Laurie Toby Edison

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Plastic Surgery and Kids’ Books in Newsweek

Laurie and Debbie say:

A lot of people have been up in arms since this story about a book for young children justifying their mom’s plastic surgery appeared in this week’s Newsweek:

What’s the market for a children’s picture book about moms getting cosmetic surgery? No one specifically tracks the number of tummy-tuck-and-breast-implant combos (or “mommy makeovers,” as they’re called), but according to the latest numbers from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation was the most popular cosmetic surgery procedure last year, with 348,000 performed (up 6 percent over 2006). Of those, about one-third were for women over 40 who often opt for implants to restore lost volume in their breasts due to aging or pregnancy weight gain. There were 148,000 tummy tucks—up 1 percent from the previous year.

We decided it was another of those stories which we couldn’t say anything about except how horrible it was, and blogged about something else.

Today, Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light picked up a very different slant:

You’d think that somewhere in those three pages of titillating handwringing, [reporter Karen] Springen would have gotten round to mentioning that My Beautiful Mommy is a self-published vanity-press book available only from its “publisher”—or, presumably, from Dr. Michael Salzhauer.

Big Tent/Dragonpencil has the usual problem of vanity presses: zero to lousy sales and distribution. They’re a lot better at making books than they are at promoting them. Only a few of their titles are even listed at Amazon, and those are listed badly—half the normal publisher-furnished information is missing. Sales are minimal.

My Beautiful Mommy is not one of the books Big Tent lists on Amazon. It has no ISBN that I can detect—and this close to its publication date, I should be able to detect one. Clearly, this book is not destined to make its way to the shelves of your local bookstore.

Teresa is on a tireless crusade to save authors from publishing scams. Read the whole article both for the publishing information and how well she skewers the reporter and Newsweek for neglecting to do their homework.

We also see something else, however. Why is Newsweek devoting any ink at all to this non-story? Why did they ever even think about publishing it, research or no research?

Because My Beautiful Mommy sounds like a real book, from a real publisher. Because it’s a very small stretch to believe that you could walk into your neighborhood Barnes & Noble and find it in the children’s section. The book may be a vanity exercise, but the message is in the air.

The first paragraph of the original article actually says it all: in it, a young boy calls his mom’s post-weight-loss stomach “pruney,” and the mom and the author make an instant jump to “ugly.” Twenty years ago, that would just have been, “Hey, your tummy looks like the prunes you made me eat last week,” observation, rather than value judgment.

But plastic surgery has reached a tipping point, moving from something a minority of people have done and don’t mention to something mainstream and extremely acceptable. This is inextricably connected with the expectation that every comment on the body is a value judgment (as if every adult was still living in teenagerdom, where every comment is a value judgment). The folks making money want us all to feel criticized, and feeling criticized makes us want to spend money to fix it. If you’re not restoring your hymen, or botoxing your wrinkles, you can have your stomach de-pruned, and it will make you “feel better about yourself.”

This makes it seem plausible that someone could write and sell the same kind of book that parents buy to help children manage normal experiences like having a new baby brother, or moving to a new city, except this one is about mommy’s plastic surgery.

Newsweek and Springen should be ashamed of themselves. By fabricating a news story that pushes the edge of everyday experience, you normalize it, and amplify the pervasive power of the toxic message.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for pointing us at the original story.

One Response to “Plastic Surgery and Kids’ Books in Newsweek”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I’m generally critical of plastic surgery, too, but I had to admit, if I had the money, I would totally get a pannectomy or tummy tuck. I lost a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time and I have lots of loose excess skin on my abdomen. It makes buying pants difficult, because I have to buy high-rise pants and it causes minor skin irritations. With the increasing popularity of WLS, I can totally understand why more and more people are having tummy tucks. I didn’t have WLS, but the results I experienced are similar to people who do have WLS. Loose skin, especially on the abdomen, can cause all kinds and degrees of skin rashes, irritation and even infection. Insurance will often not cover cosmetic procedures, but they will cover plastic surgery if the condition poses a medical problem, making plastic surgery more popular and within reach of people who may otherwise not have been able to afford it.

    Of course, it is not without its dangers, too. I worked with a women (who I did not know) who had WLS and desperately wanted a tummy tuck. Her insurance would not pay for it, but its common knowledge that if you develop a hernia, doctors often throw in the tummy tuck in with the surgery. And because its for a hernia, insurance covers it. Many people with WLS will deliberately eat foods they aren’t supposed to in order to give themselves a hernia. My former coworker ended up dieing as a result of her efforts.

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