Book Review: Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons by Zara Stone

What do you know about the history of plastic surgery? Were you aware that it was used as a way to prevent ex-convicts from reoffending? No? Find out more here.


Killer Looks is the definitive story about the long-forgotten practice of providing free nose jobs, face-lifts, breast implants, and other physical alterations to prisoners, the idea being that by remodeling the face you remake the man. From the 1920s up to the mid-1990s, half a million prison inmates across America, Canada, and the U.K willingly went under the knife, their tab picked up by the government. 

In the beginning, this was a haphazard affair — applied inconsistently and unfairly to inmates, but entering the 1960s, a movement to scientifically quantify the long-term effect of such programs took hold. And, strange as it may sound, the criminologists were right: recidivism rates plummeted. 

In 1967, a three-year cosmetic surgery program set on Rikers Island saw recidivism rates drop 36% for surgically altered offenders. The program, funded by a $240,000 grant from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, was led by Dr. Michael Lewin, who ran a similar program at Sing-Sing prison in 1953.

Killer Looks draws on the intersectionality of socioeconomic success, racial bias, the prison industry complex and the fallacy of attractiveness to get to the heart of how appearance and societal approval creates self-worth, and uncovers deeper truths of beauty bias, inherited racism, effective recidivism programs, and inequality.

Killer Looks book cover


I’m not the biggest lover of non-fiction books, therefore it takes a lot to grab me. Killer Looks had be fully intrigued. It covers a fascinating piece of history that not many people are aware of, or are willing to speak about today. I learned so much about the plastic surgery prison project and the people involved. It felt like I was almost reading a fictional book where the main emphasis is on the characters. The author does a great job of bringing them to live and making the reader become invested in their lives.

What was really amazing about Killer Looks is that it doesn’t focus solely on the project. Instead, it incorporates the racism, sexism, and lookism of the time. It also questions the theory “do you have an easier life you are beautiful?” The author will not only have you questioning what happens in this book but also your own views, and if we have changed as a society since.

Interested? Pick up your copy of Killer Looks here.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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