Most women who elect to have cosmetic surgery want a “natural” outcome—a discrete alteration of the body that appears unaltered. Under the Knife examines this theme in light of a cultural paradox. Whereas women are encouraged to improve their appearance, there is also a stigma associated with those who do so via surgery.
Samantha Kwan and Jennifer Graves reveal how women negotiate their “unnatural”—but hopefully (in their view) natural-looking—surgically-altered bodies. Based on in-depth interviews with 46 women who underwent cosmetic surgery to enhance their appearance, the authors investigate motivations for surgery as well as women’s thoughts about looking natural after the procedures. Under the Knife dissects the psychological and physical strategies these women use to manage the expectations, challenges, and disappointments of cosmetic surgery while also addressing issues of agency and empowerment. It shows how different cultural intersections can produce varied goals and values around body improvement.
Under the Knife highlights the role of deep-seated yet contradictory gendered meanings about women’s bodies, passing, and boundary work. The authors also consider traditional notions of femininity and normalcy that trouble women’s struggle to preserve an authentic moral self.