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Nip/Tuck/Sin?

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 6/2/11 at 7:00 AM

 

So now you know how I feel about vasectomies and men having elective cosmetic surgery. How about cosmetic surgery in general? Here’s what Catholic Answers says:

Plastic surgery would seem to be warranted if it would provide a significant therapeutic benefit in some regard, either physical (e.g., reconstructive surgery to restore function or utility in cases of accident or birth defect) or psychological. This is provided that the procedure does not damage some other equal or greater good and provided that it is not intrinsically immoral.

Pretty straightforward. But I’ve heard a Catholic woman argue that she had low self-esteem and was depressed until she got breast implants. Then she was more confident and became a better wife and mother (in other words, she thought it provided “significant psychological therapeutic benefit). Sinful? Dunno. But I can’t help thinking, “Why not just get therapy until you learn to stop thinking about cup size?”

This is the part that makes me fret:

Plastic surgery would seem to be permitted — even without significant therapeutic effect — provided that it did not damage a significant good and provided that the procedure is not intrinsically immoral.

Probably it’s just my cultural sensibilities being rubbed the wrong way, and not a true moral question, but: Surgery costs a lot of money, and I think this is a stupid way to spend money.

On the other hand, I hate it when people follow each other around saying, “Hmm, new shoes, huh? Don’tcha think that money could have been better spent feeding a hungry Ethiopian child?” I mean, it’s true, but sometimes we fall short of perfect generosity—we all do.

On the other other hand, surgery costs a lot lot of money (an eye lift is $2,000-$5,000).

My second objection to plastic surgery without significant therapeutic effect is that it is dangerous. Even minor surgery is risky, so you should have a good reason for doing it, especially if you have dependents.

On the other hand, we also put ourselves at risk when we, for instance, hop on a motorcycle. We take risks all the time for the sake of trivial enjoyment, and my only response to that is: Gosh, I wish I had a motorcycle.

My third objection is that the most common types of cosmetic surgery actually make a person look boring, not better. They erase character. I’m a little bit face blind—have a hard time recognizing even people that I know well. If you get a factory-issued nose, no wrinkles, perpetually astonished eyes, and blond celebrity hair, I literally don’t know who you are.  ‘re just that lady who looks like all those other ladies. Feh.

But my main beef with purely elective cosmetic surgery—done merely to cheer one up—is that it’s bad for society in general.  Check out these old album covers. I browsed and giggled until it hit me: It used to be okay to be ugly. At least, it used to be okay to look like a regular person. And it’s not okay anymore. I mean, these are people who are putting their best faces forward—they’ve gotten their hair done, put on their finest outfits, and arranged themselves with the greatest possible care. And the results are something that would be utterly commercially unacceptable today.

Today, if you’re going to get in front of a camera for any reason, not just as a Professionally Beautiful Person, you had better look good—not just good for you, but as good compared to everyone else you might possibly run across.

Cosmetic surgery makes these expectations of physical perfection and regularity of features filter further and further down the societal scale. We’ve always expected our movie stars and models to be extra-beautiful, because it’s part of their job to be looked at. But more and more, we expect anyone who might possibly be looked at to be beautiful, as if it’s some kind of duty.  Excessive vanity isn’t just a personal foible, it’s a contagious disease.

The prevalence of this attitude creates anxiety where there should be none; and in some cases, it actually changes lives, as in the case of people who search and search for a job, and finally land one only once they give in and “get some work done.” People who are not naturally vain are forced to act that way, just to be taken seriously.

I’m not talking about grooming and presentation. It shows respect for others to look decent when we leave the house—I get that. But we have reached a point where being funny-looking isn’t just unfortunate or a cross to bear—it’s a travesty, an insult, something intolerable. It’s become a statement to be un-beautiful.

There’s evidence that Botox, which freezes the face, “deadens our perception” of emotion in others. Isn’t that perfect? If the idea of squirting poison into your head doesn’t scare you enough, then maybe the danger of a frozen heart will.