Course:Medicalization of Female Beauty through Cosmetic Surgery

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The Medicalization of Female Beauty through Cosmetic Surgery

Talya Wong (37587152) Wiki Assignment

Medical Consumerism: Cosmetic Surgery

The Medicalization of Female Beauty through Cosmetic Surgery

Despite the differences that exist between health care systems around the world, a common objective that almost all systems share is their aim to improve the health of the population they serve [1](Lin, Smith, & Fawkes, 2014). Within the medical field, medical consumerism is a vein in which patients are provided with the opportunity to be more actively involved in the care that they receive. Though medical consumerism can be explored through a variety of different means, the consumption of cosmetic surgeries and procedures is a prominent example that demonstrates the phenomenon of the medicalization of female beauty. While the medicalization of beauty through cosmetic procedures enables people the freedom and choice to voluntarily enhance their bodies, it simultaneously works in distorting societal standards of what is considered ‘beautiful’ as well as differentiating between what is a ‘need’ vs. a ‘want’.

Reconsidering Beauty - Jill Helms, TEDxStanford The following link is a YouTube video of Jill Helms explaining how beauty is interpreted within modern day society and how we are biologically and scientifically wired to analyze facial appearances, emotions, and micro-facial movements.


Medical consumerism

Medical consumerism the relationship between health care and a patient, whereby the patient is actively involved in the decision making and processes that take place. [2]

Cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is the enhancement of appearance through surgical and medical techniques performed on all areas of the body that lack aesthetic appeal. [3]

Female Cosmetic Surgery: Who and Why?


Korean Cosmetic Surgery
Iranian Rhinoplasty

The decision to undergo cosmetic surgery is a global phenomenon whereby women of all cultural backgrounds and ages take part in. Over the past several decades, appearance has increasingly become a determining factor in establishing and securing the success of one’s future [4](Frank, 2002). Therefore, as the standard of beauty rises, it can be paired with a simultaneous increase in the pursuit of cosmetic procedures for both men and women [4](Frank, 2002). Individuals’ involvement in these cosmetic transactions has produced externalities on a collective front, whereby other citizens are influenced and affected by the normalcy of body enhancement, ultimately encouraging them to engage in these procedures themselves [5] (Fisman & Lauplan, 2009).


In places such as Korea and Iran, appearance can reflect one’s ability to get a job or be viewed as desirable by future partners [4](Frank, 2002). Appearance is heavily judged upon, therefore the standard that is required to be either financially or romantically successful pushes individuals to no longer see cosmetic procedures as an option, but rather as a necessity for future security. William Leiss [4](1976, cited in Frank, 2002) points out that markets have successfully manipulated the way individuals perceive their own bodies through advertisements and social media, enforcing the idea that their wants are in fact needs.


For example, it has become normalized for women in Iran to engage in the consumption of cosmetic procedures in order to be viewed as ‘beautiful’ by society, and also to gain self-confidence [4](Frank, 2002). Many Iranian woman decide to pursue rhinoplasties for example in order to obtain a smaller nose, “like a doll’s nose” [4](Sciolino, 2000, in Frank, 2002, p. 18). Evidently, people are socially conditioned by the ever-growing standards of their culture to attain a more desirable image and appear ‘fault-free’. Markets perpetuate certain images and ideals that can either consciously or subconsciously pressure people to feel unworthy if they don’t meet the standards of what is publicly perceived as ‘beautiful’[4].

The Popularity of Pursuing Rhinoplasties in Iran The following YouTube video depicts a quick glimpse into the busy world of Cosmetic Surgery in Iran as countless women line up for Rhinoplasty consultations.

Korea's Obsession - Sol Kim, TEDxSeoulForeignSchool The following YouTube video is of a young Korean woman named Sol who explains the detrimental effects that Korea's standard of beauty has had on not only her own self-esteem, self-perception, and ability to judge others, but also its effects on other young and old Koreans as well.

The Medicalization of Female Beauty: Needs vs. Wants

The Purpose of Health Care

Two Individuals from the YouTube BBC Video that have undergone several cosmetic procedures and explain their intentions to pursue more procedures in order to achieve their desired look.

Cosmetic procedures may provide patients with their desired end goal, however a major drawback of medical consumerism is its ability to distort the capacity to differentiate between needs and wants, as consumers. Across various societies and cultures, the rise of medical consumerism through cosmetic procedures has blurred individuals’ ability to recognize what is a ‘need’, versus what is a ‘want’. In Australia, the National Primary Health Care Strategic Framework (2013) addressed that, on a fundamental level, one of the goals that the health care system seeks to accomplish is to “best manage [patients’] health care needs [to] stay as healthy as possible” [6](Standing Council on Health, 2013, p. 7). Therefore, in considering the weight of the risks that are accompanied by cosmetic procedures, it is important to examine if the necessity of the procedure outweighs the risks that are paired with it.

Needs vs. Wants

Cosmetic procedures are not necessarily a need that affects the optimization of one’s physical health, but rather, is a choice that is exercised to fulfill the social demands that society asks of us. Transparency is crucial in elective procedures such as cosmetic surgeries because it enables patients to become more aware of the treatments they are receiving, as well as more involved in the decisions that are being made. However, due to their voluntary nature, these procedures are typically not essential to improving one’s current health condition. Instead, the urge to consume these procedures can be attributed to the collective efforts that social processes have on society, such as market manipulation and social conditioning [4](Leiss, 1976, cited in Frank, 2002). Therefore, the obscurity of one’s ‘wants’ shifting into ‘needs’ may not address the need for it to improve one’s health, but rather to fulfill a social need that is demanded from society.

[BBC: The Consequences of Cosmetic Surgery] The following BBC YouTube Video called “Facing The Consequences of Cosmetic Surgery” demonstrates the continual craving of cosmetic surgeries in order to fulfill one’s own outwardly idea of perfect or ideal, as well as the devasting risky effects that can occur. The particular statement of one woman which stated “I mean anything can happen when you are asleep under the knife, but at least you die happy” boldly shows how her priority of appearance outweighs the risk of any surgery.


  1. Lin, V., Smith, J., & Fawkes, S. (2014). Public Health Practice in Australia: The Organized Effort. Crows Nest, NWS: Allen & Unwin. pp. 130–139.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. "What's this talk about Medical Consumerism?".
  3. "Frequently Asked Questions About Cosmetic Surgery".
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Frank, A. (November 2002). "What's wrong with medical consumerism? In S. Henderson & A. Petersen (Eds.) Consuming Health: The Commodification of Health Care". London: Routledge.
  5. Fisman, David N., Laupland, Kevin B., (Summer 2009). "The sounds of silence: Public goods, externalities, and the value of infectious disease control programs". Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology. 20(2): 39–41.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  6. "National Primary Health Care Strategic Framework".