the first half of the book she traces the history of plastic surgery, and looks at the current trends in procedures women (middle-aged white women are by far the biggest recipients of plastic surgery) are requesting most. Following is a more general look at the current media for clues as to what motivates a person to go into serious debt to correct her "ordinary ugliness." This accessible text will be relevant to the advanced high school student interested in current social phenomena, as well as the general reader. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Laurie Essig is assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College and has written for publications ranging from Legal Affairs and Salon to the Chronicle of Higher Education. She lives in Burlington, Vermont, and Montreal.
Table of Contents
Part I: American Plastic
1 A Short History of Plastic
2 The State of Plastic
3 Plastic People and Their Doctors
Part II: Boob Jobs and Credit Cards
4 Learning to Be Plastic: Magazines, TV, and Other Cultural Scripts
5 The Mirror and the Porn Star: Ideal Forms, osmetic Surgery, and Everyday Aesthetics
6 Broken Plastic
Part III: The Quest for Perfection
8 . . . Is Futile?
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