A “Sociology” of Immigrants through Plastic Surgery Trends?

Sociologists of the world, here is a phenomenon worth studying comparatively in different countries around the world. Sam Dolnick’s “Ethnic Differences Emerge in Plastic Surgery” was an eye-opening [no pun intended] article; the author followed trends along the lines of ethnic preferences among patients of plastic surgery in New York City. The most prominent feature [again. . .] in this article was the idea that while some immigrants prefer to undergo surgery for the sake of fitting into the hegemonic standards of beauty, to better assimilate, others preferred surgeries that would make them fit in to the (self) perceived characteristics for their own ethnic group; the most conspicuous Caribbean group in this article, Dominicans.

Dolnick writes, “As the demand for surgical enhancement explodes around the world, New York has developed a host of niche markets that allow the city’s many immigrants to get tucks and tweaks that are carefully tailored to their cultural preferences and ideals of beauty. Just as they can find Lebanese grape leaves or bowls of Vietnamese pho that taste of home, immigrants can locate surgeons able to recreate the cleavage of Thalía, the Mexican singer, or the bright eyes of Lee Hyori, the Korean pop star.”

It is not surprising to see that the article focuses on the groups with more purchasing power in the city. The article gives diverse example of surgical preference, some broken down into specific regions because, as the author says, “In New York, new clinics have opened in immigrant enclaves, and existing practices have expanded to keep up with demand.” So, explains the article, since 2009, more and more Chinese patients want their noses flipped down rather than upturned; Koreans in Chinatown are having jaw lines slimmed; Russian women in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, want their breasts enlarged; Iranians favor nose jobs; and a variety of Asian groups prefer the “double-eyelid surgery,” which creates a crease in the eyelid that can make the eye look rounder; all procedures meant to “be part of the acceptable culture and the acceptable ethnicity [and] to look more Westernized,” according to Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology at Hunter Hunter College.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a professor of sociology at Queens College, explains that “the extreme makeover is, in many ways, a tradition among the city’s immigrants. A century ago, in the early days of cosmetic surgery, European Jews underwent nose jobs and Irish immigrants had their ears pinned back in attempts to look ‘more American.’ [. . .] The bulk of those operations were targeted at assimilation issues.”

What I found more fascinating in this article were examples of immigrants who wish to conform to their own or the generally perceived models of beauty for their particular groups or nations of origin. Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh, the president of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, says, “We are sort of amateur sociologists. [. . .] When a patient comes in from a certain ethnic background and of a certain age, we know what they’re going to be looking for.”

Some changes are explained more by cultural beliefs in the communities rather than models of beauty. For example, in Flushing, “home to a vibrant Asian community with many recent immigrants,” Dr. Steve Lee, a native of Taiwan, explains that the procedure for turning noses down rather than up has to do with a traditional belief that prominent nostrils allow fortune to spill out. He also says that some Chinese believe that prominent earlobes are auspicious, signs of prosperity, so some of his male patients have asked him to inject a cosmetic filler into his earlobes to make them longer.

Meanwhile, Dominicans would fit into the group that conforms to certain patterns from their “home cultures.” Dolnick writes, “At a plastic surgery clinic in Upper Manhattan that caters to Dominicans, one of the most popular procedures is an operation to lift women’s buttocks, because—as the doctor explains—‘they all like the curve.’” Apparently Dominicans are looking for more “Latina silhouettes.”

Dr. Jeffrey S. Yager, a plastic surgeon who speaks Spanish and has an office in Washington Heights, a largely Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan, says, “My patients are proud of looking Hispanic. I don’t get the patients who want to obscure their ethnicity.” One of his Dominican patients, who received breast implants in 2008 and is considering a buttocks lift, explains, “We Latinas define ourselves with our bodies. We always have curves.” I can’t help but wonder what our Dominican readers have to say about this!

Dolnick goes on to explain that this patient uses the words “pecho” and “personalidad” (Spanish for “breast” and “personality”) to “coin” a term that could serve as Dr. Yager’s motto: “Now, I’m a person with a lot of ‘pechonalidad!’” I must explain that this term was not coined on the spot; it has been used jokingly for decades by a great variety of peoples of Hispanic origin, which perhaps makes it all the more problematic. This said, as a Puerto Rican feminist who studies Caribbean cultures, I am dying to read our readers’ comments on this topic. [Where is Lola when you need her?]

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/nyregion/19plastic.html?pagewanted=1

One thought on “A “Sociology” of Immigrants through Plastic Surgery Trends?

  1. One of the trends that I have noticed in the Dominican Republic when it comes to plastic surgery is that many young girls are having nose jobs to make their nose more westernized, finer. They tend to turn the nose up and add more of a bridge. This is to attempt to look more fair and European less African.

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