The history of the “Beauty Industry”

Aesthetic surgery dates from the 16th century. Syphilis resulted in defects of the nose which were highly stigmatising. The purpose of surgery was to mask the disease, to allow “a passing off” as healthy.

Aesthetic surgery then vanished in Europe until the late 18th century, when a new age of syphilophobia began. Thereafter, an explosion in the terminology of cosmetic surgery developed which has been argued to be a response to the concerns some members of the medical profession that cosmetic surgery was somehow not legitimate.

The term cosmetic surgery was initially coined to describe improvement of “abnormal” appearance. These definitions were further informed by the enlightenment of the early 19th century. The enlightenment was characterised by the secular reform of political institutions and of society. It became permissible to think about a happy worldly life rather than merely to work hard to enjoy spiritual rewards in the “next life”. As part of this reform there developed a growing interest in human hygiene and in its broadest sense, the purity of the human race: by way of purity the body and spirit, achieving purity of the State. Thus, motivation to improve purity of the body was a virtue. It was at this time body building became popular.

However, with the advent the World Wars, terms such as “cosmetic”, “beauty” and “aesthetic” were again said with pejorative overtones. The development of aesthetic surgery was inhibited by debates about priorities; medicine was again narrowly defined; reconstruction and function were regarded as the legitimate aims of the doctor and surgery. However, surgery was deployed during World War II and immediately after to mask racial origins. The surgical masking of racial origins is a practice that continues today.

The development of modern anaesthesia and antisepsis in the mid 19th century, when combined with the secular shift encouraged by the enlightenment of the early 19th century, meant that individuals could once again “re-make” themselves in the pursuit of happiness, this time deploying the skill and knowledge of modern surgical techniques, anaesthesia and antisepsis. By placing the idea of worldly happiness within the definition of autonomy you could become someone new, better and happier by altering the body. Indeed the principle of liberty; autonomy/self determination and happiness in terms of the pursuit of individual preferences loom large in the moral debate surrounding enhancement medicine.

Cosmetic medicine is arguably a response to consumer demand for non-invasive aesthetic treatments.

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2 Comments

    • Sarah Barker

      Reply

      Hi Linda!

      You are welcome I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment.

      Sarah

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