The Right To Beauty Cosmetic Surgery And Modern Culture

Have you ever wondered how does culture affect cosmetic surgery? The cosmetic surgery industry is huge, that's just a simple fact. Sought-after for more years than people realise, in the 90s it began to come to the front of consumers's minds, before entering a massive explosion in the 00s when celebrity magazines were flying off the racks and into the 10s where the popularity of social networks has been linked to the rise in people aiming for perfection. My question today is “Do we have a right to beauty?”

While you may have thought lockdown would reduce the amount of people undergoing cosmetic surgery, it has seen a rise, as individuals saying they can recover at home from tummy tucks, lip fillers, facelifts and nose jobs or conceal their treatment behind a mask. But when it comes to surgery, whilst we once lived in a culture where it was hidden, are we becoming more open about it? And has this led to the surge?

beauty in brazil
Portrait of a young Brazilian woman.

While many people may sneer at some who go through cosmetic surgery, in Brazil, there's a little something known as ‘a right to beauty'. This has seen cosmetic surgery cost much less to enable everybody to access these treatments and has even seen the Govt fund nearly 50 percent a million surgeries annually.

The idea of beauty being a human right can be traced right back to the 1950s when a surgeon named Ivo Pitanguy convinced then-president Juscelino Kubitschek that the right to beauty was as vital as any other health need, arguing that ugliness caused so much psychological suffering that it should be considered a humanitarian issue.

right to beauty brazil

Initially, the main beneficiaries of the Right to Beauty were individuals with congenital deformities or burn victims. However, these days the majority of procedures are believed to be purely for aesthetic reasons with surgeons and residents purposely blurring the lines between reconstructive and aesthetic procedures in order to get them approved by the government.

However, these hospitals have largely become a testing ground for innovative procedures and plastic surgeons in training, essentially exposing these patients to more risks.

What is of concern is that, few regulations are in place to protect these patients from malpractice and, given they tend to be lower-income earners, it can be difficult for them to get justice if the procedure goes wrong.

In effect, patients agree to the risk of becoming experimental subjects for the exchange of potential beauty – arguably, a price too high to pay.

There have even been countless stories of Brits taking a trip to Brazil to undergo surgical treatment due to them being less expensive. But, has this culture in Brazil and the rise in people traveling there seen a move in European cultures as more and more people get surgery?

A Cultural Reset

It was documented that the greater part of those going through cosmetic surgery were of European descent. This number stands at around 69% when compared to those of Hispanic (12%), African American (8%) and Asian American (6%).

But what might have caused the rise? Well, it's not difficult to see that social media has played a big part with many influencers choosing surgery alongside celebrities such as Kylie Jenner. And, in a world where influencers and celebrities need to be more authentic to win over audiences, it seems that even if their appearance isn't fully their own, by being open about it makes them more relatable to those that follow them en-masse.

Therefore, it would appear that while we once lived in a culture that hid such details of a secret nose job or lip enhancement, due to our new love of social media we are much more inclined to share our experiences, or believe that we are all have a Right to Beauty, just like those in Brazil have always felt.

Sophie is a writer based in London and contributes to many sites about LGBT issues and self image.