Cara Phillips – Singular Beauty

In 1907, Charles Miller wrote the first medical text on ‘beauty surgery’. The book provided instructions to combat the signs of aging, including a procedure to prevent expression lines by severing specific facial nerves. The pioneering volume was largely dismissed by the mainstream medical community, which at the time believed that plastic surgery should only be used to correct injuries or deformities.

Photography Cara Phillips

But a review of the work in the 1908 issue of the California State Journal of Medicine included a prediction for the future of cosmetic surgery: ‘This small volume deals with an aspect of surgery remote from the interest of surgeons, but sooner or later featural surgery is destined to take its place as a recognized specialty.’ In the United States, Charles Miller’s one-time ‘quackery’ has evolved into a billion-dollar-a-year business.

In 2007, Americans spent 12.4 billion dollars on cosmetic plastic surgery procedures. America’s current cultural fixation with beauty is a complex and pervasive phenomenon. When Miller wrote his medical guidebook, modern technology was just beginning to enable us to correct or enhance our bodies. Today, there is a never-ending array of procedures that can make us beautiful. The process of re-making ourselves has become a full-time job. We believe, as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website states, that, ‘Even a small change on the outside can create an extraordinary change on the inside, allowing an individual’s self-confidence to flourish.’ However, patients who enter these offices expecting this promise of happiness often have to confront their own fears, self-loathing and anxieties.

This collection of photographs resulted from both a personal struggle with body issues and a long history in the beauty business. In photographing these doctors’ offices, I not only developed my visual understanding of the world, but I was able to reconcile my own feelings about beauty. I found myself less interested in the actual place or thing than in capturing its emotional significance – for myself as an artist, and for those who have sought their salvation in these chairs, beds, machines and tools.

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