Is plastic surgery immoral?
Chances are, you think it’s a bad idea to have breast enhancement surgery (in the vernacular, a “boob job”). You think it’s (choose one or more): too risky, too expensive, superficial, degrading to women, likely to cause cancer or adverse side-effects in old age, likely to impair breast-feeding….
Chances are, conversely, that you would unquestioningly shell out $3,500 of your hard-earned dollars for orthodontics to straighten your pre-teen son’s teeth.
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I was stuck in traffic one day, driving the 30 miles from my office to my home in Oakland County, when I realized that I had passed five—count ‘em, FIVE!—plastic surgery clinics along my route. In the affluent communities north of Detroit, breast enhancements and “nose jobs” are de rigueur.
What’s worse, a Reuters report just out of Korea claims that students who have passed grueling college entrance exams are being rewarded by their parents with plastic surgery. In Korea, the most popular cosmetic surgeries have the dual goals of “Westernizing” the nose (giving it an upward tilt) and making the eyes appear larger through double-lid surgery. One hospital takes it to the next level with an advertised “combo package”: If a student chooses to modify eyes and nose at the same time, the hospital offers the student’s mother a free Botox injection.
If silicone injections to achieve cosmetic results seem to you somewhat shallow, just what is the imaginary “body modification” line you will not cross in order to achieve a certain standard of beauty? You will have your own “tipping point” along the CUSP (Continuum of Unessential Surgical Potentialities—I just made that up), stopping somewhere along a line like this:
- Sex change operation
- Breast enhancement from size 34B to 42EEE, to boost your career in the entertainment industry
- Botox of the lips to achieve Angelina Jolie pouty profile
- Tattoo of a dragon across your back, chest and down the right arm
- Tattoo of your child’s footprint
- Pierced nipple or navel or….
- Pierced lip
- Breast reduction surgery (for comfort, not for sex appeal)
- Liposuction for tummy reduction
- Eyelift to correct sagging eyelids after the age of 50, restoring full vision
- Rhinoplasty (shortening of the nose)
- Hair implants to counter premature baldness
- Acne treatments
- Surgical removal of a scar or birthmark
- Pierced ears
- Reconstruction of the breast after cancer surgery
- Stitches and restorative surgery following a dog bite
- Repair of a cleft palate
- Skin grafts and reconstructive surgery after a fire or chemical explosion
In essence, the Church admonishes us to respect life and physical health as precious gifts entrusted to us by God. However, as the Catechism warns in 2289: “If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection….”
Beauty is only skin-deep, and we must strive to achieve the “inner beauty” that comes as we advance in virtue. We must appreciate that “inner beauty” in others we meet, too—thus encouraging confidence in those with plainer features, so that they can accept the body that God has given them.