Originating from the Greek word plastikos, which means to mold and to form, plastic surgery has actually been around since 1600 BCE. But, many of the contemporary cosmetic procedures evolved during the 1900s, primarily from the pioneering work of Harold Delf Gillies (1882 – 1960), who developed a series of innovative techniques to reconstruct the faces of soldiers disfigured during WW1.
Despite its many benefits, cosmetic plastic surgery does incite contentious discourse and was widely considered to be taboo until fairly recently. Still, silver screen icons, such as Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962) and Carmen Miranda (1909 – 1955), have given their infamous attributes a nip here and a tuck there for purely aesthetic reasons. In this way, the silver screen has actually paved the way for cosmetic plastic surgery to enter the mainstream.
Decades later, the launch of Instagram and its visual contemporary the selfie made it easier than ever to understand just how important physical appearance is for people’s self perception and how others perceive them. It also revealed the lengths to which they are willing to go to, to either enhance or preserve their appearances. As such, the evolution of the cosmetic plastic surgery industry is often dismissed as symptomatic of western societies’ predisposition toward narcissism.
And yet, it could be argued that today’s cosmetic surgeons are echoing the artistic works of Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) and even Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). The difference, really, lies in the simple fact that their canvas is comprised of human tissue; much like the great masters of the art world, plastic surgeons re-imagine their subjects with creative intent.
As Jeongho Choi put it: “Artists often find useful means of artistic expression in science. In this respect, science and art have shared a common denominator in their evolving relationship.” And cosmetic plastic surgery does seem to be a perfect example of this. “Cosmetic surgery can be defined as a great effort to create artistic value, in the sense that it strives to seek beauty or youth by rebuilding qualities no longer visible using medical intervention, based on scientific concepts such as causality.”