Thoughts on Cosmetic Surgery

My friend, McKay Coppins, wrote an article today which is sure to get the Mormon Times humming, and may even explode a bomb in his email inbox.  The article: Plastic Surgery.

Since he asked me to email him my thoughts on the subject (well, not me personally – he asked all his readers – but I take my assignments from Mr. Coppins very seriously), I obliged.  I was somewhat surprised by my own findings as I talked about the subject.  Here is my response to him.

I’m Definitely For It

I, personally, don’t have a problem with cosmetic surgery. I say “cosmetic” because “plastic” surgery has become a sort of derogatory term in our culture.

Cosmetic surgery is not just about breast augmentation anymore. I think many LDS would be surprised if they stopped to consider all the cosmetic procedures they have either had or have considered. These procedures include LASIK surgery to lose their glasses or contacts, eyelid surgery to improve sight and appearance as we live longer, or even an unsightly mole removal.

Even those who don’t go under the knife of a medical doctor might be surprised to consider how many cosmetic procedures they do on their own quite often: eyebrow plucking, teeth whitening, even getting a hair cut – could all be considered cosmetic surgeries.

The line has been terribly blurred between health and cosmetics. In fact, most people exercise for a cosmetic reason (to look good) and only see the health benefit as secondary.

And is there an important component to doing what you can for your emotional health as well?  Yes, there is truth to: “look good, feel good.”  We certainly believe in showering, shaving, and smelling nice.

Yesterday I went to my dentist and, after a thorough cleaning and examination, he declared my teeth healthy. Success!

He then went on to suggest ways in which we might ‘enhance’ my smile. He suggested porcelain veneers to close the “David Letterman” gap in my front teeth as well as bonding and veneers to repair a small chip and straighten out my bottom teeth. Obviously, none of these prosthetics were going to be for my overall oral health. I didn’t immediately dismiss them, though, and have seriously considered whether I want such work done.

But Maybe I’m Against It.

After 24 hours of thought, I don’t think I’ll be doing any of his suggestions. Why? Well, I think it goes to why people should reconsider any cosmetic surgery….

1) Maintenance. Any cosmetic surgery that you undergo will inevitably need to be maintained or enhanced at some point. This equates to more trips to the doctor, more expense, and more stress past the initial procedure.

2) Pride. I feel no need to improve those features, and changing them would be an indication that I don’t like them and appreciate them the way they are. I kind of like my David Letterman gap, and I don’t really feel a compelling need to make my bottom teeth look perfect. I figure I’m going to use and take care of what God gave me, and then if that isn’t enough to last me a lifetime, I will turn to man and his wisdom to help me through the rest.

3) Cost. Cosmetic surgeries are rarely covered by insurance and are costly to have and maintain.

4) Decay. Most cosmetic procedures are naturally reversed over time. Eyesight will decay again (but now you have huge, irreversible slits cut into your eyes) even if you get LASIK, and you will need glasses again. Without change to your lifestyle and eating habits, even the most drastic gastric bypass doesn’t hold the power to keep you from regaining weight.

To expound on #3 a bit more: I heard this story on NPR this week, which really got me thinking. The story was of a paraplegic with Spinal Muscular Atrophe.  His conclusion seems to be that sometimes what is “wrong” with us turns out to be what defines us:

I can see that being able to do more physically would be helpful. I’d like to be a little less dependent on other people and machinery. But when I try to picture myself stripped of my disability, it leaves me feeling cold and lost. … Yes, I know I wouldn’t be here without scientific progress.

Yet I can’t help having a mental block against medicalizing disability. It just doesn’t square with my particular form of disability pride. After all, if you dream of a cure, aren’t you saying we’re not okay as we are? And if we focus on medical fixes, don’t we risk misdirecting our energies away from the external inequities that we can and must end: the barriers of architecture, attitudes and economics that truly handicap us.

Perhaps this is a healthy way to cope with everything from WhiteEyebrows to Spinal Muscular Atrophe!!

Yes, I realized that I had a little in common with this guy.  Not saying that having white eyebrows is anywhere near the burden that he carries, but saying that we both have chosen to define ourselves by what makes us unique, different, and special – not waste our lives wishing it was different and hoping to change it.

While we should avoid pride to think we can cope with all our physical problems by ourselves, and that since God made us that way he doesn’t want us to be happier or have a resolution to our chronic condition – maybe, though, we should put a little more energy into accepting ourselves the way we are.

Conclusion

I think we should live, and live well, using all the tools of modern medicine we have developed.  But I also can see how unhealthy, unchecked attitudes and expectations toward cosmetic surgeries can only lead to more disappointment down the road.

We have way too many examples of that:

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Cosmetic Surgery”

  1. I find Ben Mattlin’s comments refreshing, strong and courageous. He most likely has type II Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). To be emotionally content with the manifestations of SMA is amazing to me. I met 50 patients with SMA and talked with over 100 parents who had affected children. It is not a disease I would wish on anyone. In fact, I am very passionate about SMA and have given lectures about the genetics of SMA for my work. SMA is devastating. The majority of patients have type I, which is lethal in childhood without a significant respiratory intervention. I hope I never have to know how it feels to decide if I should trach my child to extend their life but diminish their quality of life or let them go and suffocate. I get tears in my eyes when I think about it. Lasik and SMA just don’t compare in my book.
    I don’t think God specifically created SMA or made Ben Mattlin’s body “that way”. I think it is a result of random genetic mutations that persist in a population. We all have genetic mutations. Sometimes they manifest and sometimes they don’t depending on the type and location. You may wish to quote to me scriptural examples but please don’t. I just can’t reconcile it in my human brain.
    However, I do understand your post. Emotional acceptance of our bodies is a difficult subject to address. Thanks for letting me comment!

  2. Lando! Long time, no talk. Hope you are doing well!

    I definitely believe that God approves of us taking advantage of the medical miracles we have achieved to improve and save lives. As for whether God makes people that way or not, that question is WAY above my pay grade… 🙂 (for the record, though, I think I agree with you)

    Not trying to trivialize chronic disability by putting it alongside cosmetic surgery (definitely apples and oranges), but I thought the story was a compelling way to communicate the point: if this guy can accept his body for what it is, surely I can accept mine for what it is.

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