Cosmetic surgery: the cutting edge of workplace competition

Cosmetic surgery is fast becoming an addiction to quell the insecurities of the modern workplace and enhance job prospects: according to Flinders University sociologist Professor Anthony Elliott, more and more people are undergoing the surgeon’s knife as a “quick fix”, fuelling a global boom in cosmetic surgical procedures.

No longer the exclusive realm of the wealthy, the annual bill for procedures such as liposuction, face-lifts and breast enhancement is estimated to exceed US$20 billion in the US, while Australians are expected to spend some $350 million on cosmetic surgery in 2008.

Conventionally, the epidemic-like spread of cosmetic surgery is attributed to obsession with celebrity culture and life-style consumerism, but in his new book, Making the Cut: How Cosmetic Surgery Is Transforming Our Lives, Professor Elliott argues that global economic changes are creating a sense of profound uncertainty and even fear among individuals, and that the move to cosmetic surgery is a key response.

“The core of it, for me, hinges on a number of big changes to do with the global economy, particularly in terms of our new ways of working: that is, a shift away from very organisationally structured, long-term jobs for life with pensions, to a world characterised by contract-driven, short-term segments of labour and just-in-time delivery,” he said.

Professor Elliott said the social group showing the biggest growth as consumers of cosmetic surgery is middle-class professionals, typically corporate high-flyers.

In the fluid world of corporate networking, he said qualities like flexibility and adaptability tend to be more highly valued by management than a record of achievement.

“And some of the stories I recount in the book show that people are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to redesign their appearance, their body, their face, in order to give them a kind of edge in the marketplace, or their place of employment,” Professor Elliott said.

Many people show an alarming willingness to favour a quick fix solution over the physical and psychological risks of surgery or considerations of long-term health.

“Bodies today are pumped, pummelled, plucked, suctioned, stitched, shrunk and surgically augmented at an astonishing rate,” he said.

“The global electronic economy has introduced new anxieties that are increasingly resolved by people at the level of the body and bodily appearance.”

Making the Cut is published by Reaktion Books and sells for $47.95.

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