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The History of Plastic Surgery

Without plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery would never have came to exist.   Now, you might be wondering, “How is that so?”  “Aren’t they the same thing?”   The truth is, while many people commonly interchange the terms, they have one very distinct, and important, difference.    Plastic surgery describes procedures designed to restore a body part to its original form and function.   Conversely, cosmetic, or aesthetic surgery, describes procedures that enhance the body’s natural appearance.

Based on those definitions, in ancient times, cosmetic surgeons did not exist.   However, plastic surgeons did. You see, people back then were not concerned about enhancing their bodies so they could be more “beautiful.”  They had more pressing issues to worry about, such as where was their next meal coming from, or where would they sleep at night.   In fact, plastic surgery generally was only needed to fix injured body parts, though it caught on faster in some civilizations quicker than others.   Two of those such civilizations were ancient India and ancient Rome.

In ancient India, surgeons were credited with performing the first nose job.  Not to mention, because India was a colony of Great Britain for years, much of the popularity of cosmetic procedures in the UK today can be credited to them.  That’s because in the late 18th century, British surgeons started implementing the Indian technique for performing nose jobs themselves.

In ancient Rome, they pushed the envelope on plastic surgery even more.  There, they practiced plastic surgery to repair not just noses, but eyes, lips, and teeth as well. In fact, one of the ancient Romans most popular plastic surgery procedures was scar removal. Plastic surgeons in Ancient Rome were often asked to remove scars on a man’s back because they represented he turned his back in battle, or even worse, was beat like a slave. Taking things even a step further, foreigners entering Ancient Rome would also undergo plastic surgery so as to better assimilate into Roman society.

Now, not all civilizations were fans of plastic surgery.   During the Middle Ages, performing plastic surgery was considered a pagan ritual.   People believed that the power a surgeon had over the body was the same as magic, as was their spilling of blood.  That view was slow to change until World War 1.  It was then that plastic surgery became necessary in for healing wounded soldiers.  However, in the United States, the increased use of plastic surgery led to conflicts over regulating the industry. Therefore, in 1931, the American Association of Plastic Surgery(now known as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons) was established.

Finally, one might say the height of plastic surgery’s prominence occurred worldwide during World War 2. Soldiers in Germany and Italy had it performed to look more “real” and improve their performance in combat. In the United States, new techniques were developed, such as skin grafts and microsurgery. However, following the war, as soldiers came back home and settled into family life, motivations for surgery changed. That’s when cosmetic surgery started its rise in popularity that is still continuing today.

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