Kathryn Schweißhelm(2)

False faces: Examining the cultural history of cosmetic surgery

Kathryn Schweishelm

Award: 2018 Doctoral Completion Award

Cosmetic surgery, much like its effect on the bodies it transforms, is highly skilled at obscuring its age and origins. As an organized specialty, it is nearly a century old, and many of the procedures it employs are much older still, and yet cosmetic surgery somehow feels perpetually current and new, held up as an emblem of both the advancement of modern medicine and the moral failings of our time. In the cultural imagination, especially it inspires endless fascination and provokes fervent debate, and yet historians of medicine have paid comparatively little attention to cosmetic surgery and its genesis. As my dissertation shows, if we dig beneath the conventional story of what the postwar plastic surgeons knew and did, we find a parallel narrative of innovation and scientific engagement that until now has been entirely ignored, one that challenges the history of medicine to expand its definitions of knowledge production and put a new face to the practice of cosmetic surgery.