The History of Body Alterations

In the formal sense, plastic surgery has a history that dates back further than most people would imagine. These procedures were clearly not performed in a hospital setting with sophisticated equipment and sterile environments, but they were early attempts at altering the human body’s physical appearance. It is not known really how long people have desired to appear differently than their natural state, but before the turn of the century, there began to evolve early attempts to achieve these body modifications. Historical records document the earliest procedures in 2000 BC, primarily in India and Egypt where there were early surgical procedures completed to reconstruct nostrils. Another dated example is near the turn of the century where Italian physicians began treating Roman gladiators whose faces and bodies have been significantly damaged through the battles of their sport. The hard fought warriors had some of the most significant scars, both on the outside and the inside, that the society at that time did not provide much value after they had left the gladiator ring. And for some, the psychological impact of these scars was a heavy burden. Around the same time, also in Italy, comes the first evidence of procedures used not only for breast reduction, but also some bodily changes being made to ears, lips, and noses.1 Judging by the long history of people making physical changes to their body, it is clear that this issue has been prevalent and increasingly important since that time.

In some cultures, there are beliefs and practices related to bodily changes that are horrific to those in the Western culture, but to those communities these practices are deemed an essential rite of passage. While some of these practices date back thousands of years, the sad reality is that some of these practices remain present under current times. One strong example is African scarification, which is a permanent modification forced upon young children in order to be accepted into the society and often marks a rite of passage. Scarification involves no anaesthetic, where children are cut or branded into a design, often with course pieces of aged, unhygienic metal. 2 Another permanent practice, largely among African, Asian and Middle Eastern counties is called female genital mutilation, whereby girls aged five or younger experience the cutting of the outermost areas of their genitals, removal of the clitoris and/or the sewing together of the vagina. This body modification dates back 2000 years ago and slowly became less practiced in societies, however it still remains in this world today in few communities.3 While important to understand the cultures and traditions of diverse nations, Western culture and most of the civilized world would certainly deem these practices as violations of human rights, child abuse, and insurmountable psychological scarring.

Social change has definitely been achieved when considering how society has almost extinguished these inhumane practices of things such as genital mutilation and how society now attends to these injustices against helpless children.4 It is also evident that Western society has developed an affinity for bodily alternations that enhance appearance according to social values and that people are driven toward appearances that ultimately enhance their outward personality, sense of self-esteem and confidence. Over the years, surgeons have grown to accommodate to a wide range of surgery performances based on the patients’ preferences as well as having advanced technology and precise tools in order to do so, which ultimately comes to show the huge increase in plastic surgeries.5



  1. Salcido. (2010). » The History of Plastic Surgery. 27 October 2017, from
  2. Dr.Y. (2015). Scarification: an ‘Ancient’ African Tattoo Culture. African Heritage. Retrieved 27 October 2017, from
  3. Female genital mutilation (FGM) – NHS Choices. (2016). Retrieved 27 October 2017,from 
  4. Leone. (2010). The Art and History of Body Modification – Lightspeed Magazine. Lightspeed Magazine. Retrieved 27 October 2017, from
  5. Dittmann. (2005). Plastic surgery: Beauty or beast?. Retrieved 27 October 2017, from



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