Medical borderlands: engineering the body with plastic surgery and hormonal therapies in Brazil

Anthropol Med. 2014;21(2):202-16. doi: 10.1080/13648470.2014.918933.


This paper explores medical borderlands where health and enhancement practices are entangled. It draws on fieldwork carried out in the context of two distinct research projects in Brazil on plastic surgery and sex hormone therapies. These two therapies have significant clinical overlap. Both are made available in private and public healthcare in ways that reveal the class dynamics underlying Brazilian medicine. They also have an important experimental dimension rooted in Brazil's regulatory context and societal expectations placed on medicine as a means for managing women's reproductive and sexual health. Off-label and experimental medical use of these treatments is linked to experimental social use: how women adopt them to respond to the pressures, anxieties and aspirations of work and intimate life. The paper argues that these experimental techniques are becoming morally authorized as routine management of women's health, integrated into mainstream Ob-Gyn healthcare, and subtly blurred with practices of cuidar-se (self-care) seen in Brazil as essential for modern femininity.

Keywords: Brazil; gender and sexuality; hormonal therapies; plastic surgery; reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Brazil / ethnology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproductive Health / ethnology*
  • Surgery, Plastic*
  • Women / psychology
  • Women's Health / ethnology*
  • Young Adult


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones