Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beautiful Fighting Bodies

We all read a couple of months ago about how Mickey Rourke, star of The Wrestler and 2009 Academy Award nominee, was “lost” to A-list Hollywood for more than ten years. So profound was his fall, so seemingly permanent his failed career, that he has now risen from the dead, and his comeback in this movie was feted by many critics as more of a “resurrection”.

But Rourke was never lost or dead to the cosmetic surgery community. What do I mean by community? Recipients, fans, scholars, researchers, practitioners, voyeurs—all those who are fascinated by cosmetic surgery and have a love, or a hate, or (more often) a love/hate relationship with it. This relationship usually includes knowing and discussing who’s had what “work” done, whether it is considered “good”, “bad”, or “too much”, and whether it has helped or hindered his/her career. It’s a kind of celebrity-spotting meets stand-around-and-stare-at-a-car-crash sort of passion (see

Rourke has been one of the bad boys of the cosmetic surgery world for over a decade. He’s probably had face-lifts, implants, peels, fillers, botox, etc., all in the name of beauty. So to cast him as a broken-down, verging on a heart-attack, ageing pro-wrestler may seem strange, even bizarre. And yet as I watched the movie I felt almost punch-drunk by the absolute appropriateness of it, not merely because Rourke had a former career as a professional boxer, but because he looks like someone who has physically suffered, repeatedly, for a long time. His lips, swollen with silicon or some other filler, his eyes, “lifted” until they are small and closed, his skin, stretched as if contorted by scarring, are utterly believable as the features of someone who has fought and taken blows all his life.

The wrestler’s body might endure contusions, swellings, breaks and bruises. The cosmetic surgery recipient’s body might endure contusions, swellings, breaks and bruises. Both are bodies on display, bodies performing, bodies designed for being in public. And both are bodies subject to vicious, often violent, scrutiny. The parallels between professional fighting and cosmetic surgery are horrifying if you allow the analogies free rein. During the gruesome staple gun scene I kept thinking about abdominoplasty (“tummy tuck”) stapling. And I loved the scenes where Randy attended the tanning and hairdressing salons—ironically making himself beautiful so he could be subjected to attack—the brown skin and white hair made him look like an inflated Donatella Versace.

I think Rourke’s is a face of our times. It’s beautiful, ruined, extreme, hopeful, expensive, and abused. It shows an incredible history. Where will this famous face go from here? I can’t wait to see how he is cast from now on.


  1. He was a striking presence at the Oscars. If I didn't know who he was I'd have thought he was a wrestler, rather than The Wrestler.

  2. I wondered if the steroid and solarium scenes were added to make his appearance more believable.

  3. There are pics of him in Who mag attempting to grope younger actresses after? before HOllywood's Big Day Out - which probably says more about the mag than Rourke, come to think of it.
    I agree, future casting will be something to watch. Great post, Meredith, good to see this back! "All the Silver Beetles missed ya...."


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