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VENUS ENVY

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VENUS ENVY Elizabeth Haiken (Johns Hopkins, $24.95) In 1923, Fanny Brice’s nose job was thought daring; 40 years later, Barbra Streisand’s untouched proboscis seemed downright defiant. How this cultural transformation occurred — how, with time on affluent postwar hands, bodily nips and tucks became as widespread as overzealous housework — is the meatiest part of Haiken’s very meaty history of plastic surgery. The relevant race and gender issues are thoroughly worked over (one chapter title: ”The Michael Jackson Factor”), and there are enough horror stories about leached silicone and Homely Girl contests to make one permanently swear off the scalpel. Of course, at 300-odd pages, some may feel the book itself could have used a little judicious lopping. A — Alexandra Jacobs