Zed Nelson photos of plastic surgery culture

Nelsonnn Love Me is Zed Nelson's photographic tour of the culture of plastic surgery across 18 countries. Above:

"I’ve had three toes shortened – a portion of bone removed between the joints and fixed together with metal rods. I like to wear Jimmy Choo’s, three-inch heels with a pointy toe.”

Foot X-ray. Toe reduction surgery. Kristina Widmer, 36.
New York, USA

Zed Nelson: Love Me (via Smithsonian)

Love Me by Zed Nelson (Amazon)


  1. I, for one, certainly hope that becoming “Miss Atom” grants you at least a few super powers…

    Also cosmetic surgery always lives in that uncomfortable place between “Huzza, science bending weak flesh to be as its operator desires!” and “Damn, relentless cultural pressure bending weak operators to remake their flesh as it desires…”

    There is no particular reason to suspect that people get dealt the body they want (certainly transsexuals aren’t exactly doing it for the cultural approval…); but it is also fairly hard to deny the likelihood that people go under the knife all the time for reasons more or less entirely related to some combination of overt cruelty and cultural pressure…

    1. My issue with cosmetic surgery is that I just don’t think we’re very good at it. A 60y/o woman with a facelift doesn’t look 50, she looks like a 60y/o woman with a facelift.

      I put it in the same category as heavy make-up: “You’re not fooling anyone”.

      1. There’s maintenance with plastic surgery that I don’t think people think about when they start down the path. I think the first face lift or botox treatment usually looks good. After a while, the first thing stops looking so good and another is in order, and another, and after a while the person starts looking overly manipulated.

        1. It’s confirmation bias. You don’t notice the people who have had successful refurbishment, just the disasters.

          1. I guess that’s true. I’ve known people who had breast reductions and liposuction and you’d never know (of course that is covered by clothing).

            When I think about the obvious plastic surgery I think of all the Hollywood stars who just seem so worked on as they get older, with their eyebrows all wrong for their faces and strange cheeks. Like Gary Sinese – he used to be sooo handsome and now he looks too weird for words.

            But, remember when Joan Rivers was such a laughingstock for her plastic surgery? And now she seems to have some new doctor who is making her look fantastic and even though she talks just as openly about the surgery I don’t hear the jokes anymore. 

            So, I guess I don’t notice the good stuff.

      2. Oh, I certainly wouldn’t touch the stuff by choice (a proper mangling or some 3rd degree burns might well change my cost/benefit on that one, of course); but I find that objections of the “we aren’t good at it” are true, but vulnerable to the “Well, historical evidence suggests that we’ll be a lot better as time passes, so then what?” question.

        As long as your problem is purely technical, you are just punting the question forward a few years(or decades, some of this is tricky stuff) to the point where those technical issues have been resolved.

      3. Your point is valid, but may suffer a bit from observers bias.  That is, you might not recognize the apparent 50 year old to be actually a 60 year old who had a good facelift.   (i’ve been aware of some really good work in that regard; regardless of its social value)

        1.  I think it is a matter of scale.  The bigger the adjustment the likelier it will look wrong.  People with subtler changes tend to do the best.  Take breast implants for example.

    1. Years of orthodics and foot pain, the occasional dislocated toe and chiropodists visits were all put to bed by buying shoes 1.5 sizes bigger for my bf. Seriously, the man has paddles for feet, and shoes have always “hurt” him. No one told him shoes shouldn’t hurt. 

      Get bigger shoes! 

      1. I’d get a new chiropodist. The chiropodist never discussed shoes with your BF? Never looked at his shoes? Never asked about them? Never discussed sizing? Never made any reference to shoes, in spite of fixing dislocated toes and fitting orthotics (which go in shoes)?

        And I hate big shoes. They hurt me more than snug fitting shoes. I now buy shoes at least a size smaller than any shoe or boot fitter has ever recommended and they don’t hurt. Every time I’ve just bought the recommended size, I’ve regretted it. I’ve learnt now.

        Get smaller shoes!

        (Anyway, this is off topic.)

        My GF’s toes perhaps reflect the fairly regular wearing of high-heels with pointy toe-boxes over the years. Her toes (as a group) kind-of taper to a point in a way that isn’t terrible, but that doesn’t look quite natural.

        1. He stopped seeing her, I made sure of that. He’s got really wide feet, it sounds like you have narrow feet? So opposite problem? :)

          My feet can jam into the pointiest two high heel you can imagine, but I also garden barefoot and don’t wear shoes at home, so my toes can still spreadout and the muscles and tendons relax. Let me guess, your GF gets foot cramps at night in bed?

