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Winner, Body and Embodiment Award presented by the American Sociological Association Imagine yourself without a face—the taskseems impossible. The face is a core feature of our physical identity. Our faceis how others identify us and how we think of our ‘self’. Yet, human faces arealso functionally essential as mechanisms for communication and as a means ofeating, breathing, and seeing. For these reasons, facial disfigurement canendanger our fundamental notions of self and identity or even be life threatening,at worse. Precisely because it is so difficult to conceal our faces, thedisfigured face compromises appearance, status, and, perhaps, our very way ofbeing in the world.
In Saving Face, sociologist Heather LaineTalley examines the cultural meaning and social significance of interventionsaimed at repairing faces defined as disfigured. Using ethnography,participant-observation, content analysis, interviews, and autoethnography,Talley explores four sites in which a range of faces are “repaired:” facetransplantation, facial feminization surgery, the reality show Extreme Makeover, and the international charitableorganization Operation Smile. Throughout, she considers how efforts focused onrepair sometimes intensify the stigma associated with disfigurement. Drawingupon experiences volunteering at a camp for children with severe burns, Talley alsoconsiders alternative interventions and everyday practices that both challengestigma and help those seen as disfigured negotiate outsider status.
Talley delves into the promise andlimits of facial surgery, continually examining how we might understandappearance as a facet of privilege and a dimension of inequality. Ultimately,she argues that facial work is not simply a conglomeration of reconstructivetechniques aimed at the human face, but rather, that appearance interventionsare increasingly treated as lifesaving work. Especially at a time whenaesthetic technologies carrying greater risk are emerging and whendiscrimination based on appearance is rampant, this important book challengesus to think critically about how we see the human face.