A star writer for the New York Times Styles section captures the follies, frauds, and fanaticism that fuel the American pursuit of youth and beauty in a wickedly revealing excursion into the burgeoning business of cosmetic enhancement. Americans are aging faster and getting fatter than any other population on the planet. Aging may be a natural fact of life, but for a growing number of Americans its hallmarks—wrinkles, love handles, jiggling flesh—are seen as obstacles to be conquered on the path to lasting, flawless beauty. In Beauty Junkies Alex Kuczynski, whose sly wit and fearless reporting in the Times has won her fans across the country, delivers a fresh and irresistible look at America's increasingly desperate pursuit of ultimate beauty by any means necessary. In New York, lawyers become Botox junkies in an effort to remain poker-faced.
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Each flier features a gruesome photograph of her botched stomach liposuction. It looks as if a pit bull was the doctor. But it may well be a losing battle. Cosmetic surgery is now so prevalent that it could qualify as a national epidemic. And under all that Botox — the gateway procedure — as well as the face-lifts and tummy tucks, lies a sinister story, as deep as it is shallow.
She gives you everything you need to know — the menu of procedures right down to toe liposuction , the price tags, the names of doctors and dentists, the drugs, the implements and implants, the celebrity patients. She also lays out the dangers, the disasters and the deaths. Along with the reporting, Kuczynski provides delicious tidbits for the cocktail-party circuit: that, for example, the synthetic collagen called Cosmoplast is manufactured from fetal foreskin stem cells harvested from a single baby boy, who would now be a teenager.
She neglects, for example, to mention the sobering recent studies suggesting that women who have had cosmetic surgery are three times as likely as their sagging peers to kill themselves. In other words, depressed women are the most common beauty junkies.
Make that depressed women with extra cash. Cosmetic surgery is still mostly an elitist preoccupation, though some plucky girls take up collections on the Internet, promising their benefactors pictures of their new breasts. Economic greed and insecure women are such a potent combination that plastic surgery now rivals, economically, the far less disingenuous, much-criticized pornography industry.
Which one, you have to wonder, hurts women more? Kuczynski connects the two, proposing that the desire to look like a porn star is one of the most prevalent motivations for the society ladies who indulge in the most cosmetic surgery. One of the faces of so-called third wave feminism may be the literally paralyzed mask of the surgically remastered woman. Kuczynski is well equipped, given her own surgical dabbling, for her subject. Her book is, in fact, a curious hybrid — half investigation, half memoir.
The extent of the procedures that I subjected myself to was not so over-the-top that it invites ridicule. This is debatable. This vulnerable and brave woman is, in fact, one of the few truly poignant characters in the book, but Kuczynski demonstrates no compassion for her. Sixteen times. In the second half of the 16th century, an ingenious method of rhinoplasty was devised by an Italian doctor, Gaspare Tagliacozzi, for a Knight of Malta whose nose had been mangled in a duel.
After several weeks of this inconvenience, when the arm tissue had grown into the remaining nose tissue, the arm was cut free. Thus began the first of six surgeries to shape the lump of scar tissue into something resembling a nose. This elaborate procedure was admittedly imperfect.
A sneeze could blow the whole thing right off your face and across the dinner table. Her basic maintenance routine involves hair coloring and styling twice a week , facials once a week and full-body waxing once a week , as well as periodic use of tanners, regular manicures, teeth cleaning and whitening. Her face and body are slathered with expensive creams made from caviar, karat gold, human growth hormone or wild yam extract. X also visits two or three plastic surgeons about three times a year to discuss what needs fixing.
She has been injected with Gore-Tex, Botox and Artecoll, and is a member of a Restylane frequent-user awards program. How many miles of Restylane gets you a freebie? Last year, Mrs. X crossed the final frontier with labiaplasty — getting that whole mess down there cleaned up, tightened up and, as it were, re-virginized. This creation of an alternate surface through surgery — the Jungian shadow side taking a walk on the outside — raises interesting spiritual questions.
At the pearly gates — and many Americans claim to believe in heaven — will St. Peter turn a blind eye to your body and see your soul?
Or will he fail to recognize your reconstructed self and direct you to the unknown-persons department for all eternity? At its most extreme, this craze for plastic surgery is more than a display of culturally conditioned self-hatred.
It is, rather, a current manifestation of female masochism — a sister compulsion to anorexia, bulimia, cutting and excessive tattooing and piercing. These are death and resurrection exercises. Self-loathing, on the other hand, keeps you firmly in the eternal hell of the here and now. But unlike religious or sexual masochism, which is free except for the occasional dominatrix , plastic surgery is expensive — even if, as more and more people do, you put it on a credit card.
Dare one note that this particular form of self-mortification intimates a kind of subcutaneous eroticism? Asked if she ever considered a career, Mrs. Or at least I was never going to be so good at anything that I would have made a difference.
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Beauty Junkies : Getting under the skin of the cosmetic surgery industry
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Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery
Maybe she thought there weren't enough laughs in hard-core procedures like face-lifts, tummy tucks and liposuction. She has tried Botox and Restylane. Or maybe, as she coyly suggests, she doesn't know all the things people are up to in their race to outdistance Father Time. Now comes Alex Kuczynski , the sharp, savvy reporter for the New York Times Styles section to fill in that gap with Beauty Junkies, a rich cautionary tale of the world of cosmetic enhancement.
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