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Med Anthropol. 2010 Oct;29(4):403-23. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2010.501316.

Plastic paradise: transforming bodies and selves in Costa Rica's cosmetic surgery tourism industry.

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Long popular as a nature tourism destination, Costa Rica has recently emerged as a haven for middle class North Americans seeking inexpensive, state-of-the-art cosmetic surgery. This paper examines "cosmetic surgery tourism" in Costa Rica as a form of medicalized leisure, situated in elite private spaces and yet inextricably linked to a beleaguered national medical program. Through historical context and ethnographic analysis of activities at medical hotels and clinics, I describe how the recovery industry operates on the embodied subjectivities of visiting patients and their local caretakers. Recovery sociality and healing landscapes facilitate patients' transition through a period of post-surgical liminality and provide nostalgic transport to an imagined medical arcadia, while clinicians are attracted by a neoliberal promise of prosperity and autonomy. Ultimately, Costa Rica's transformation into a paradise of medical consumption and self-optimization is contingent on a mythology that obscures growing uncertainties and inequities in the nation's broader medical landscape.

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