Bikinis and Bandages: An Itinerary for Cosmetic Surgery Tourism

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Tourist Studies, 2011, 11 (2), pp. 139 - 155
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This paper explores the ways in which cosmetic surgery tourism can be thought of specifically as a tourist experience. We argue that whilst essentially involving travel for the purpose of undertaking painful surgery, cosmetic surgery tourism has a particular resonance with the holiday, most usually constructed as relaxing and restorative. This resonance is connected to the importance in contemporary society of not simply possessing the cultural capital associated with travel knowledge and conspicuous leisure, but of being able to mark that upon and express it through the body. The paper also explores the elements of tourism that seem important to a successful cosmetic surgery tourism experience. These include a sense of place, constituted through cultural and physical proximity or distance, and discursive and physical construction of a destinations particular characteristics most usually in terms of the idea of `retreat, care and the `friendliness of its people. This is connected to the willingness of a range of staff, from surgeons and nurses to interpreters and tour guides, to engage in successful emotional and aesthetic labour; some of these forms of labour are outlined here. The material we draw upon has tended to centre on white, middle-class Western tourists travelling to destinations outside the wealthiest nations for their surgeries. We end with a call for more wide-ranging studies and wonder whether the `tourism-ness of cosmetic surgery tourism remains central to tourists whose only motivation for travel is finding surgeries at minimal cost.
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