The new reality of beauty – Chapter 1: History

Plastic surgery has somehow been democratized. Both practice and judgment. I remember when I was a kid and we would look at it with cynical eyes, like “why would she put silicons in her mout which we also put around bathroom tiles by the way to look like an alien and it must hurt.” But today, surgeons around the world have improved their technique, discovered new raw materials and technologies to make surgery appear more natural. Women and men do it more often than ever. And with this “progress” came new perceptions as well (thank you Kylie Jenner and K-pop).

This story is presented to you as an update of the status of plastic surgery around the world. It will be divided in 3 chapters: quick history, the current situation, and a glossary – and there will be a surprise appendix.
This story is the fruit of a collaboration with Yusuke Adachi and Bo Yang, both students at Université de la Mode, Lyon II.

Quick travel in time…

Plastic surgery finds its origins around year 3.000 B.C. At that time already, it was all about the lips – also the ears – and used skin from other parts of the body.

How the technique evolved

Every tool invention marked a milestones in the history of surgery. Fun fact: equipments were found in Ancient Rome and Pompeii. At the beginning, it was first developed to heal wounds. Other fun fact: the flap technique, which consist in a plastic reconstruction of the nose, was allegedly invented in India, during the first century B.C. The main difference with today’s definition of plastic surgery is that procedures back then were to make one’s body go back to its original form, not better nor prettier. The latter type of procedures became a thing in the late 19th century: breast jobs and nose jobs in 1889, or lifting in 1901.

That being said, it’s safe to state that what we now see as plastic surgery came into the picture quite recently compared to the full history of surgical procedures, despite the strong bonds and mutual influence that both disciplines had on each other.

The war

World War I resulted in millions of wounded and disabled, and shrapnel-harmed soldiers as well as the bullet-disfigured veterans were called “Gueules Cassées“, French for “Broken Faces.” This helpless situation led to the democratization of plastic surgery procedures to save these brave men but also help them get back to their pre-war, somehow more “regular human” appearances.

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Towards the surgery of today

Where regular surgery procedures answer to a physical need, a need for being fixed, plastic surgery can also come as an answer to social needs.

The cameras of 66 Minutes (a program broadcast on French TV station M6, click to watch) take us to Beyrouth, Lebanon, where the plastic surgery industry thrives, as a surgeon explains that the city wouldn’t be dubbed as The Capital of Lifting if it wasn’t for the war. A lot of men died during the conflicts and today, there are more women than men in Lebanon, thus an increasing competition amongst them to find a husband. And the rules are simple: beautiful faces and bodies win the hearts of coveted men.

Stepping up one’s marriage game is a quite normal reason to do plastic surgery in many countries. But runner-up is the need to be employed: in South Korea, China or even Japan, to have a beautiful headshot on your resume is an important skill. On one hand, skin whitening is a popular camera function (there’s this one Chinese brand that equips all smartphone with whitening and eye-maxifying beauty filters), on the other hand, job applicants don’t hesitate to undergo surgery in order to land the job anymore (see Chinese movie ‘The Truth About Beauty‘ to explore this “trend” and face our society’s moral issues).

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To pursue beauty has long been one of man’s goals for it brings confidence. But technological progress, today, allows us to switch face more often and more easily than ever as it has simultaneously become less of a sin to say no to what our mamas gave us.


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