Anthony Elliott, a professor of sociology at Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, visiting research chair at the Open University, U.K., and author of the book, Making the Cut: How Cosmetic Surgical Culture is Transforming Our Lives (London, Reaktion; Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2008), lectures internationally on the topic, and says that globalization fundamentally impacts cultural and social issues. He contends that new information technologies and scientific/medical advances bear directly on people's expectations – not only pertaining to business and trade, but at personal levels, as well.
"This is nowhere better dramatized than in makeover culture," he tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. "In the same way that corporations can restructure their operations from one country to another overnight, or in the same manner that we can send email around the planet at the click of a mouse, people are more and more drawn into thinking that their identities and bodies are similarly plastic, flexible, liquid."Beauty, or the perception of beauty, is not relegated to Western vanity. The immediacy made possible by live media reveals that the pressure to "put the best face forward" is global. A good illustration of this is the controversial use of a lip-synced song in the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in August 2008. Because the beautiful voice of the child singer was not, in the estimation of some, equaled by a beautiful face, a "suitably attractive" child was selected to be the face the world saw when it heard the song.
Professor Elliott feels that the speed and "short-termism" promoted by the global electronic economy drives and enables "re-inventing" one's own self.
"The new economy, in which disposability is elevated over durability and plasticity over permanence, creates fundamental anxieties and insecurities that more and more people are seeking to resolve at the level of the body," he argues.
"Consumerism or what you could call 'self-commodification,' offers a better take on what is occurring – the financing of 'enhanced body parts' is now creeping into monthly credit card statements – but again this is not for me the core of what is driving the cosmetic reinvention craze."
Professor Elliott says that, at an international level, bodies today are pumped, pummeled, plucked, suctioned, stitched, shrunk and surgically augmented at an astonishing rate. At the core of this, he says, is a new economy that judges people less on their achievements, less of their records of success, and more and more on the willingness to adapt, to change, to transform themselves. "Plastic surgery provides the most seductive answer to the new socioeconomic dilemmas."
This "answer" has become so universally available – with financing options to make it accessible to the less-financially enabled – that it become as much an expectation as a luxury for some people.
As with anything that evolves so rapidly, the role of cosmetic surgery is not static, and it remains to be seen how the trend develops. Will we burn through this as a fad across the planet? Is there some surfeit in sight eventually, or are we just getting started? Professor Elliott feels that while "drastic plastic" is not yet the norm, "It is central to the 'new economy' – that of the finance, service, and media sectors – and to that extent is held up in society as a utopian image of the future." If this is indeed the case, the years ahead may usher in a new global perceptions of success – economically, socially, aesthetically.