Rated Reads

Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery

by Alex Kuczynski

Rated: Moderate

You wouldn’t believe what people are having done to themselves under the knife. Sure, breast implants are performed so often that women with flat chests are becoming a thing of the past and face lifts and liposuction are smoothing out unsightly lines and bulk. But then there are the newest fads, particularly hot in Los Angeles, where women are having their private parts nipped and “freshened up.” Yeah. It’s a little scary.

New York Times writer Alex Kuczynski became a sort of “beat” reporter for the cosmetic enhancement arena, covering the latest trends and investigating issues and problems. But living in New York City and being privy to all this information enticed her into going under the knife and needle a number of times herself. She says she became a bit addicted to Botox and then to collagen (and newer fillers) injections. The injections she received on the day of a close friend’s funeral that caused her lips to swell beyond recognition caused her to “hit bottom” and quit the procedures cold turkey.

Beauty Junkies is her book-length foray into the world of cosmetic surgery and the lengths people to which will go to make themselves look perfect, or at least as perfect as the people around them. It’s full of interesting information, anecdotes, and even practical advice on how to find a reputable surgeon if you still want to have a procedure done after reading the rest of the book.

Not only is the book fascinating, as hard to tear yourself away from as a car accident, but it’s funny. Kuczynski writes wryly of the society that has encouraged these extreme measures to avoid aging, of the personalities of people who engage in routine procedures, and of the millions of dollars spent by medical professionals and organizations to market their fountains of youth. Some humorous tidbits: she follows a pair of women who take a trip to South Africa to get plastic surgery combined with a safari. A brand of synthetic collagen is made from the fetal foreskin stem cells of a baby boy born in the early 1990s, who “does not know that cells from his genitals now plump up the lips of hundreds of thousands of men and women around the planet. This is good news. One can only imagine the psychiatry bill.”

Beauty Junkies is a fun indulgence for those of us who enjoy reading about the follies of others. Even better, it is educational. How could one resist?

Rated: Moderate. There is one use of strong language, a handful of uses of moderate language and some rougher terms describing body parts. There aren’t many gory details describing procedures.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery
  • by Alex Kuczynski
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: