Monday, June 10, 2013

Are Those Puppies Real or What?

Watching re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210 (by the way: Beverly Hills High School isn't in the 90210 zip code  --it's in 90212.  And the show wasn't even shot at Beverly Hills High --it was shot at Torrance High.  Hell, the whole show wasn't even shot in Beverly Hills --Van Nuys, Los Angeles [on Pico Blvd.], Alta Dena, Eagle Rock [where some of them went to college], Hermosa Beach and Santa Clarita were all stand-in locations), I saw a lot of things that were fake: boobs, tans, abs, eyelashes, boobs, shoulders, boobs, hair color, boobs and boobs.  This reminded me of something that totally amazed me about California when I lived out there.  You know how local businesses can "adopt a highway?"  In California, there are stretches of the Long Beach Freeway that have been "adopted" by competing plastic surgery medical practices.  This all got me wondering: when did plastic surgery start and why do people do it?
These are so not fake.
And that's all my own collagen in my lips.

It seems that people have always been messing with their bodies.  In prehistoric times, Neanderthal people and some proto-Homo Sapiens practiced something called artificial cranial deformation, a.k.a. head-binding, in order to give people heads that were more egg-shaped than round.  The first written report of this practice comes from Herodotus, the Greek guy who invented history (really, he did!), who wrote about these people called the Maccrocephali, or People-with-wicked-long-heads as they were also known.  Head binding is where you take a baby's head and tie a rope around it while the kid's skull is still growing.  Some people, the Huns especially, added a board to this arrangement to give the head a slightly longer, flatter, whacked-with-a-frying-pan look that was considered hot amongst the Huns. The pressure of rope and board changed the baby's skull's shape as it grew into an adult.  I guess the societies that practiced this intentional deforming process on its defenseless babies thought long heads were beautiful.  I think they're kind of creepy looking.  But whatever, one can make the argument that this was the first plastic surgery, since it changed the looks of a person's body for purely aesthetic reasons.
Tell me that you DON't think this
Egyptian chick was an alien.

Another contender for the first plastic surgery-like practice is the ancient and honorable (not to mention colorful and borderline skeezy) practice of tattooing.   The only prehistoric guy we know for sure who had tattoos is Otzi, a.k.a. the Ice Man.  This poor bugger was murdered up in the Alps sometime during the early Bronze Age, died, was frozen into a glacier, was found by hikers in the 1990's, was then chopped-out of the glacier and moved to his own private combination refrigerator/museum in Bolzano, Italy.  His tattoos are on his back and legs, and consist of groups of three parallel lines (hey, those early Bronze Age tattoo artists weren't all that artsy, I guess).  Egyptians and Nubians both practiced tattooing, as did the Greeks, Germans, Gauls, Thracians and ancient (as opposed to middle-aged) Britons.  Once again, the human body is modified to make it look prettier, scarier, or more hip than the standard-issue body.  Piercings (ears, noses, lips, scroutms [scroti?], nipples and other parts) have all turned parts of our bodies into living bulletin-boards for people to display their bling.
Somebody give this guy a ring.
Oh wait, he already has about about 100.
But what we think of as plastic surgery (nip, tuck, lift and stuff) started in classical India about 800 B.C.E. (Before Crap Existed) when someone named Sushruta started doing skin grafts, mainly to help people who had been maimed by fire, but he occasionally helped out the random Hindu Raj suffering from terminal acne.  Later, ol' Sushruta's students branched out into nose-jobs.  In 1794, the British magazine Gentleman's Magazine which was presumably published by gentlemen for gentlemen ran a great article on the nose-jobbery of one Kumhar Vaidya, and suddenly, Englishmen and Englishwomen were getting those colossal English noses trimmed, shrunk and otherwise brought to heel.
Wish I had that nose full of sixpences.

As surgery in general got safer with the addition of anesthetics, antibiotics, cool looking scrubs and sterilized tools, reconstructive surgery got better and more ambitious. In America, the first plastic surgeon, John Peter Mettauer, was the first doctor ever to repair a cleft palate.  He did this in 1827.  Since he was the first person to do this, he had to invent all the tools he used in that operation.  But throughout the rest of the 19th century, all the big advances seemed to be in nose-jobs.

Why the fixation on noses?  It's as plain as the nose on your face.  The nose is the first thing you see when you look at your face.  If you're dissatisfied with your looks, the easiest and most obvious thing to fix is your nose. Another reason is that since it's completely made out of cartilage, your nose can get really damaged by infections, right-hooks, left jabs and such. It can get chewed off, sliced off, burned off, punched in --the poor nose!  No wonder an entire branch of surgery was invented to protect it.

For plastic surgery to take its next giant leap forward, a major war was needed.  Because they often survived their planes getting shot down but usually got horribly burned on the way down, British RAF pilots formed the so-called "Guinea Pig Club" after WWII with the aim of 1) fixing their burned and scarred faces and bodies; and 2) giving Britain's budding plastic surgeons a willing bunch to practice their arts on.  But the most amazing plastic surgery to take place right after WWII was performed by New Zealand's Harold Gillies when he did the first Sheila-to-Bruce sex-reassignment procedure by adding a... YOU know what he added! --to a former woman who ever after was allowed to stand when peeing.
Contrary to popular belief,
it wasn't David Bowie.

But I'll bet I know what all of you degenerates want to know: who had the first boob-job and when?  Well, keep wondering.  Besides, most boob surgery is done to remove breasts that have cancerous tumors, fix the scars from that surgery, and  --I am SO not making this up! --reduce a woman's breast size.  I know I know, why would a woman do such a thing?  Well, probably because they're way too heavy for some women to lug around.  Really big boobs can totally wreck a woman's posture and give her severe back and spinal issues.  That, plus the fact that she might consider them ugly or make her feel like a freak.  Shakespeare reminds us (in iambic pentameter, nonetheless!) "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown;" he might also have written "Strained is the back that lifts the sweater-puppies."

Today, one can get a face-lift, boob-lift, butt-lift, botox injection (for that permanently serene face that is physically incapable of scowling or showing much emotion at all); lines, varicose veins and crow's feet can be banished; dimples and cleft chins (hell, ANY kind of chin) can be added.  Nip, tuck, stuff --if you have the money for it.
Ok people: Joan Rivers or Master Yoda?
Discuss, discuss...

The biggest thing to remember about plastic surgery is that although it may use people's vanity as a marketing tool, a successful series of surgeries can literally transform a person's life.  A woman trapped inside a man's body can be freed; a horribly disfigured person can  feel like they belong to the human community; a woman with breast cancer can have her life saved (and have implants afterwards if she wishes); bodies can be made to appear whole and sound even after traumatic injuries.

As with most improvements and innovation, plastic surgery can be a bit of a double-edged scalpel.  Just watch TLC (TLC: we used to be educational, but we're now America's televised freak show) to see people who are plastic surgery junkies or who have had surgeries that have gone horribly wrong.  But on balance, it's a better world (not to mention a prettier world!) with plastic surgery in it.

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