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A Brief Look At Plastic Surgery Through the Ages

Updated on February 9, 2013

Where Did It Start and Where Has It Gone?

The History of Cosmetic Surgery dates back to the Greeks. The word plastic is from the Greek word plasticos for "to fit or mold" and this still a part of the mission of plastic surgeons today. They are re-shaping the human body to make the person less self-conscious, more acceptable by the standards of the society in which they live. Although as the world revolves around only one person, yourself, it is sometimes difficult to just step back and wait. Wait and another night may change the way one perceives the world and themselves.

Some people cannot wait. In actuality, the majority of cosmetic or plastic surgery is not done on patients with glamorous names or a great singing voice. Plastic surgery in its highest form deals with issues of a person’s sense of self that the majority of people never have to face. Plastic surgery has gotten more bad press and has faced more than its share of jeering comments due to the world’s view of what is beauty and the world’s ability to pay someone to make them fit that idea of beauty. That is not what this article will deal with this week. This week the history and the mission of cosmetic surgery needs to be uplifted (pardon the irresistible pun!)

One of the earliest documented cases of reconstructive surgery was in 800 BC, in India. Rhinoplasty and otoplasty are described in detail by Sushruta Samhita and was presented in detail as late as the 18th century in The Gentleman’s Magazine. However, medicine itself was slow to evolve and so was cosmetic surgery. In the 15th century, there were documented accounts of how to make a new nose for a person who had had their nose bitten off and devoured by a dog, though it was not until much later that any form of Rhinoplasty became a safe and common practice.

One of the hardest obstacles to overcome in plastic surgery was pain. This was due to the fact that proper anesthesia was not yet developed. Add to that the high risk of infection and you begin to sense why it has taken so long and what huge hurdles had to be overcome to bring us to where cosmetic surgery is today. From 1792 to 1928, the most commonly performed plastic surgery involved the nose. There are many birth defects associated with the nose and physicians from around the world were able to develop many procedures that successfully gave a sense of self-confidence to their patients.

It was not until the 19th century that Dr. John Peter Mettauer performed the first cleft palate surgery. This operation, so common today and done so early in a child’s life, was in 1827 with instruments Dr Mettauer had to design himself! The 20th century and the Great War also presented many challenges for all physicians and the plastic surgeons were able to improve the lives of thousands of veterans who had given of themselves for the defense of our country. A New Zealander, Sir Harold Gillies was an otolaryngologist developed many of the techniques still performed today for facial reconstruction due to facial trauma. In 1931 the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS) was formed and physicians must pass a qualifying exam to have the honor of being board certified by the ASPRS. Still, it was not until the 1960’s and 1970’s that the realm of plastic surgery expanded and changed, allowing many genres and areas of specific expertise to each plastic surgeon. N 1969 President Nixon appointed ASPS member, Dr. Hal B. Jennings as Surgeon General. Dr Jennings was the first and only plastic surgeon to be awarded this honor.

The founder of the ASPS, Jacques Maliniac, also formed the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation (PSEF) in the late 1940’s and this organization has as their mission statement to support research aimed at advancing information and education on congenital and acquired deformities. This is the true mission of the plastic surgeon, to re-mold congenital and acquired deformities in order to create a life of hope and happiness for their patients.

One of my favorite Star Trek shows was the one where this female pilot crash-lands on another planet where no one there knew what a human looked like. However, the inhabitants of the planet were highly intelligent; their culture was far more advanced than any other planet, indeed, any other solar system. The people of the planet reshaped, refitted, and molded the pilots’ broken body into another form. A form that worked for the purpose of life, but gave no quality of life for the female pilot. However, the people were not without empathy. When the female pilot woke to find her body horribly misaligned, the people of the planet gave her mind the ability to project how she wanted herself to be seen.

The thing about this one episode that has always perplexed me is why was the female pilot still discontent? She was ashamed and acted as if the crew of the Enterprise would not have anything to do with her if they discovered the truth about her form. The majority of the show is about

hidng the truth about the pilots true form. Humans have been doing this very thing since the world began.

Following the truth as to why the pilot sends a distress call then refuses to leave the planet and the truth of the events leading from the crash to her deciding she must stay on this planet forever is essenially the plot of the show. The mystery is solved, within the appropriate timeline for Hollywood but the question goes on and on without an answer.

It is my opinion that some people cannot be at peace with the way they feel on the inside UNLESS the image they project to the world is Correct, in their own mind’s eye, to the people of the world.

This does not mean that they are wrong to receive whatever they want done for their body in order to give them peace with themselves. It means that until humans are content with their own bodes there will always be a niche for plastic surgeons who do only face-lifts, or liposuction, or Rhinoplasty. It also means that until congenital birth defects are diagnosed and remedied in utero there will also be a place for surgeons who treat only infants with congenital deformities.

