Last week, I became aware of a document that the Vatican released intended to be a discussion guide for their Plenary Assembly devoted to women’s issues. This document covers a wide variety of issues that concern contemporary women, including plastic surgery. The reason this has come to my attention is that it expresses a negative view of elective plastic surgery for women and warns that procedures such as face lifts and tummy tucks can betray their female identity. This document which was produced by the Pontifical Council for Culture is, to my mind, totally out of touch with contemporary culture and women. Perhaps they meant to discuss ancient culture…..
While I am not Catholic, there is much I admire about Catholicism. It is the basis for all Christian religions and it has inspired some of the greatest works of art and architecture in the world. The best renowned choral compositions are setting of the Mass that I have sung. Further, the current Pope seems to be a wonderful, spiritual man who is doing some great things. But the Vatican’s view towards women still seems to be archaic, and demeaning. Excluding women from the closed-door Plenary Assembly on Women’s cultures: equality and difference is absurd!
Before I go on, it is interesting to note that this document only criticizes aesthetic surgery for women and not men. This can only mean that either it is OK for men to have plastic surgery and not women, or that these esteemed authors are ignorant to the fact that 10% of cosmetic plastic surgery patient are men.
What this document is saying about women is that they are rejecting their identity by having plastic surgery, and betraying the truth about who they really are. It said that plastic surgery is aggressive towards women’s identity and that women who seek plastic surgery often spiral into negative “pathologies” such as eating disorders, depression, and dysmorphic disorders. Really? One wonders where the data to support these assumptions/allegations exists. To my mind, they don’t exist.
Now, let me hasten to point out that there are things that plastic surgery can do which it shouldn’t do, and there are plastic surgeons who do things that I would not do. But to slam cosmetic plastic surgery and those who seek it, seems to be very short sighted and downright wrong.
Separating fact from fiction
Quite to the contrary, there are a number of good scientific studies which support that fact that cosmetic plastic surgery can have significantly positive impacts on a women’s quality of life. Moreover, it has been my experience that plastic surgery can help women, and men, achieve an appearance that is more in keeping with their identity, or who they feel they are. The patients that I see are very reasonable people who want to alter a particular aspect of their appearance. They are not trying to hide their identity, nor are they likely to be depressed and have dysmorphic disorders. The fact is that they are generally happier with themselves than they were before.
Rather than covering their identity with a “burka made of flesh,” (and, yes, they actually wrote that) plastic surgery can be very empowering to women and to men too. Matching the outward appearance to the inner self does not aggressively assault one’s identity. Rather, it is more likely to shed a layer of appearance which can mask the inner self or inner beauty.
Cosmetic plastic surgery is not for everyone, and nor is any particular procedure right for everyone. But for those who seek it, it can be a very positive step for them. The happiness I see in my patients post-operatively does not square with the Vatican’s outdated opinions.
The question of whether or not plastic surgery actually changes who you are is an interesting and provocative one. And something a little deeper than the Vatican’s consultants may be able to grasp. However, it would seem to be a good topic for my next blog.
All the best,
David B. Reath, M.D.