‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil


Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia. alexander.edmonds@mq.edu.au


Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in hospitals that offer cosmetic surgery to the poor, this article examines the causes of a rapid growth in plastic surgery rates in Brazil over the past two decades. It argues that problems with diverse social origins manifest themselves as aesthetic defects, which are diagnosed and treated by the beauty industry. But plastic surgery also incites the consumer desires of people on the margins of the market economy and mobilizes a racialized ‘beauty myth’ (a key trope in national identity) in marketing and clinical practice. Beauty practices offer a means to compete in a neoliberal libidinal economy where anxieties surrounding new markets of work and sex mingle with fantasies of social mobility, glamour, and modernity.