The world changes, and the plastic surgeon revolves with those changes.


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    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 5 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you Chris!

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      Interesting hub, good info, good insights and well written. Thank you.,

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 5 years ago from Tucson, Az

      Thank you LaserLipo!! :) thank you for these good words!!

    • profile image

      juijui 5 years ago

      plastic surgery rocks. schedule ur apptmt today.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      oh epi you handsome thing don't even think of changing a thing!

      I like thinking of what was or may have been as far as medicine is concerned! :) ole nurse just working here! so glad you enjoyed this trip back!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      .......never thought much about plastic surgery in days gone by this hub subject is indeed enlightening to the epi-man who needs plastic surgery so bad - lol - that he has to have a cat in his profile picture to distract from his bad side - lol lol - love the effort you put into this my friend - it's a world class presentation from a world class writer.

      lake erie time ontario canada 1:29am

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thanks so much WomenHairLoss!!

      that's what I was striing for!! love to you

      barbara b

    • Women'sHairLoss profile image

      Women'sHairLoss 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Interesting perspective on plastic surgery. Nice to NOT read about celebrities for a change!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you wormdo!!

      I had to ask hubby the name of the episode :)

      it was the actual pilot for the series that tells you hubby and my age...they tok clips from the original episode and wove parts of that pilot into the two part episode called "the Menagerie"

      spock was there on that pilot but jeffrey Hunter was the capt and his name was Pike...Jeffrey hunter was the nephew on the john wayne moie called the searchers

      oh my david isn't he the best? now we all know the history behind the episode I mentioned :)

      all I remembered was the two part series with james t kirk...weird isn't it to see him now with his fishin vest on playing that show *&^% my dad says?

      its funny and I like it but its not capt kirk eh?

      guess what else happened today 030711?

      james t kirk wrote and narrated a speech for the discoery and it started "These are the oyages of the starship Discovery etc" now isn't that the best?

      what a wonderful way to remember the star trek and the reality that came about with our oyages among the stars!

      it can only grow and get better, if we, humans, allow it dont you agree?

      love to you, barbara b

    • wormdo profile image

      wormdo 6 years ago

      Fascinating! The Star Trek episode you mention sounds very interesting too, I'll have to check it out.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      you are so very welcome and thank you for the comment!!! love to

    • profile image

      plasticsurgery4u 7 years ago

      Thanks for the page..

      Very good info...

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you yenajeon/I hope you are doing what you want to do now...

      thank you plastic surg pics and male rhinoplasty...I didn't even get an email that you guys had posted here!! must be my laptop getting slow/hmmmm...wonder if I can use that as a reason why I need a new one for my B Day?

      prob'ly not...hubby didn't fall for the I need a bicycle hub after all...huge deprived sigh stage left

      love to you!!

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 7 years ago from California

      This is such an interesting hub. I used to want to be a plastic surgeon. Great Hub=)

    • profile image

      male rhinoplasty 7 years ago

      Very useful article. It is very difficult to find specialized articles on such a high level. Thank you once more!

    • profile image

      Plastic surgery pictures 8 years ago

      Very interesting hub. these days, with the recent "Swine Flu" health scare, many people have been going into hygiene overload - wearing masks, stocking up on sanitizer, and keeping clear of crowded,

      public areas. However, even without a threat of a pandemic running amuck and it is always important to stay in prevention mode when it comes to viral infections.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      Thank you PSChannel...are you an anchorwoman for this new program? I read your bio and it was interesting/thank you for your commnts!

    • PSChannel profile image

      PSChannel 8 years ago from TX, United States

      Such a great read. I glow with pride when I read something like this. It's tough working in an industry with so much negativity attached to it.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you Amanda! I haven't wanted to do it either but I had to back up and say I love my new crowns on my top teeth :) I would really love having all of them done...except for the price and the pain and the waiting and the follow up dentist trips....HMMM, I think I am happy just to leave it be for a bit what do you say? HA

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

      Hi RNMSN, thanks for this interesting history of something we mostly take for granted these days. I grew up about 10 miles from East Grinstead where pioneering plastic surgery was developed under Archibald McIndoe to help World War II pilots who had been disfigured after being shot down. We were told about him at school (probably because he was a local celebrity), and I've always had a vague interest in the subject, although I've never been tempted to try it out!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you Ethel!! this is an area of nursing that I have actually never done so the research was quite interesting!however, high risk labor an delivery was the first thing I did right out of school/long time ago/ birth defects I do know about and the many surgeries it takes to make it better.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      It is very true what you say at the end. This was an interesting hub as we tend to forget about the beginnings of plastic surgery and the many great achievements it has made. For example, cleft palate restoration and surgery after accidents.