"Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery" by Alex Kuczynski Doubleday, 304 pp., $24.95 Speaking for the contingent...

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“Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery”
by Alex Kuczynski
Doubleday, 304 pp., $24.95

Speaking for the contingent of sensibly shod and cosmetically challenged Pacific Northwest womanhood, I have this to say: Thank you, Alex Kuczynski, for being a fashion and pop-culture lifeline. Without you, I would know nothing, absolutely nothing, about high-colonic cleansing or what it’s like to move butt fat to one’s too-thin lips.

I mean that as a compliment.

Oh, sure, media-watching bloggers love to sneer at Kuczynski, a reporter for the New York Times Style pages, for her obsession with spendy indulgences and glib first-person reporting on all things cosmetic. What they don’t admit is how much fun it is to read this stuff, and how difficult it is to report and write such material with her consistent cleverness.

Not to mention her sense of timing. One could make the case that Kuczynski’s new book, “Beauty Junkies,” captures contemporary America quite neatly. As she puts it in an early passage, “Ordinary Americans may be flabbier and grayer than ever, but we have also never before in our history been surrounded in such completeness by images of conventional perfection.”

The tireless pursuit of so-called perfection is the subject of this simultaneously fascinating and dismaying book.

Plastic surgery is not new — the author traces corrective measures back to 600 B.C. — but cosmetic procedures done to smooth out foreheads and repair stiletto-crippled feet (and realign just about all points in between) are being carried out with record-breaking frequency.

Among the many remarkable stats offered up is the fact that there has been a 465 percent increase in patients seeking cosmetic procedures since 1997. In 2004 alone, nearly 12 million procedures were performed on women and men wanting to change the look of some body part left wanting by nature or gravity.

Kuczynski profiles today’s beauty junkies through dozens of well-reported case studies. Justifications for expensive injecting, slicing, lifting and pumping up one’s body parts are myriad, but one 57-year-old woman (“I look thirty-seven”) spoke for many:

“I’d rather spend my money on Botox and a procedure here and there than something that is not part of me … The world is not going to see my great record collection or the stuff I have at home. They’re going to see me,” she told the author.

Presumably, most of Kuczynski’s readers are not mystified as to the allure of cosmetic fixes, but the pricey trends she tracks, with more complex procedures done more often (and starting at ever-earlier ages) will surprise even the most blasé. Apparently it is now actually difficult for movie directors to find character actresses who can play convincing grandmas.

Not to diminish the solid reporting throughout, but truth be told: The most memorable material here is Kuczynski’s trademark dishing about celebrity face-work gone wrong, and the couple dozen pages devoted to her own addiction to cosmetic fixes.

What started in her late 20s with treatment of a few facial red spots grew to thousands of dollars a month in Botox and other treatments.

An account of a horrible reaction to a lip-plumping procedure that caused her to miss a friend’s funeral is both pathetic and hilarious. After recovering, Kuczynski looked at her frozen, over-Botoxed face in the mirror, and saw the light. “I had pursued nature to her hiding places … ” she recalls. “My reward was that I now looked like Bozo the Clown.”

As Kuczynski notes, there’s nothing new about adoring beauty, but our rabid cosmetic intervention reveals something darker and well worth questioning. This book does just that, with plenty of juicy stuff to keep you riveted right to the end.