    2. I’m assuming you’ve never had to try and find a pair of business dress heels. I’ve been looking since May for a pair of simple, professional-looking pair of black heels and I’m telling you, cutting toes off ala cinderella’s stepsisters is starting to sound like a more likely scenario than finding a pair that fit in the next five years or so. I never had a problem finding shoes that fit until this higher heel + narrower toe (even when they’re rounded, they’re narrower than the used to be) fashion came around. If I get shoes in the “right” size, my toes are too cramped and if I go up a size, my toes are still squished but then I have to shuffle around to keep the shoes from falling off. I’m this close to just embracing a vendetta against all shoe designers. 

        1. Been there, done that, unfortunately. It doesn’t do me any good because the toe will still be narrow. I tried on every pair of shoes within a size and a half of my usual size with every variety of widths that they had at Nordies, to absolutely no avail. Toes were always cramped- the only thing that changed was how much I had to shuffle to keep the shoes on. I had a bit of a epiphany about the whole thing when I saw the exact same pair of shoes (down to the colors offered, fabric, everything) in a shop that I’d bought there 7 years previously. I still have the original pair, and they are wonderful if a little worn out at this point.. But the new shoes? Did not fit at all. And the only thing that had changed….was that the manufacturer had had an half an inch to the platform in the toe and 2 1/2″ to the heel in the back. And as the shoes had originally been 3 1/2 inch heel with 1/2 inch of platform…well. If shoes were ski runs, it had gone from being a blue to a double black diamond. Without cutting my toes down by half, there’s no way those shoes, in any variation, were ever going to fit. (Not that I’d really want them to, at that height).

        1. Flats are often frowned on in certain professional settings, look odd with skirts, and my pants were hemmed for heels.

          ETA: and a good pair of flats are harder to find than the heels. It’s all ballet flats and athletic shoes and old lady shoes.

          1. So wear normal shoes. If anyone in those professional settings confronts you about wearing those normal shoes, explain that you have too much respect for yourself to cause permanent injury for the sake of fashion.
            And have a podiatrist send a strongly worded letter to HR.
            Just because women are in a professional setting doesn’t mean we should be forced by social pressure to wear painful, S&M-inspired foot gear.

  2. I find the variety of human bodies to be the most fascinating, beautiful thing. We’re not like squirrels, all the same.

    Why go through all this effort to make yourself look like someone else?

    1. Do you shave? Plastic surgery is, in the long run, far less pain, time and money than shaving or putting on makeup regularly.

  3. There’s a great film I saw on Netflix, Modify, about all kinds of extreme body mods. The people who stick hooks in their backs and fly actually end up looking the sanest of the bunch. They show some intense plastic surgery. Some of the plastics is hard to watch because a lot of it is on the male bits. They show a male to female plastic surgery that, even as a woman, I couldn’t watch. But, the film is great and makes you think about where is that line between a little snip and “That’s frickin’ crazy!”


  4. How is having her toes shortened so she could fit in her Jimmy Choo shoes any different than the the foot binding thing they used to do in China? Aside from the fact that your toes don’t rot and fall off, I mean.

    1. Well, the woman having her toes shortened was a 36 year old who presumably walked into a doctor’s office and paid to be shot full of painkillers and modified.

      Classic Chinese foot binding was a process of breaking the toes and arch of a 2-5 year old girl and then re-binding them progressively more tightly.

      So, other than the age of the patient, the inferred consent status of the patient, the degree and duration of pain involved, and the risk of infection, really no difference at all…

  5. OH JEEBUS MY EYES you really need a warning that there is a tummy tuck in there. I almost barfed on my keyboard.

  6. Christ alfuckingmighty, would bespoke shoes not be accorded more kudos than having your toes shortened?

    (no, they wouldn’t would they? fuck)

      1. I know what Manolos are.  And you’d think that at those prices that they’d come in my damn size, which is narrow, and on the long side.  But they don’t.  They are not “bespoke” (custom). Those fancy designer shoes usually only come in medium width.  

        Bespoke shoes, on the other hand, would be made to fit and probably wouldn’t cost much more.

  7. Only a few phonemes separate “Manolo Blahniks” and “Milano Birkenstocks,” and the latter solve both the cost and the footroom problem.

    1.  As do we all.  Doesn’t mean we can’t be alarmed by or discuss what people (women or men) might actually choose to do.

      Personally, I think the pain, cost and futility of cosmetic surgery is an appalling waste.  I won’t do it to my body (barring some disfiguring injury), but I can’t be bothered to say that anyone else shouldn’t do whatever they choose.

      Once we start making distinctions between levels of modification, we get into massive gray areas.  Why bother? People do all kinds of stupid things, some of which help them in some way. These things harm only themselves, so who cares?

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