Last week the Pontifical Council for Culture released a document in preparation for the coming plenary assembly that will be discussing the theme “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.” The document contained a strong stance against unnecessary plastic surgery. The Catholic Herald reports:
The preparatory document looked at how much pressure women face regarding their body image and the way women’s bodies are exploited in the media, even to the point of provoking eating disorders or recourse to unnecessary surgery.
“Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic can be aggressive toward the feminine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out,” it said.
“‘Plastic surgery is like a burka made of flesh.’ One woman gave us this harsh and incisive description,” the document said.
Some of the comments I read by Catholics on this news were dismissive. Some believe plastic surgery was not an issue worth discussing when there are greater evils like abortion and euthanasia to tackle.
I disagree. In fact, I was very heartened by reading the recent “Vatican Condemns Plastic Surgery” headlines. I think this is a very important story.
Why? Because the Church has drawn a clear and concise line in human genetic manipulation between therapy and enhancement. Genetic engineering to cure disease or bring back normal functioning, often called “gene therapy”, is good. The genetic engineering of otherwise healthy people to make them more than human in intelligence or strength, often called “genetic enhancement”, is bad.
This is a smart and moral line to draw. Genetic engineering of humans, in and of itself, is not inherently wrong, but we need to make sure that it is technology that serves us and does not enslave us. The only way to make sure that we do not become victims of our own advancements is to make sure invasive procedures like genetic engineering, artificial limbs, bionic eyes and the like are limited to therapeutic uses. In other words, they should be used medicinally, not as a vain quest to remake humanity.
What does this have to do with plastic surgery? I cannot count the times I have been challenged by Catholics and non-Catholics alike on the difference between therapy and enhancement where they cite plastic surgery as the analogy. Their argument? If the Church does not speak against plastic surgery that is not therapeutic in nature, then how can it possibly condemn other augmentations like genetic enhancements, performance-enhancing drugs or bionic limbs?
Many plastic surgeries are invasive and really should only be undertaken for reconstruction in patients that need it. Keeping silent about invasive procedures like breast implants, liposuction, and nose jobs that are done simply for vanity’s sake, opens the door to the idea, not only that it is OK to radically change an already healthy body, but that somehow we are not good enough as we are.
Those ideas are the foundations of transhumanism. It is important to speak out against invasive or excessive, non-therapeutic, plastic surgery because such procedures are baby steps on the path to human enhancements. Enhancements in turn will lead to a two-tiered society where the haves will have more than just money, they will have super-human augmentations, and the have-nots will be second class citizens that cannot afford or do not have access to the latest upgrades.
Personally, I am very glad the Church took the time to address the improper use of plastic surgery and how it is an “aggression” toward women. In reality, it is an “aggression” toward society as a whole.
A society that readily embraces plastic surgery for every perceived flaw is one that believes that simply being human is not good enough, that imperfections and aging are things to be avoided at great lengths. Such a society is already primed to embrace transhumanism and the next wave of enhancements that are just over the horizon.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly