BIGGER BREASTS AND SMALLER NOSES: The Correction Continuum. Is Plastic Surgery Immoral?

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.

  • Dwight Nardecchia

    I had a wierd thought. I heard in Korea, something like 45% of girls have plastic surgery before age 18 because for girls, being successful is all about snagging the best guy you can get. best meaning richest. And being physically attractive is naturally the easiest way to snag men.

  • NMH

    There are caste-like connotations to skin tone, looks, etc., among Asian cultures, hence the high prevalence of surgeries at such a young age. Skin lightening is huge among Asian communties for the same reason. The most desirable spouse may be one from a more socially upward family, not just the richest, although the two probably go hand in hand.

    I don’t get plastic surgery for anything other than reconstructive/corrective issues. Surgery is too risky to undergo for any but the most serious reasons, IMO. Botox and other “injectables” squick me out big time. I don’t understand why women think botox and fillers make them look better. They end up looking like they’re made of foam rubber to me. However, I have no problem with most tattoos and piercings. That could be a cultural/regional thing. Not crazy about the more extreme versions, but even face tattoos bother me less than a completely immobalized forehead and puffy lips.

    I color my hair and probably spend more than I should on skin care, and I use cosmetics, which speaks to some level of vanity, I suppose. OTOH, at what point does one become so scrupulous over such matters that they never groom at all and walk around wearing old burlap sacks, or something? It seems we are wired to express ourselves through our appearance, whether to attract a spouse, or for defensive purposes (making oneself scary — some tribal tattoos, for example), or assurance purposes (the self-imposed “uniforms” we create for ourselves — look at the various cliques at any American high school).

  • Ann

    since when is having surgery to restore full vison bad? by that standard you should add cataract surgery to the list.

    FYI: most insurance plans don’t consider hooded eyelid correction to be plastic surgery. It’s a different operation than an eye lift.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Oh, Ann, I wasn’t trying to imply that all of the surgeries on the list are “bad.” My question to you: Which would you NOT accept, if any? And why?

  • Marcy K.

    Well, I have to admit. Your list is confusing. Perhaps your headings should be different or something.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      I sort of agree with you, Marcy. Were I more skilled, I’d develop a line graph or something.
      Thanks for reading!

  • Shin

    ‘ It is something very improper, something that shows great vanity and is not at all becoming in a Christian, to apply beauty spots and paint to your face, covering it with powder and rouge. The finest ornament of the cheeks is a modest reserve, which makes wellborn people blush when an indecent word, a lie, or a slander is uttered in their presence. ‘

    St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle

    Reconstructive surgery is considered morally acceptable, but improving upon what is natural is not. Just how far from vanity Christians must fly St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle shows extolling instead of that vice the virtue of modesty. :D

  • Mary Kotomski

    It’s a sad fact of life, but first impressions are important. But I’ve lost an incredible 109 pounds and have a lower belly pouch and other weight-loss issues that exercise won’t be able to correct. There is nothing wrong with surgery to correct loose skin and sagging breasts from weight gain/loss. Or, reconstructive surgery for breast cancer survivors to restore their feminine dignity. I hate to state the obvious, but being unattractive can prevent a woman/man from securing not only a good spouse, but also a job and or promotion. It’s so sad that we live in a society that punishes people for their looks. What I have a problem with, is people who refuse to take care of their appearance. Our bodies are a temple and we should take care of them as such.
    Take care and God bless.

  • Jane

    I think it is not the procedure that is immoral (with a few exceptions like overt sex change, and even there the line can get blurred when there is a hermaphrodite who needs what amounts to reconstructive surgery). It is the WHY of the surgery. My different but not less blurry divisions: reconstructive surgery, OK; cosmetic surgery, not so ok.

  • Ivor Stolliday

    An interesting article. I find it sad that the brilliant surgical specialisms of plastic, reconstructive and broader maxilo-facial surgery – all of which can transform and help rebuild lives after serious illness, accident, and trauma of many kinds, have their reputations somewhat tarnished by association with the entirely pointless and wholly cosmetic. There is good and noble work in this field, and we need to hold it separate from the exploitation of vanity for cash

  • Tricia

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ivor. My baby girl was born with a birth defect requiring reconstruction of almost half of her face and scalp. She endured painful treatments and ten grueling surgeries. As a family we are SO grateful for this area of medicine which I had previously thought only did nose jobs. Her surgeon and entire team are more than wonderful. Her surgeon even goes throughout the world teaching other surgeons several weeks a year so even more children can be helped. Believe me, not all plastic surgeons are in it for the money.

  • Diane

    I agree with most of your “Bad” sugeries. However, sometimes plastic surgery is good. A woman I know had a breast reduction because her large breasts were causing back and heart problems, she was in terrible back pain. Birth defects sometimes need to be corrected for the good of the child. I am 60+ and my vision is suffering due to drooping eyelids. I would not think I was sinning if I had surgery on my eyelids. I think motivation behind the surgery is more important than the act itself. Thank you.

  • cory J

    I have a Korean girl friend and she said that in Korea, it is totally normal for girls having plastic surgery but I think it’s weird. One afternoon, we went to a mall and she saw her friend (another Korean) and after their chitchat, I told my friend that she is very pretty (her friend) and I was surprised that she’s just a teenager! I told her that her friend doesn’t look her age and she told me ts because she her nose done. I was double shocked when I found out about it. I asked myself, are they not happy with how they look evethough their really pretty already? I just hope that people should accept how they look and if they do not like something about themselves, they should adapt proper diet and exercise.

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  • Matt

    Another type of good surgery would be to restore a cleft palate, for example. Or what about burn victims? I think that it’s not necessarily the kind of surgery that makes it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Rather, it’s the person’s motivation for doing it. Is it out of pure vanity, or is it merely an attempt to function in a society that values looks? Some of these are easy to judge, others more difficult. What matters is the disposition of the heart, which only God can see. That is why Jesus adminishes us to “Judge not.”

  • Ellen

    My niece was born with a cleft lip and partial cleft gum. She had several operations as she grew older to correct her problems and now is a lovely young woman. One day after one of her operations, she said, “I can’t believe anyone would go through all of this for sheer vanity”

  • Lily Lolo

    The surgery is no doubt has been discovered for recovering the present stage ( from the worst ), but the surgeon hand of experience should matter here. If he / she will be perfect then i think in life there has no any kind of barriers whether it will be Acne or whether it will be skin related all the drawback goes down after a minimum periods of recovery process from it.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I worked with a guy who had a nose job so that he would look less Jewish. It is sad that he felt such extraordinary social pressure. What to me is far worse than vanity modifications are the treatments performed on the genitalia of children in the interest of religion or tradition. I have met a number of men who resent having been deprived of natural sensitivity through an operation they had no say in. Stories of girls being denied a normal clitoris are even more severe.