In our first post, we looked at the moral matrix and dimensions that this question poses. In today’s post, we’ll look at the spiritual motivations for having plastic surgery and what this means for the integral dignity of the person considering it.
…a reader asks: Q: I was wondering what is God’s opinion on plastic surgery. I didn’t know if there was any information in the catechism, Bible, or something said by a saint on this matter. I personally have struggled with wanting to have it but, I don’t want to offend our Lord. I’m hoping you might know the answer. Thanks in advance!
And what about intention? Here is where, it seems to me, the spiritual factors come more into play, and not just the moral factors. If someone really has no objectively therapeutic, or medical, reason for plastic surgery, they really need to ask themselves why they want it. Often, plastic surgery can be seen (wrongly) as a quick fix to a much deeper issue – fear of rejection, vanity, or plummeting self-worth. The standard of physical beauty that our society proposes to us, especially for women (but also, more and more, for men) is extremely unrealistic. And yet, we are bombarded by invitations to follow that standard. At times we are even strongly pressured to follow it. Fifty-year-old women are expected to look like thirty-year-olds. Otherwise, so our post—Christian culture tells us, something is wrong. But it’s that mentality which is wrong. It is focused too much on seeking fulfillment in superficial, passing, material things. True meaning and happiness comes from discovering that we are loved infinitely and personally by God, and learning to accept and respond to that love by generously loving in return. Physical beauty is one of the gifts God gives to some people, but it is not the goal of life, nor the most important gift.
This is not to say that men and women should be careless about how they look and how they present themselves. Spouses especially should seek to please each other and express their love and esteem for their spouse, among other ways, in how they present themselves to each other. Similarly, as material and spiritual beings, our own dignity as children of God should be expressed not only in our actions and behaviors, but also in how we present ourselves and take care of ourselves. We can legitimately feel better about ourselves when we are reasonably taking care of ourselves. Nevertheless, in today’s popular culture, these aspects of personal presentation and appearance have taken on truly frightening proportions, cutting us off from sources of true fulfillment and contributing to the plague of loneliness, instability, and meaninglessness that oppresses countless men and women around the world. As one woman put it, if your friends are gossiping about your big nose, you may need to enhance your circle of friends, not your nose.
As I mentioned at the beginning, plastic surgery is not as clear-cut an issue as, say, abortion or adultery, but I hope that these reflections will help you dialogue a bit more fruitfully about your own decisions, both in prayer and also with your spiritual director (or with a good friend whose wisdom your respect). Discerning this decision in the light of the Holy Spirit will, I believe, be a positive experience of spiritual growth. God bless you!
In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC, ThD
Art: Before and after photos of orthodontal jaw treatment, 1909, Popular Science Monthly Volume 75, author unknown, PD-US, Le Nouvel Opéra de Paris. Statues décoratives (35 planches) Statues dans le Grand Foyer:Planche 12: La Dignité (par Sanzel)[Mirror], 1875, PD; both Wikimedia Commons.