Cosmetic surgery is nowadays a “commercial enterprise” (Fraser, 2003) and a practice depicted everywhere in popular culture, from newspapers (Leem, 2016) and women’s magazines (Sullivan, 2001) to TV shows (Tait, 2007; Heyes, 2007; Elfving-Hwang, 2013) and social media (Nischwitz et al., 2021; Voinea, 2021). In this article, I am studying how Romanian plastic surgeons responded to the digital solution which was widely enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic. By using the interview and applying a content analysis on Instagram content, I explore the legitimization repertoires employed by plastic surgeons to justify their skeptical attitude to telemedicine, a pandemic fix that challenged traditional medical practice. Most surgeons rejected telemedicine because of its discordance with how they understand the patient’s body, namely a material entity that requires to be physically assessed, touched, measured, drawn, cut, and sewn (as in tailoring). They were still receptive to other telemedicine related tools, like consultations hosted on social media/video conferencing platforms and digitally mediated medical education (which I see as a “before and after” stage in telemedicine). However, an important distinction arose. Young plastic surgeons were more open to adopting telemedicine as a means to expand their careers, which drove them to take a disapproving (and reciprocal) stance against the more experienced but circumspect physicians. I argue that the Coronavirus pandemic and the wave of digitalization following it emerged as unique socio-historical junctures which unraveled a specific manner of conceiving the body “material”, the distinctiveness of telemedicine when applied to cosmetic surgery, and the internal criticism within the professional body of plastic surgeons. By mobilizing the concept of symbolic boundaries (Lamont & Molnár, 2002), I introduce a new classification of plastic surgeons: the digitally compliant and the digitally reluctant.
Keywords: (Romanian) cosmetic surgery, digitalization, telemedicine, legitimization repertoires, symbolic boundaries.