The Emergence of Cosmetic Surgery

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Cosmetic surgery originated from the development of reconstructive surgical techniques that were designed, first and foremost to address physical deformities and bring about physical change. Surgical reconstructive techniques aimed to help the patient’s physical appearance fall within the normal range of variation and therefore remove stigma. Reconstructive surgery has been performed since ancient times to address the problem of congenital deformities, as well as deformities caused by injury or disease. The first written account of a plastic surgery for nose and ear lobe reconstruction was in 600 BC.


Cosmetic Surgery – 600 BC

As an offshoot, cosmetic surgery began to take shape from these initial experiments which took place 600 years before Christ, when a British physician attempted the “Indian method” of surgery to reconstruct a nose in 1794. His experiments were reported in the The Gentlemen’s Magazine, which gave rise to modern interest in procedures designed to modify physical appearance, although a strong stigma still surrounded plastic surgery at that time.

Nearly two hundred years prior to 1794, and that first article that spurred interest in cosmetic surgery, Gaspare Tagliacozzi wrote a book devoted to plastic surgery techniques. It was controversial and it incited the judgment of the clergy. In its earliest days, the church had frowned on surgically tampering with Divine Will, so n early reconstructive surgeries went unreported for many years. Between the 1600’s and the 1700’s, the practice of reconstructive surgery fell into general disrepute.


Renaissance of the reconstructive surgery

In the 1800’s, however, a renaissance of reconstructive surgery experiments began to take shape. Joseph Carpue reconstructed 2 noses, one in 1814 and another in 1815 using the Indian method. A year later, in 1816, Carl Ferdinand von Graefe used the Tagliacozzi method to reconstruct a nose. He continued with his reconstructive efforts and went on to reconstruct a cleft palate, a lower eyelid, and a cheek as well. Von Graefe is considered the founder of modern plastic surgery because of the wide array of different surgeries he attempted successfully. Other plastic and reconstructive surgeons followed who improved on the Indian technique and in the 1800’s, “flaps” of skin were all the rage as physicians considered all the angles on this new technology in light of the development of anesthesia and antiseptic.

Modern plastic surgery innovation

It wasn’t until World War I that cosmetic surgery became widespread and more acceptable by the general public. Soldiers had their jaws blown off and various socially stigmatizing and physically debilitating wounds that demanded surgical intervention. Skin flaps and skin grafts were trendy during this time as physicians were able to push past previous thresholds to make it possible for war-injured men to return to work and to their families as a result of cosmetic adjustments.

Modern Cosmetic Surgery

Liposuction in modern cosmetic surgery (pics by Chicago Liposuction Specialty Clinic)

Although reconstructive surgery remains an essential branch of plastic surgery today, cosmetic surgery has a life of its own offering a variety of positive aesthetic changes available to people of both genders and all classes and races. After World War I, the stigma of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery was challenged and society developed more openness toward surgical procedures designed to create a more pleasing aesthetic appearance. The value of beauty as a societal commodity began to be recognized as a feature that was socially as well economically valuable. Today, this trend continues.