The Look of a Woman

Facial Feminization Surgery and the Aims of Trans- Medicine

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 2 illustrations Published: August 2017

Author: Eric Plemons

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Trans Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. While facial surgery was once considered auxiliary to genital surgery, many people now find that these procedures confer distinct benefits according to the different models of sex and gender in which they intervene. Surgeons advertise that FFS not only improves a trans- woman's appearance; it allows her to be recognized as a woman by those who see her. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. He shows how the increasing popularity of FFS represents a shift away from genital-based conceptions of trans- selfhood in ways that mirror the evolving views of what is considered to be good trans- medicine. Outlining how conflicting models of trans- therapeutics play out in practice, Plemons demonstrates how FFS is changing the project of surgical sex reassignment by reconfiguring the kind of sex that surgery aims to change.


"This is a well-written and thought-provoking contribution not only to transgender studies but also to our debate about how we necessarily and constantly refashion ourselves." — Sander L. Gilman, Critical Inquiry

“An exceptionally well-written book, based on highly engaged fieldwork . . . and filled with elegant and innovative theoretical insights about the material (in)stability and social urgency of sex/gender.” — Christine Labuski, American Anthropologist

“A wonderfully terse and insightful first book. Eric Plemons’s work counts as the best of trans studies.” — Cressida J. Heyes, American Journal of Bioethics

“In The Look of a Woman, Eric Plemons gives us a very thoughtful, well-researched, and important statement about the role of facial feminization surgery in trans-medicine.” — Juliana Hansen, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

The Look of a Woman is a new and important examination of the world of trans medicine, particularly the question of gendered identity, facial physiognomy, and most importantly the face-to-face determination of sex. An excellent and enriching engagement.” — Bernadette Wegenstein, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Makes contributions to the area of trans-aesthetics. . . . Plemons’ blending of qualitative and theoretical research is nuanced." — Zowie Davy, Anthropos

"Asking critical questions about the making of gender without neglecting the reality of what it is to live as trans-, with all of the political and personal vulnerabilities such an identity brings, is like walking the delicate edge of a surgical blade. Plemons’ text walks this edge skilfully, providing an insightful account of the logics structuring FFS. His book is a welcome addition to scholarly accounts of not only gender, but medicine more broadly." — Paula Martin, Sociology of Health & Illness

"In both style and content this book is eminently teachable: a great demonstration of how to build and hone an argument. It is an admirably slim volume, afforded its modest size by Plemons’ writerly technique. The prose is lucid and not unnecessarily adjectival. The more complex ideas benefit from a clarifying portrayal that will bring non-academic readers on side. . . . The book’s clarity lends it an effortless feel, which I suspect is actually an effect of labour at every scale: word, sentence, chapter, argument. This labour has certainly paid off: The Look of a Woman is a lovely addition to anthropology’s bookshelves." — Courtney Addison, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"This book brilliantly raises some fundamental and very broad questions about the link between medicine and social norms, sex and gender, the body and the self." — Andrae Thomazo, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"A particular strength of Plemons’s approach is that it sheds new light on how to do trans/gender theory. . . . Plemons puts forward attending to the present as the answer to. . . [a] tendency for abstraction." — Bronwyn A. Wilson, GLQ

“Plemons’s book is compelling reading that will engage students and scholars of social anthropology, medical anthropology, gender studies, cultural studies and queer studies.”

— Roberta Zavoretti, Anthropology in Action

"Lucid and accessible. . . . while Plemons’s work primarily thinks about trans, it also engages in thinking with it." — Brian Riedel, PoLAR

"In the early 1990s, Judith Butler theorized a new performative model of sex/gender; now Eric Plemons provides us with an exemplary ethnographic analysis of how that discursive model materialized as surgical practice, transforming medical treatment for transfeminine people along the way. It is a readable, well-argued, and deeply informed account of how what counts as 'sex' has shifted from genitals to faces over the last few decades. It is of interest not only to members of trans* communities, but to anyone working in the history or anthropology of medicine, and to scholars of gender, sexuality, and embodiment more generally." — Susan Stryker, coeditor of The Transgender Studies Reader

"What does a woman look like? This fascinating ethnography of facial feminization surgery made me see that question in a new light. There is much here that troubles social constructionist accounts of gender. Sex inheres in skulls and jaws. By reshaping them in line with sex-specific population norms, surgeons help their patients to reach the ultimate frontier in 'passing' as women. But equally Eric Plemons shows that transient beauty ideals and different surgical practices guide sex transformation. A rigorous analysis that is also a sensitive portrayal of the embodied experiences of trans- people." — Alexander Edmonds, author of Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Plemons is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. On Origins  21
Interlude. The Procedures  39
2. Femininity in the Clinic  43
Interlude. Celebrate!  67
3. Cutting as Caring  71
4. Recognition and Refusal  89
Interlude. My Adam's Apple  109
5. The Operating Room  113
6. And After  135
Conclusion  151
Notes  157
References  169
Index  185
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2017 Ruth Benedict Prize in the Single-Authored Monograph category (presented by the Association for Queer Anthropology section of the American Anthropological Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6914-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6886-1
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