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'Pretty Modern' by Alexander Edmonds, assistant professor of Anthroplogy at the University of Amsterdam, deals with the emergence of Brazil as a global leader in the field of cosmetic surgery, which has become common in all strata of society.

Brazil is one of the world leaders in the field of plastic surgery. Public hospitals often offer free cosmetic surgery and ‘plástica’ is therefore an achievable goal even for people who cannot afford a bus ticket to the clinic. How has plastic surgery become so important in Brazilian culture and economy? And why do Brazilians see beauty as a ‘right’ for everyone? The recently published book Pretty Modern by Alexander Edmonds, an anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam, deals with these topics.

Edmonds did research among women from all strata of Brazilian society. He had conversations with maids and their employers amongst the elite, divorced wives, black celebrities (from telenovelas), and female inhabitants of favelas who aspire to a modelling career. Edmonds uses these interviews as the basis for an analysis of what sexual attraction means and does for women in different social positions. In addition, Edmonds analyses the importance of beauty in the cultural industry, the racial politics and the medical ‘management’ of female reproduction in Brazil.

Beauty as egalitarian form of social capital

Edmonds argues that physical beauty has greater significance for the underprivileged. The social effects of attractiveness transcend traditional class distinctions and cultural boundaries. Plastic surgery encourages a vision of beauty as an egalitarian form of social capital, a form that is less dependent on social origin, education and connections. It symbolises the ambiguous emancipatory opportunities offered by money and challenges traditional hierarchies. At the same time however, consumers are lured into a sexual culture that reduces the body to the cruel biological criteria of attractiveness. In his book, Edmonds offers a new theoretical perspective on the significance of female beauty in consumer capitalism. The book is illustrated with pictures from Brazilian media and color photographs taken by Edmonds.

Publication details

Alexander Edmonds: Pretty Modern. Beauty, sex, and plastic surgery in Brazil (Duke University Press).
ISBN: 978-0-8223-4801-6