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Aesthetic surgery and the expressive body

Alsop, Rachel; Lennon, Kathleen


Rachel Alsop

Kathleen Lennon


In this paper we explore the relation between bodies and selves evident in the narratives surrounding aesthetic surgery. In much feminist work on aesthetic surgery such narratives have been discussed in terms of the normalising consequences of the objectifying, homogenising, cosmetic gaze. These discussions stress the ways in which we model our bodies, under the gaze of others, in order to conform to social norms. Such an objectified body is contrasted with the subjective body; the body –for –the self. In this paper, however, we wish to make sense of the narratives surrounding such surgery by invoking the expressive body, which fits on neither side of this binary. We wish to explore how the modification of the body’s anatomical features (physiology) are taken to be a modification of its expressive possibilities, and therefore as modifications of possibilities for inter-subjective relations with others. It is such expressive possibilities, which, we suggest, underlie decisions to undergo surgical procedures. The possibility of modification of the expressive possibilities of the body, by the modification of its anatomical features, rests on the social imaginaries attached to anatomical features. In the context of such imaginaries individual decisions to undergo or promote surgery can be both intelligible and potentially empowering. However, the social consequences of such acts are an increasing normalisation of the ‘body under the knife’ and an intolerance of bodily difference. This, we suggest, can only be changed by a re-visioning of bodily imaginaries so that expressive possibilities can be experienced across bodies with a range of physiological features.


Alsop, R., & Lennon, K. (2018). Aesthetic surgery and the expressive body. Feminist Theory, 19(1), 95-112.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 4, 2016
Online Publication Date Nov 8, 2017
Publication Date Apr 1, 2018
Deposit Date Aug 8, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 8, 2017
Journal Feminist theory
Print ISSN 1464-7001
Electronic ISSN 1741-2773
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 95-112
Keywords Aesthetic (cosmetic) surgery, Objectification, Expressive body, Bodily imaginaries, Beauvoir, Simone de, 1908-1986, Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1905-1980
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article which has been accepted for future publication in: Feminist theory.


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