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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

What is God’s Opinion on Plastic Surgery? (I of II)

March 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Church Teaching, Fr. Bartunek, Moral Issues

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!

As far as I know, the topic of plastic surgery was never broached explicitly in the Bible, nor has it been specifically addressed in the Church’s magisterium. So in order to know “God’s opinion” about it, we will have to analyze it in terms of human nature and basic moral and spiritual principles. I hope that doesn’t turn you off!

To start out, it’s pretty clear that you have already received an important grace in this regard. You have some doubts about this issue, and so you are seeking clarity. This in itself is a sign of an active interior life, a capacity for reflection and for hearing the voice of conscience. The Holy Spirit is at work in your life, and you are listening. What a blessing!

A Moral Matrix
Any time we make a moral decision, three factors go into determining whether that decision is morally good or evil. In the first place, there is the quality of action in question. Killing an innocent person, for example, is always morally wrong. It violates an objective moral good. In the second place, there are the circumstances surrounding the action in question. Circumstances can never make an evil action into a good action, but they can sometimes make a good action into an evil action. For example, a parent may experience righteous anger towards an incompetent teacher who has caused some problems for his or her child. But expressing that anger in the presence of the child may cause more harm than good. In this case, the circumstance of having the child present in the room would make a perfectly acceptable behavior (rational expression of just anger) into a scandalous one. Thirdly, there is the intention of the person performing the action. An action that seems morally neutral or even good on the surface can actually be distorted by a perverse intention. A good example of this is the prayers and offerings of the Pharisees, which Jesus speaks about in the Gospels. Many Pharisees performed those good actions not in order to give glory to God, but in order to draw attention to themselves. And so, the moral value of those actions was vitiated.

So let’s look at plastic surgery in terms of the action, the circumstances, and the intention.

Moral Dimensions
Plastic surgery in itself comes in many different forms: nose reconstructions, breast enhancements, fat reductions, skin grafts… If any of these surgeries were to damage or distort or mutilate a person’s physical or psychological integrity, they would be objectively wrong. A clear example of this would be trans-gender surgeries – surgically attempting to change one’s gender is not a fruitful path to sexual and personality integration. Even some seemingly innocent (and very common) procedures often have physiological side-effects that can be problematic. So, anyone considering plastic surgery needs to do their homework. Are the physiological (and even economic) consequences or risks really balanced out by the benefits being sought? Reconstructive surgeries that happen as a help to recover from traumas (burns, for example, or breast damage caused by cancer surgeries) seem to produce truly therapeutic outcomes. In these cases, the risks and costs could indeed be reasonable. There needs to be reasonable proportion between the benefit that the surgery will garner, and the risks that the surgery involves.

What about the circumstances? Here it’s harder to make a general judgment. Someone whose livelihood depends on their looks, for example, may have a strong motivation for having a nose reconstruction, for example. Or someone whose health is in danger may need to have surgery that will help lead to healthy weight control. In both these cases, we are dealing with types of surgery that seem to be acceptable in themselves (unlike trans-gender surgeries, for example, or physical mutilation).

In the part two of our 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.

 

Art: Various scalpels, both fixed blade and replaceable blade, from various manufacturers; 33 days after lip surgery, age at ten months, own work, King97tut; both PD-worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • patricia

    Hi Father

    I liked how you weighed in the good and bad possible reasons for getting plastic surgery. I always wondered what God thinks about cosmetic surgery because some can be done for vanity and some done for therapeutic reasons.
    How does this or any medical procedure tie in when there is use of embryonic stem cell use. I feel as Catholics like you said we need to do our homework before we agree. Thanks for your post. My prayers and Gods blessings!

  • Annie

    It is stated that our bodies are sacred temples which the Holy Spirit lives.We should take excellent care of it and we are responsible for what we do . If also like to say I think it also depends on why you are doing it . For any other reason than if you are deformed and the surgery would increase the ability to live a better quality of life ( example: say skin through an accident has grown by or on your mouth causing you not to be able to move your lips to speak and this surgery would remove that skin and allow you to communicate better ) than anything else would be of an Ego mentality and that is the sin of pride. I was a beautiful woman and I decided wearing make up and tight fitting clothes and all it took to be ” sexy looking” was unnecessary. I know about god and his love for me and I know beauty is in the heart & soul of every single hi man so I stopped going that direction . I don’t look beautiful any longer but I bet I feel more beautiful than anyone who is for I allow god into my heart and soul. I never would of cut my hair now I get buzz cuts everytime I gave up that beauty for the love of god it is my offer to him to show my love. Try to do work on your spiritual self more than your physical ( but always take proper care yourself) I mean do what is necessary for your health not your looks . May god peace , wisdom & his love guide through the Holy Spirit who lives in you

    • MarcAlcan

      The temptation to vanity is very strong in all of us.

      I think when Jesus becomes the centre, then all this will slowly fall away. We will cease to care less how we are on the outside but more on how we are on the inside.

      Women should stop reading women’s magazines. It gives a false measure of what real beauty is.

      We need to ask: do I really want God to be the centre of my life?

  • Laura Chapman Rosics

    I too have faced this delema, I am 51 years old and still considered very attractive, ( a God given gift I’m sure of) however I am no longer the thin beautiful woman I was in my youth. It took soul searching and time to accept this but with Gods grace I happily do accept it. I was an avid outdoor walker/runner for most of my adult life and I developed deep vertical lines between my eyebrows. I look as if I’m frowning or mad to the point people would ask if something was wrong. I really wanted to get Botox or something too correct it but it is very costly and not permanent. (Lasts about 6 months) I decided to just have bangs long enough, swept offside to cover my lines and to offer this up in reparation for sins of the past.
    We women and men as well can be overly concerned about how age changes our bodies (not to mention that road map post child bearing belly) lol
    I just try to be grateful and thankful for my good health and for how this body not only served myself but for the 5 children that grew inside me and nourished from my body for the early months of their lives. I have been blessed and used by our Lord for the purposes of which I was created for.

  • Annie

    I commented on part 1 and I still say as long as it is not for yourself your ego , then it would be for your health I think but you’d best ask a priest about for job but even here I think it’s not ego it is for your livelihood so it may be ok but ask as long as you are not doing it to correct god and for self pleasure I believe this is ok . If you added breast and there was nothing wrong to begin with just you felt you had none then that’s ego it’s wrong god made you perfect for your body and life what he has planned for you . Believe me… my back & shoulders & neck hurt all the time and I can not wear half the things I would love to wear so why not be content with what you have .

  • Bex

    I really hate the look of my nose. I don’t think it looks right on my face. Would it be wrong to get a nose job since there is no medical necessity? Now another question if someone had to get there nose fixed cuz it was broken or something would it be ok then if they shrunk it a little? I want to know what is right please help me.

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