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American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection Hardcover – December 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780807000557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807000557
  • ASIN: 0807000558
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,773,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Essig, assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College, argues that our national obsession with plastic money and plastic surgery is more than a cultural fad; it's a capitalist conspiracy engineered to persuade Americans that problems of economic insecurity, downward mobility, and lack of opportunity for the poor can be solved by consumption. Essig posits that the national tendency toward self-reinvention has been hijacked into a new and impossible American Dream: attaining the perfect body. She traces this shift to the 1980s, when trickle-down Reaganomics, financial deregulation, and the AMA's decision to allow cosmetic surgery marketing converged with a neoliberal rhetoric wherein "public issues became defined as personal troubles and problems of lifestyles." America's classic preoccupations with "rugged individualism" and "self-improvement" shifted to the literal canvas of our physical bodies; the result, Essig cautions, is a "plastic ideological complex," a relationship to our personal and national self-image that will lead to an economically and emotionally insecure future. Essig has a brisk, smart style and she approaches her subject with a welcome serving of wit--which keeps her message on target even as some of her prescriptions (forming "reality-check" groups with our friends) are woefully insufficient. (Dec.)
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“American Plastic is an incisive analysis and critique of the rise of the cosmetic surgery industry. Challenging the underpinnings of contemporary Neoliberalism, which spawned an unregulated ‘cosmetic industrial complex’ that is fueled by rising economic inequality and socially irresponsible consumer lending, Essig illuminates the political, social, and economic costs of the uniquely American quest for ‘perfection.’  Its narrative ying and yang of boob jobs and credit cards gives new meaning to ‘plastic peril.’” —Robert D. Manning, author, Credit Card Nation, and Director, Institute for Consumer Financial Services

American Plastic is a playful but deadly earnest reportage on plastic America – the fateful collisions of cosmetic surgery and credit (which pays for most of it), beauty and pornography (which now defines beauty), and technology and perfection (which technology affects to make possible). Capturing the many meanings of plastic and plasticity, Laurie Essig portrays a society which, on the way to trying to remake the female body, is unmaking its core reality in ways equally devastating to women and the economy. Women will read this book, men need to.”—Benjamin R. Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld and Consumed, Distinguished Senior Fellow, DEMOS

“A fascinating, original, and engaging exploration of the connection between plastic surgery and our economic crisis. Laurie Essig illuminates the dark side of the promise of perfection and offers inspirational strategies for change.”
—Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., creator of the Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women film series and author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel

"Laurie Essig provides a freewheeling, interdisciplinary commentary on the special connections between culture, economics and the cosmetic surgery industry. Through fieldwork with consumers as well as providers, she explores with humor and understanding the willingness of Americans to take on high interest loans to reshape their bodies. If you know nothing about the medical credit world, this is a revealing and provocative book." —Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls and Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa

“Since Dustin Hoffman heard that memorable ‘just one word,’  plastic has re-made American society. In a stroke of brilliance, Laurie Essig brings together plastic credit cards, bodies, and gender identities by telling the story of how economic insecurity has intersected with the celebrity culture and the neo-liberal ideology of choice. Essig's well-researched and original analysis deserves our serious attention.”—Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth

“Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.”— Kirkus Reviews

“Essig has a brisk, smart style and she approaches her subject with a welcome serving of wit”—Publisher's Weekly

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JYK on January 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The author started with a big premise - the cosmetic surgery contributed to the collapse of the American economy - but didn't quite manage to answer it. The book was an interesting sociological observation on the impact of cosmetic surgery in the American society, but she failed to provide quantitative analyses that link cosmetic surgery to the economic collapse or the chain of events leading to it. She included a lot of anecdotal examples, but I was looking for more concrete data.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Troy Ramons on June 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Essig states that she was neither against nor for plastic surgery but she blatantly contradicts her premise many times throughout the book. The beginning was rather interesting: Essig writes that neoliberalism caused economic policies that increased the income gap between the American socioeconomic classes, which in turn, caused a "lipstick" effect in which people during down times would splurge on themselves as a method of self-rejuvenation. As the book progresses, it gets more and more sloppy. If you were to buy this book, read the first chapter and maybe skim the last parts. The second and final reason to read the book was the surgeons' points of views (not very thought provoking, but somewhat entertaining).

If you were going to cite this for your research, think again; this book is nothing more than personal musings from a confused author.
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More About the Author

Laurie Essig teaches sociology at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. She has written for a variety of publications, including Legal Affairs, Salon, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Essig's blog, Class Warfare, at True/Slant, applies critical theory from the classroom to the news of the day.

Photo by Liza Cowan.