With the recent popularity of shows such as “Extreme Makeover” on ABC (in which people are given plastic-surgery fantasy makeovers) and the enormous interest in a Denver radio station’s contest prize of $10,000 for cosmetic surgery, questions about the morality of such programs and contests has been raised, as well as the ongoing questions of the morality of cosmetic surgery in general.
By altering the body surgically just to “look better” are these programs helping or hurting the person they are altering? Indeed, are they ever damaging society by forcing an impractical and unreal version of “beauty” and pushing the idea that the Self should be identified through the body? Cosmetic surgery is nothing new for the world, and neither are the questions that surround it.
Records of nose reconstructions using skin from the forehead and other skin graph procedures can be found in texts in Ancient India dating back to 600 B.C. Evidence of such surgical practices can be found up through the times of Ancient Rome and well into the Renaissance in Italy.
Surgery techniques such as injecting paraffin wax into noses and breasts were practiced in America during the 1800s, which was considerably dangerous as the wax would often melt and migrate or cause cancer. Not until after World War I did the practice take off, booming into what we now recognize as “cosmetic surgery”.
During the 1990s, the University Hospital of Cleveland, surgeries such as liposuction and breast augmentation were the most popular, with breast augmentation rising a startling 413% since 1992. These procedures are both usually cosmetic and even dangerous to health.
Are these types of surgeries really benefiting people, or is it an illusion that is taking away from understanding the real Self? Answers to this question are not easy, as this issue of body image and the Self is obviously an ancient one. Cosmetic surgery is not going to go away, as we can see from its long history, but perhaps instead of glorifying it via “Extreme Makeover” and contests, we can promote a less body-oriented idea of the Self so people will be more encouraged to grow through education and introspection.
An Ancient Indian text cautions, “Those who think the Self is the body will lose their way in life.”
In that spirit, perhaps we should encourage the winners of the radio contest, as my best friend Tara said, to “expand their mind with that $10,000 instead of their boobs.”