To See Is to Believe? the Visibility of Aesthetic-Plastic Surgery As a New Mode of Communitarization

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Julia WUSTMANN, Technical University Dortmund, Germany
The number of surgical cosmetic procedures has been constantly rising for years. Along with that, aesthetic-plastic surgery in everyday life becomes more visible. Patients are presented in media formats including dramatized before/after comparisons and plastic surgeons greet us from advertising posters and websites. The guiding question for my presentation is, which role plastic surgery plays in everyday life and how everyday actors (as non-surgicals) interpret this social practice of body manipulation within the context of its increased visibility. To answer this question, results from the research project „The optimized gender?” will be presented. The results are based on the interpretative analysis of several group discussions that were conducted with everyday actors.

Within the group discussions “visibility” was discussed especially regarding specific procedures. Thereby it became clear, that on the one hand the visibility of interventions (e.g. via scars or as „unnatural“ results) were condemned. On the other hand the possibility of a missing visibility (e.g. missing scars or natural looking results) were interpreted as an invisible threat. This interpretation was based on the assumption that if aesthetic-plastic surgery is undetected (because not visible), it could lead to a normalization and therefor to new (beauty-)obligations. All in all, plastic surgery is constantly delegitimized regarding its core topic: beauty. Moreover, there are not only efforts of delegitimization but also of distinction: while patients were labelled as ‚unknowing’, the everyday actors (as non-surgicals) presented themselves as ‚knowing’ because of specific stocks of knowledge – e.g. that (bodily) individuality is a treasured good and that it is destroyed by surgical procedures. In line with Paul Rabinows concept of biosociality I want to discuss that the negotiation of aesthetic-plastic surgery is not just about distinct demarcation and exclusion but rather a new mode of communitarization based on the (non-)use of aesthetic-plastic surgery.