Date of Graduation

Fall 12-14-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies


International Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Nicole Raeburn


What is driving the globalization of cosmetic surgery? Using BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries as a model, this master's thesis systematically identifies and analyzes (1) the origins of cosmetic surgery in historical, regional, and country-specific terms, and (2) examples of how cosmetic surgery has become normalized. As a result, clear patterns emerge in regards to: embedded power structures related to racism and war; the results of Western interests rapidly opening countries’ markets to high media and corporate influence—especially in the wake of political oppression and austerity; the exacerbation of pre-existing class, color, race, and gender prejudice by hyper-consumerism; the perception of the beauty industry and global beauty pageants as a gateway to the "modern" world's stage; and the practice of “Westernized” cosmetic surgery becoming synonymous with concepts of status, upward mobility, and a social transition to global citizenship. These overall patterns allowed for the subsequent analysis of a third key question: (3) Who ultimately benefits from mass-consumer cosmetic surgery? Following a comprehensive comparative analysis and a sustained theoretical framework concluding with a Foucauldian explanation of relationships of force, I argue that the globalization of cosmetic surgery is driven by pre-existing sociohistorical power structures that serve the status quo—benefitting exclusionary cultural, cosmetic, and corporate systems from the West (and those who run them), and thereby precluding authentic opportunities for individual enfranchisement via cosmetic surgery on a macro level. Furthermore, I argue that by constructing and labeling "modernity" in terms that benefit the status quo and reflect historical relationships of force, developed nations maintain hegemonic control in their own image; meaning that fast-developing countries must follow existing neoliberal consumer models if they want to enter the global stage—and look the part. Accordingly, the racist and bellicose discursive origins of cosmetic surgery are an inconvenient truth that "modern" cosmetic surgery culture seeks to ignore in order to self-perpetuate and evolve with the demands of capitalism. Recommendations for future study in this field include the industries of medical tourism, skin lightening products, and tissue harvesting, as well as an expanding market of cosmetic surgery for teens and children.