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Changing Faces

Changing Faces

Magazine article

By: Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Date: July 29, 2002

Source: Cullen, Takeuchi Lisa. "Changing Faces." Time, Asia. (July 29, 2002).

About the Author: Lisa Takeuchi (née Reilly) Cullen is a staff writer for Time magazine in New York. She joined the magazine in 2001 as a Tokyo-based correspondent.


For much of history, cosmetic surgery was essentially the repair of battle wounds. In the twentieth century, surgeons also began fixing protruding ears, receding chins, and large noses. As standards of beauty rose, the list of physical attributes perceived to be defective expanded dramatically. This labeling of certain nose shapes and types as deformities helped to cement standards of normality and acceptability.

Cosmetic surgery first became widely popular in the United States. Much of the favorable publicity that such surgery has received over the years has attempted to place it within the American tradition of self-improvement as part of an American cultural tendency to change rather than cope. Entertainers have been particularly enthusiastic about altering features that they believed would limit their careers or their chances for happiness. Many sought to minimize or remove physical signs of race or ethnicity that they believed marked them as an "other."

Race and ethnicity-based surgery has always focused on the most identifiable and most caricatured features. Jews, Italians, and others of Mediterranean or eastern European heritage made the "nose job" a household word. Later in the twentieth century, African Americans began slimming their lips and noses, while Asians pursued larger noses and folded eyelids. Cosmetic surgery pioneers were content to fix just one feature. Modern plastic surgeons have expanded their repertoires to fulfill a wider range of requests.


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Blum, Virginia L. Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Davis, Kathy. Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences: Cultural Studies on Cosmetic Surgery. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

Fraser, Suzanne. Cosmetic Surgery, Gender, and Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Web sites

American Society of Plastic Surgery. "Dramatic Rise in Ethnic Plastic Surgery in 2005.". 〈〉 (accessed April 2, 2006).

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