Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection
By Laurie Essig
(Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807000557, 240pp.)
Publication Date: December 28, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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The riveting story of how cosmetic surgery and plastic money melted together to create a subprime mortgage crisis of the body
Plastic surgery has become “the answer” for many Americans, and in American Plastic sociologist Laurie Essig explores how we arrived at this particular solution. Over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in cosmetic work, and we now spend over $12 billion annually on procedures like liposuction, face-lifts, tummy tucks, and boob jobs. In this fascinating book, Essig argues that this transformation is the result of massive shifts in both our culture and our economy—a perfect storm of greed, desire, and technology.
Plastic is crucial to who we are as Americans, Essig observes. We not only pioneered plastic money but lead the world in our willingness to use it. It’s estimated that 30 percent of plastic surgery patients earn less than $30,000 a year; another 41 percent earn less than $60,000. And since the average cost of cosmetic work is $8,000, a staggering 85 percent of patients assume debt to get work done. Using plastic surgery as a lens on better understanding our society, Essig shows how access to credit, medical advances, and the pressures from an image- and youth-obsessed culture have led to an unprecedented desire to “fix” ourselves.
Laurie Essig is assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College and has written for publications ranging from Legal Affairs and Salon to the Chronicle of Higher Education. She lives in Burlington, Vermont, and Montreal.
“American Plastic is an incisive analysis and critique of the rise of the cosmetic surgery industry. Challenging the underpinnings of contemporary Neoliberalism, which spawned an unregulated ‘cosmetic industrial complex’ that is fueled by rising economic inequality and socially irresponsible consumer lending, Essig illuminates the political, social, and economic costs of the uniquely American quest for ‘perfection.’ Its narrative ying and yang of boob jobs and credit cards gives new meaning to ‘plastic peril.’” —Robert D. Manning, author, Credit Card Nation, and Director, Institute for Consumer Financial Services
“American Plastic is a playful but deadly earnest reportage on plastic America – the fateful collisions of cosmetic surgery and credit (which pays for most of it), beauty and pornography (which now defines beauty), and technology and perfection (which technology affects to make possible). Capturing the many meanings of plastic and plasticity, Laurie Essig portrays a society which, on the way to trying to remake the female body, is unmaking its core reality in ways equally devastating to women and the economy. Women will read this book, men need to.”—Benjamin R. Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld and Consumed, Distinguished Senior Fellow, DEMOS
“A fascinating, original, and engaging exploration of the connection between plastic surgery and our economic crisis. Laurie Essig illuminates the dark side of the promise of perfection and offers inspirational strategies for change.”
—Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., creator of the Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women film series and author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
"Laurie Essig provides a freewheeling, interdisciplinary commentary on the special connections between culture, economics and the cosmetic surgery industry. Through fieldwork with consumers as well as providers, she explores with humor and understanding the willingness of Americans to take on high interest loans to reshape their bodies. If you know nothing about the medical credit world, this is a revealing and provocative book." —Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls and Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa
“Since Dustin Hoffman heard that memorable ‘just one word,’ plastic has re-made American society. In a stroke of brilliance, Laurie Essig brings together plastic credit cards, bodies, and gender identities by telling the story of how economic insecurity has intersected with the celebrity culture and the neo-liberal ideology of choice. Essig's well-researched and original analysis deserves our serious attention.”—Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth
“Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.”— Kirkus Reviews
“Essig has a brisk, smart style and she approaches her subject with a welcome serving of wit”—Publisher's Weekly