Saving Face: Disfigurement + The Politics of Appearance

Best Publication Award

American Sociological Association Section on
Body and Embodiment

In the twenty-first century, appearance matters seemingly more than ever before. At the same time that “looking good” drives cosmetic surgery consumption, the threat of looking different inspires biomedical interventions too.

Saving Face explores a wide-range of surgical interventions—from reconstructive surgery on cleft lips to face transplantation, from facial feminization to makeover surgery television—used to treat so-called “disfigured” faces, Saving Faces draws on in-depth interviews with a face transplant team and volunteers who conduct international surgery missions, fieldwork at surgical seminars and reconstructive surgery research team meetings, content analysis of reality surgery television, bioethics debates, philanthropic infomercials, news media, and promotional brochures, alongside personal reflections. It offers a rare glimpse at how stigma is intensified in the very spaces charged with eradicating facial differences.

Throughout, Talley demonstrates that facial appearance is increasingly attributed with life and death significance. Talley argues that as the significance of appearance shifts, the old boundaries between elective and reconstructive surgery are giving way. Especially at a time when aesthetic technologies carrying greater risk are emerging and when discrimination based on appearance is rampant, this important book challenges us to think critically about how we see the human face.

What Others Say…

Talley has a talent for moving between sound empirical findings and subtle theoretical conceptions of the meaning of having at least a normal if not actually beautiful face in contemporary society. Particularly outstanding about the author’s work is her insistence on analyzing the meaning of being ugly in a society that valorizes the value of being beautiful.
Rosemarie Tong

Author of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics: Theoretical Reflections and Practical Applications

Saving Face offers a persuasive and sociologically rich portrayal of facial disfigurement. Beauty culture depends more upon the ‘normal’ and unremarkable – rather than the exceptional – face than is usually acknowledged, and Talley offers a fascinating account of how unremarkability is medically, culturally and socially produced. The ethics and politics of reconstructive surgery are not straightforward; Talley gives the subject an admirably nuanced and sensitive treatment.
Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Author of Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture

Saving Face provides a highly interesting look at the role of the human face in society. It is impossible to see another face in the same way after reading this book. The author raises fascinating questions about whether we should intervene through surgery to ‘correct’ disfigurement. A complex book for a charged subject done with intelligence and balance.
Lennard Davis

Author of Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body

Reviews of Saving Face

  • Review of Saving Face at American Journal of Sociology
  • Review of Saving Face at Gender & Society
  • Review of Saving Face at Social Anthropology
  • Review of Saving Face at Sociology of Health & Illness
  • Review of Saving Face at

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