The Cosmetic Gaze
If the gaze can be understood to mark the disjuncture between how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others, the cosmetic gaze--in Bernadette Wegenstein’s groundbreaking formulation--is one through which the act of looking at our bodies and those of others is already informed by the techniques, expectations, and strategies (often surgical) of bodily modification. It is, Wegenstein says, also a moralizing gaze, a way of looking at bodies as awaiting both physical and spiritual improvement. In The Cosmetic Gaze, Wegenstein charts this synthesis of outer and inner transformation.
Wegenstein shows how the cosmetic gaze underlies the “rebirth” celebrated in today’s makeover culture and how it builds upon a body concept that has collapsed into its mediality. In today’s beauty discourse--on reality TV and Web sites that collect “bad plastic surgery”--we yearn to experience a bettered self that has been reborn from its own flesh and is now itself, like a digitally remastered character in a classic Hollywood movie, immortal.
Wegenstein traces the cosmetic gaze from eighteenth-century ideas about physiognomy through television makeover shows and facial-recognition software to cinema--which, like our other screens, never ceases to show us our bodies as they could be, drawing life from the very cosmetic gaze it transmits.
About the Author
Bernadette Wegenstein is Research Professor in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins University, where she also directs the Center for Advanced Media Studies. The author of Getting Under the Skin: Body and Media Theory (MIT Press, 2006), she is also a documentary filmmaker.
"Bernadette Wegenstein's The Cosmetic Gaze continues the profound and inventive exploration of Western fashionings of the female body that she began in Getting Under the Skin. I know of no one who explores her topic with more interest and continuing surprises. The new volume will interest a broad range of scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences as well as anyone searching for new perspectives on what the author calls 'the Construction of Beauty.'"
Mark Poster, University of California, Irvine
"Offering a rich historical investigation of the 'cosmetic gaze' as a visual technology of bodily constitution, Bernadette Wegenstein issues a timely warning against the regime of corporeal normalization. This is an important contribution to debates about choice, personal freedom and identity in the late capitalist marketplace of bodily forms and norms."
Joanna Zylinska, Reader in New Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London
"Bernadette Wegenstein seeks to illuminate our contemporary obsession with body modification as achieved through the medico-technological fashioning of beauty and its pervasive dissemination in a variety of media: from fiction and film to digital games, simulation software, and reality TV shows. While technologies underwriting 'modern makeover culture' elide the violence of the 'cosmetic gaze,' by insisting that we attend carefully to the elided meanings of 'the cut,' Wegenstein's absorbing and thought-provoking book maps a new, feminist terrain for studies of the body and media beyond the 'male gaze.'"
James J. Bono, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York