Society

In Brazil, plastic surgery patients risk everything for the ‘right to beauty’

plastic surgery
Rhinoplasty performed in Rondônia, Brazil. Pietro Cenini/Shutterstock

In the U.S., if you want a facelift or a tummy tuck, it’s generally assumed that you’ll be paying out of pocket. Insurance will tend to cover plastic surgery only when the surgery is deemed “medically necessary” and not merely aesthetic. In Brazil, however, patients are thought of as having the “right to beauty.” In public hospitals, plastic surgeries are free or low-cost, and the government subsidizes nearly half a million surgeries every year.

As a medical anthropologist, I’ve spent years studying Brazilian plastic surgery. While many patients are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to become beautiful, the “right to beauty”...

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