10 True Tales and More
From the Ancient Egyptians
to our Modern Time
"Plastic", via Latin "plasticus", comes from Greek "plastikos", meaning "moldable" or "shapable". Today, a "plastic art" is sculpture. Plastic surgeons re-sculpt a person's form.
While reconstructive surgery is how many people reaffirm life, ironically, the tools and technology have their roots in death. That just goes to show you, esthetic surgery is another instance of the human spirit pushing back against inert reality's imposition of constraints. As the US Army advertises, "Be all you can be."
- Well over three thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians would surgically alter bodies of their dead, but not of the living. Working on the mummy of Ramses II, ancient specialists placed a small bone and a handful of seeds into his nose. Doing that guaranteed that the face's most prominent feature would not be overlooked by other divines in the afterlife. To make Queen Nunjmet more curvy and alluring than she'd ever been alive, specialists did her the favor of adorning her mummy with bandages stuffed in her cheeks and belly.
That's similar to implanting silicone into vital spots in our modern era. Today, nine out of ten plastic surgery patients are women. Breast augmentation and nose reshaping—as Ramses II received, but better—are the two most popular plastic surgeries now performed in the world.
- The first plastic surgery on the nose, albeit on the living, also dates back over millennia. About 600 BCE in ancient India, specialists transferred skin from the cheek or forehead (usually, sometimes other parts of the body) into the nose, giving it a noble shape. So the patient could keep on breathing while the nose healed—which could take many weeks—practitioners thoughtfully inserted wooden tubes into the nostrils. Today, recuperation takes only two weeks.
- During the Roman Empire, with Roman legions waging war all around the Mediterranean Sea, and thousands flocking to arenas to watch staged combat, wounded soldiers and gladiators had definite need of reconstructive surgery. So did slaves (who numbered into the millions).
Owners would lash slaves on the back, yet often free them, too (even adopt them into the family; indeed, our word "family" comes from Latin’s word for "slave" or "servant"). Many freedmen hired doctors to erase the scars of their past bondage. For purely cosmetic reasons, some women hired surgeons to restore their ears to their original shape, the lobes having been elongated by weighty jewelry.
- In the late 1500s around the end of the Dark Ages, in Sicily, Gasparo Tagliacozzi, author of the first true textbook on plastic surgery, experimented with skin grafts to reconstruct noses. However, the Roman Catholic Church obstructed his research. Furthermore, anesthesia was in its infancy, leaving any surgery extremely painful.
- Back to India. In the late 1700s, a man of brick-maker caste reconstructed the nose of a British oxen driver (who had been mutilated by an enemy to punish him for transporting supplies to the British East India army) while British doctors watched. Word spread. British surgeons began performing nasal reconstructive surgeries in Europe.
- In 1895, a German singer whose breasts were not nicely symmetrical, received the world's first breast augmentation. Surgeons took tissue from her back and transplanted it to her breast. Nowadays, rather than move flesh, doctors often insert silicone.
- In 1910, Dr. Hippolyte Morestin trained others in plastic surgery at the French army’s Val-de-Grace Military Hospital. Dr. Vilray Blair co-established several university and military training facilities dedicated to innovative skin grafting and plastic surgery in general before and after WWI. Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, a founding father of modern plastic surgery, pioneered numerous maxillofacial surgical techniques.
- World War I brought plastic surgery to a new level. When soldiers looked out over the top of trenches, they exposed their faces and necks. With the advent of aviation, pilots and their passengers received facial injuries: shattered jaws, dismembered noses, or gaping skull wounds. Surgeons developed new ways to treat these new war injuries. Plastic surgery became a legitimate branch of medical science.
- In 1962, Timmie Jean Lindsey, a mother of six, went into Jefferson Davis hospital in Houston Texas for a tattoo removal and left with the first successful breast augmentation. Doctors Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin asked her to volunteer and sealed the deal with free cosmetic surgery on her ears.
Previous attempts included paraffin in the 1890s, the woman's own fat in the 1920s, and sponges, wood, even glass balls in the 1950s—not to mention inflatable bras. After World War II during the US Army occupation of Japan, whores injected their breasts with silicone stolen from the docks of Yokohama, but gangrene set in. The first silicone breast implants set the world on fire.
- In 1977 in France, Dr. Yves-Gerard Illouz performed the first modern liposuction technique for fat removal. The patient had a growth of fat on her back. For the first time, the surgery succeeded without a trace—no scar left at all. Americans had to wait until the next decade to legally receive "lipolysis" treatment in the US.