9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Consumption and Identification Building II, C5.02

The consumption of aesthetic surgery in Italy: old gaps, new vocabularies

Aesthetic surgery represents an ever-increasing market in Europe, having reached unprecedented levels of growth in the last twenty years. Through an analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data, this paper tries to evaluate the import of this market and to investigate the ways in which it concerns people of different ranks, classes, age, educational level and gender.
The first part of the paper examines the dissemination of aesthetic surgery on Italian territory through a survey of yellow-pages data on the professional practices of surgeons. This introductory glance shows very clearly that the distribution of aesthetic surgery is more similar to the distribution of fitness and beauty business-related services than that of other kinds of surgery. The outcomes of an original survey conducted in Italy in 2005-2006 on a sample of 5060 individuals are then presented. These data show that there is an urgency to assess the real proportions of the phenomenon, stressing the existence of gender and educational level gaps among people declaring to have undergone aesthetic surgery or to be willing to undergo aesthetic surgery procedures in the near future. At the same time, these data show an important change in relation to younger generations, who are significantly better disposed toward aesthetic surgery.
The second part of the paper is based on qualitative interviews with patients as well as with aesthetic surgeons. This second part also contributes to throwing light on the way in which people of different age, gender and educational levels look at aesthetic surgery as well as what repertories and vocabulary they deploy in order to legitimate it.
Conclusions underline that media provide a stereotyped image of aesthetic surgery, presenting it as something relevant to ordinary people in everyday life and underestimating differences; but data are far from confirming it.