Flaunting Those Nips and Tucks

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For 10 years, 47-year old Jane M. watched enviously as other women got their tummies tucked by the plastic surgeon whose office she manages.

But last June, she finally got her own done (with a little lipo while they were in there), and ever since, the envy has been flying the other way.

“Oh my God, I wish I was you,” friend after friend she said.

Goodbye shame, hello scalpel. Plastic surgery is morphing into a mainstream beauty tactic. Going under the knife for a tighter face or slimmer stomach is becoming more about good grooming, sort of like waxed eyebrows and manicured nails, and less about gaudy vanity.

“It’s so much more acceptable today – not like years ago, when people were afraid to tell people,” said Jane’s boss, plastic surgeon John T. Cozzone. “And it’s not just for the wealthy. Everyday normal people are doing it.”

And they are doing it before our very eyes. The prime-time television schedule was bursting with plastic surgery reality shows spotlighting the transformation of average-looking individuals to “beautiful” people. No matter that it may have involved three, four, or 12 surgical procedures. In almost every case, at least portrayed by the sheer joy at their “reveal,” the end justifies the means.

This is all part of the normalization of the cultural phenomenon, said critic V. Blum, author of “Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Plastic Surgery.” We are mid-stride in the evolution from the outrageous to ordinary.

“There is a feeling that if you can transform yourself, you can have a different life. That’s really an American story. And then it gets yoked to consumer culture. Buy this and you will feel better. A better body is a better something you buy,” said Blum, who herself had a nose job when she was a teenager.

The new packaged plastic surgery, in which a patient opts for a combination of procedures, “is like buying a car with all the perks. There is nothing left wanting,” she said.

Before the Seventies, people who had cosmetic surgery were considered pathological, Blum said. In the Eighties, celebrities who got it done were “outed” in tabloids and risked humiliation. Remember – just a couple of years ago – the tempest over the eye job Greta Van Susteren got before moving to Fox News Channel?

Soon, Blum argued, we will come to a time when it will be like getting braces, and people will wonder why someone didn’t get plastic surgery to fix their body.

“With Greta Van Susteren it will be like: ‘Why didn’t she have a whole lower body lift? She only had her eye lids done?’ It will move into a place where we criticize people for not having done more,” she said.

Sander Gilman, who has written two books about the history and culture of plastic surgery, traces the growing comfort with plastic surgery to the mid-Nineties, when the Discovery Channel first ran shows depicting patients’ experiences.

This season, there were four prominent plastic surgery shows; two – ABC’s Extreme Makeover” and Fox’s “The Swan” – were reality shows in which candidates were treated to a variety of services, usually including a large number of surgical procedures. The two contestants on “The Swan” then went on to compete for a spot in the show’s own beauty pageant, causing a stir among critics.

MTV’s “I Want a Famous Face” was a documentary series featuring young Americans who wanted to look more like a certain celebrity and often used implants, lifts and a host of other surgical techniques to make their dream come true. FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” a scripted drama, begins its second season June 22. “The Swan II” debuts in November.

Plastic surgeons say the programs have swelled their waiting rooms with new patients at a time whe