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

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!

Spiritual Motivations?

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.

Integral Dignity
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.

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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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  • Lisa

    Fr. John, your approach and insights to this topic are very encouraging. Thank you so much for addressing this. Plastic surgery itself is not something I personally have considered for myself; but your responses can also be extended, I believe, to other areas of self-interest.

    I have been trying to achieve overall better health through a nutritious diet, for my family and myself. Given the epidemics of diseases associated with obesity and poor eating choices, it is a real concern. I read great deal of selective information available. While I have narrowed the field quite a bit, there are many contradictory or rather opposing viewpoints on the best approach to health through food choices. It is dizzying, to say the least, to sort through it.

    At what point does one stop reviewing the info ….. It can be so time consuming as well as confusing when new research becomes available. I do not want to neglect my health nor the health of my growing children – but I also do not want to place too much emphasis on this aspect of life, bordering on it becoming a “god.” Do you have any thoughts on this? Thank you!

    • Carla Reynolds

      Hi Lisa,
      Just my 2 cents: healthy eating need not be dizzying at
      all…chances are that if your grandparents did not eat it, it is not
      food but a food-like item and good to avoid. Read labels for
      ingredients and stick to those with fewest and
      whole/natural/non-chemical ingredients. Don’t drink manufactured juice,
      chips, sodas, etc., and make most of your meals at home with basic real
      ingredients. Sleep 7-8 hrs/nt, be physically active, get fresh air and
      sunshine, and most important: get to daily Mass if at all possible.
      God Bless You!

      • Lisa

        God bless you too. Thank you for taking time to offer your wise advice. I completely concur with your overall perspective — and for the most part, I have that pretty much covered. It is the more detailed areas and things that are being discovered (from food to supplements) that are trickier. I guess those nuances are best discussed at nutrition forums. For me, I was inquiring as to a healthy balance — how to keep atop it all without it becoming overemphasized. I don’t know if I am communicating clearly at this point. My question could really apply to any issues we focus on when it comes to taking care of our bodies….be it diet, exercise, sleep, etc. Sometimes it is hard for me to know where to draw the line.

        • Carla Reynolds

          No worries! I completely understand :):)

        • $1650412

          It might be helpful to set limits on the focus on these things according to how much time it is reasonable and consistent with the performance of one’s duty to alotte to them.

  • Tom

    Greetings Father John. Thank you for this article. I asked an evangelical church couple that are friends of mine about their thoughts on plastic surgery. They responded that of course it is against Gods will and explained to me how scripture in the old testament denounces any mutilation of the body. Father would you have any information on this type of topic. Its new to me. thanks for your time father.

    • $1650412

      Tom, it has to do with purpose and intent. Cosmetic surgery can be morally neutral, but the purpose in using it- to correct deformity, irregularity, or for theraputic or reconstructive purposes can be a particular and worthy good.
      It’s when the intent of the person seeking and paying for the surgery is warped by untruth, or lies, at cross purposes with God’s glory, that we begin to have a problem. And there are many very serious lies upheld in our culture about external appearance- it is a type of slavery and idolatry. We have to figure out where we are buying in to the devil’s destructive agenda- it permeates alot of our thinking and values, unfortunately.

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