SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

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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