To Spite Your Face: A Brief History Of Cosmetic Surgery

Renee Zellweger With Recent Cosmetic Surgery.

Renee Zellweger With Recent Cosmetic Surgery. Source: Mario Anzuoni (Reuters)

Since the beginning of human history, we as a species have made concerted efforts to change our outward appearances for the better. Scarification, tattooing, and piercing have existed longer than agriculture. Perhaps the most violent and shocking form of human self-beautification is cosmetic surgery: snipping, ripping, stitching, and injecting your body parts to make them bigger, smaller or smoother.

Plastic Surgery Tools

Cosmetic surgery tools described by Sushruta. Source: Internet Scientific Publications

Borne out of reconstructive surgery, the history of cosmetic surgery is older than Jesus. Surgical intervention on disfigured patients was not always functionally necessary (you can still smell without your fleshy nose), but contributed immensely to the psychological well being of the wounded. This was common knowledge in central Asia. Instead of saying “Looks like you’re gonna be really ugly forever without that nose”, Asian healers said “what can we put on you that looks kinda like a nose?” Sushruta was one such healer and, arguably, the first plastic surgeon known to history.

Brahe with visible nose prosthesis.

Brahe With Visible Nose Prosthesis. Artist Unknown. Image Courtesy of NASA

Working in India in the 6th century BC, Sushruta had a lot of firsts, the most important of which being the “wandering” skin graft. In the wandering graft, a piece of skin is harvested for grafting in another part of the body, but left attached by a small bridge of tissue. The missing skin could regrow with the help of this vessel-rich graft, allowing Sushruta to conduct revolutionary reconstructions on damaged features.

Chris Altman
Chris Altman is a freelancing writer and artist based out of Brooklyn, NY.
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