Add to Cart About Beauty Junkies A star writer for the New York Times Styles section captures the follies, frauds, and fanaticism that fuel the American pursuit of youth and beauty in a wickedly revealing excursion into the burgeoning business of cosmetic enhancement. Americans are aging faster and getting fatter than any other population on the planet. Aging may be a natural fact of life, but for a growing number of Americans its hallmarks—wrinkles, love handles, jiggling flesh—are seen as obstacles to be conquered on the path to lasting, flawless beauty. In New York, lawyers become Botox junkies in an effort to remain poker-faced. In Los Angeles, women of an uncertain age nip and tuck their most private areas, so that every inch of their bodies is as taut as their lifted faces. Across the country, young women graduating from high school receive gifts of breast implants — from their parents.

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Men who lie to several doctors in order to make sure they get Botox shots every eight weeks. Young women modelling themselves on porn stars. People willingly having themselves injected with corpse flesh and collagen derived from the stem cells of an infants foreskin to get Angelina Jolie-like lips. Makeover subjects who all end up looking the same, conforming to the same dull beauty ideal.

Bel Air wives who spend all day looking after their own bodies. Women who pose topless at websites in order to earn money for breast implants. Dentists who insist that they, too, are entitled to perform plastic surgery so as to be able to cash in on the beauty fad. Kuczynski quotes some staggering figures to prove that America is well and truly obsessed with cosmetic surgery.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the chapter in which Kuczynski traces the historical origins of plastic surgery, in an age when it had nothing to do with getting bigger boobs, but everything with being made somewhat socially acceptable. Kuczynski describes sixteenth-century nose jobs which were awfully uncomfortable to the patients and frequently resulted in noses falling off in cold weather, disastrous late-nineteenth-century attempts to fill facial lines, and early-twentieth-century techniques to restore the faces of WWI soldiers who had had their jaws blown off in combat.

Instead, however, she very quickly takes us to the present day, describing all manner of obsessions, excesses and nasty experiences including a few of her own to convince us that things have got a little out of hand.

My main problem with Beauty Junkies is that it is incoherent and unfocused. Kuczynski has some interesting, well-researched stories to tell, and she undeniably has an easy-to-read writing style, but the way the stories are linked together is not particularly smooth.

It is clear the book started out as a collection of newspaper articles rather than as a scholarly endeavour, making it rather less successful as an in-depth analysis of a cultural phenomenon.

Furthermore, it seems Kuczynski cannot make up her mind as to whether the book is to be about herself or not. She brings up her own experiences far too many times for Beauty Junkies to be an objective read, but too few times to make it a proper memoir.


Alex Kuczynski



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