Pretty Modern

Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil

Pretty Modern
Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 25 illustrations, incl. 10 in color Published: December 2010

Subjects
Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies > Brazil

Pretty Modern is a riveting account of Brazil’s emergence as a global leader in plastic surgery. Intrigued by a Carnaval parade that mysteriously paid homage to a Rio de Janeiro plastic surgeon, anthropologist Alexander Edmonds conducted research that took him from Ipanema socialite circles to glitzy telenovela studios to the packed waiting rooms of public hospitals offering free cosmetic surgery. The result is provocative exploration of the erotic, commercial, and intimate aspects of beauty in a nation with extremes of wealth and poverty and a reputation for natural sensuality. Drawing on conversations with maids and their elite mistresses, divorced housewives, black celebrities, and favela residents aspiring to be fashion models, Edmonds analyzes what sexual desirability means and does for women in different social positions. He argues that beauty is a distinct realm of modern experience that does not simply reflect other inequalities. It mimics the ambiguous emancipatory potential of capital, challenging traditional hierarchies while luring consumers into a sexual culture that reduces the body to the brute biological criteria of attractiveness. Illustrated with color photographs, Pretty Modern offers a fresh theoretical perspective on the significance of female beauty in consumer capitalism.

Praise

“Alexander Edmonds provides readers with a compelling and visceral ethnography about the ubiquitous cultural practice of plastica, or cosmetic surgery, in Rio to better understand its ubiquity across Brazil’s different social classes. . . . Pretty Modern is an important contribution to the literature on gender and the body, and will be of interest to Brazil specialists and nonspecialists alike. Although the focus is beauty, those considering race or history will also find the material useful.” — Lesley N. Braun, Visual Anthropology Review

“Fascinating. . . . The book overflows with provocative discussions. . . . [T]his study should evoke reflection and animated discussion of medicine, gender, self, culture, and modernity in multiple academic settings and beyond. Recommended. All levels/libraries.” — G. W. McDonogh, Choice

Pretty Modern is a provocative ethnographic excursion through the labyrinth of context necessary for understanding the rise in popularity of cosmetic plastic surgery in contemporary Brazil…. I found his ethnography to be important and compelling.” — Donna Goldstein, American Ethnologist

Pretty Modern is an engaging and thought provoking ethnography of plastic surgery in Brazil that effectively avoids the pitfalls of heavy-handed pronouncements on issues of female beauty and personal agency.” — Mary-Anne Victoria Decatur, Anthropology Review Database

Pretty Modern presents a wealth of ethnographic data, weaving together thick descriptions of hospital waiting rooms, television studios, and everyday conversations, illustrated with images of advertisements and frank portraits of Edmonds’s informants.” — Ashley Mears, e-misferica

“Alex Edmonds’ book Pretty Modern is a remarkable account of cosmetic surgery—or plastic—in Brazil…. One of the huge strengths of Edmonds’ book is the detail and complexity he brings to each of the issues he analyses…. [I]t is ultimately refreshing.” — Ruth Holliday, Sociology of Health and Illness

“Edmonds’ offers readers a provocative, richly textured, and nuanced analysis of the rise in popularity of plástica across social classes in Brazil. . . . Pretty Modern is a masterful ethnography about the medicalization of beauty.” — Hilda Lloréns, Anthropological Quarterly

“One of the clear advantages of Pretty Modern is the great depth of analysis that we are offered. Anecdotes and detailed descriptions provide the backdrop for theoretical discussions, fleshing out the arguments and providing the reader with a more rounded view of the issues…. Pretty Modern is a very enjoyable, provocative and stimulating read.” — Aoife McKenna, Medical Sociology Online

“By examining modernity through the perhaps easily dismissed topic of beauty, Pretty Modern offers a unique insight into the complexities of defining the modern subject in a rapidly changing consumer landscape." — Hanna Mantila, Somatosphere

“Highly readable and ranging from ethnographic, to historical, to theoretical, Pretty Modern will appeal to a broad readership.” — Susan Besse, Luso-Brazilian Review

“A masterpiece. Pretty Modern is one of the most nuanced and beautifully crafted ethnographies out there.” — João Biehl, author of Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival


“A fresh, smart, insightful, entertaining, and compelling book about a topic—cosmetic surgery—that many of us thought had self-combusted in the 1990s amid irresolvable debates about whether women who wanted bigger breasts were subjects with agency or duped victims of the ‘beauty myth.’ Pretty Modern rises from the ashes of those debates to provide us with exciting new ways of thinking about what plastic surgery is, what it means, and what it does. It is first-rate anthropology and a wonderfully perceptive study of Brazil.” — Don Kulick, author of Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexander Edmonds is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations viii

Introduction. In the Universe of Beauty 1

Part One. The Self-Esteem in Each Ego Awakens

Siliconadas 37

The Philosopher of Plástica 47

Without Tits There Is No Paradise 57

A Brief History of Self-Esteem 75

Hospital School 89

The Right to Beauty 102

Aesthetic Health 114

Part Two. Beautiful People

Preta 123

Magnificent Miscegenation 127

The National Passion 135

Nanci's Rhinoplasty 143

My Black Is My Brand 150

Role Models 162

The Economy of Appearances 167

Part Three. Engineering the Erotic

Creating and Modeling Nature 177

Aesthetic Medicine and Motherhood 183

The Vanity of Maids 195

Lens of Dreams 204

I Love Myself 219

Conclusion 239

Acknowledgments 253

Notes 257

References 269

Index 285
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2013 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, presented by the Society for Medical Anthropology


Honorable Mention, 2011 Sharon Stephens Book Prize, presented by the American Ethnological Association


Honorable Mention, 2012 Roberto Reis Award, presented by BRASA


Winner, Diana Forsythe Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Work section, American Anthropological Association


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