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Lieberman, J.S. (1999). Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul: Race and Psychology in the Shaping of Aesthetic Surgery: Sander L. Gilman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, xii + 179 pp., $21.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1442-1443.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1442-1443

Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul: Race and Psychology in the Shaping of Aesthetic Surgery: Sander L. Gilman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, xii + 179 pp., $21.95.

Review by:
Janice S. Lieberman

This small volume, the most recent in a series by Sander L. Gilman on biological racism and its role in the perpetuation of anti-Semitism, instructed and fascinated me, but I found it maddening to read. This could have been an important and provocative book—it addresses cultural notions and norms related to the psychology of appearance, a topic that has received scant attention in the psychoanalytic literature, but is of concern to many analysands. The breadth and depth of Gilman's knowledge and scholarship is dazzling, but from the very beginning I felt trapped in a crucible of partial information, seething in the intensity of Gilman's narrow focus on one aspect of a much broader topic. Gilman, a scholar who seems to have an ax to grind, claims that race and psychology and aesthetic surgery are the subjects of this book, yet he presents ideas almost exclusively about plastic surgery of the nose (rhinoplasty)—in particular, the Jewish nose.

Gilman begins by citing recent statistics confirming the frequency of aesthetic surgery currently being performed on both males and females; he goes on to relate the beginnings of aesthetic surgery to thinking about hysteria, and then proceeds to psychosomatic illness and the mind-body dilemma. He presents the theories of Roe, Morselli, Kretschmer, Adler, Schilder, and Lecky, among others. He reminds us that psychoanalysis began with the study of the concrete body, the “real” body, and then moved away toward fantasies about the body. Aesthetic surgery began as a form of psychotherapy for dysphoria, and still serves that purpose for some.

The main thesis of this book is that all aesthetic surgery, whether performed by Jew or Gentile or on Jew or Gentile, on whatever part of the body or face, is related to the unfortunate history of hatred of the Jewish body—the view of the Jew as the ugly, smelly, syphilitic, dark-skinned embodiment of evil—a hatred that Gilman has well chronicled in the past. He is quite judgmental and sanctimonious about aesthetic surgery, and skeptical about there being any motive for undertaking it, as patient or surgeon, apart from the wish to deny Jewish origins and to assimilate. The book can be described as “nasocentric” (he speaks of “nostrility”) rather than “phallocentric.”

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