Why do physicians who’ve taken the Hippocratic Oath willingly cut into seemingly healthy patients? How do you measure the success of surgery aimed at making someone happier by altering his or her body? Sander L. Gilman explores such questions in Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul
, a cultural history of the connections between beauty of body and happiness of mind. Following these themes through an impressive range of historical moments and players, Gilman traces how aesthetic alterations of the body have been used to “cure” dissatisfied states of mind.
In his exploration of the striking parallels between the development of cosmetic surgery and the field of psychiatry, Gilman entertains an array of philosophical and psychological questions that underlie the more practical decisions rountinely made by doctors and potential patients considering these types of surgery. While surveying and incorporating the relevant theories of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Karl Menninger, Paul Schilder, contemporary feminist critics, and others, Gilman considers the highly unstable nature of cultural notions of health, happiness, and beauty. He reveals how ideas of race and gender structured early understandings of aesthetic surgery in discussions of both the “abnormality” of the Jewish nose and the historical requirement that healthy and virtuous females look “normal,” thereby enabling them to achieve invisibility. Reflecting upon historically widespread prejudices, Gilman describes the persecutions, harrassment, attacks, and even murders that continue to result from bodily difference and he encourages readers to question the cultural assumptions that underlie the increasing acceptability of this surgical form of psychotherapy.
Synthesizing a vast body of related literature and containing a comprehensive bibliography, Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul
will appeal to a broad audience, including those interested in the histories of medicine and psychiatry, and in philosophy, cultural studies, Jewish cultural studies, and race and ethnicity.