Religious Convictions and Plastic Surgery – When The Two Intersect

The mixing of religion and plastic surgery are an unlikely pair that on the surface go together like oil and water. The current Gulf oil leak brings vivid images of how such things don’t go well even though they are closely aligned by proximity. Those considering plastic surgery with deep personal convictions undoubtedly feel like those contrasting mixtures. While no Christian religions of which I am aware specifically forbid having cosmetic surgery, it is with a certain amount of guilt that one of such beliefs ponders such a seemingly self-aggrandizing act.

I recently saw a mother on whose son I had operated many years ago to repair a birth defect. To leave a child’s face deformed is, of course, unimaginable in our society. But there are many third-world  countries where, due to lack of medical care,  such facial birth defects are not routinely repaired.  Even those persons with the deepest and strongest of personal convictions against ‘plastic’ surgery would not quibble about a parent’s decision to seek reconstruction of a birth defect. The same could be said for a church secretary that I saw who had breast cancer and wanted immediate breast reconstruction. But what about my former pediatric patient’s mother who now wanted a tummy tuck?  Or what about the individual who has body issues so serious after a 100 lb. weight loss that their mobility is affected?

For some, plastic surgery seems like a selfish and indulgent pursuit. While this response is often a knee jerk reaction on the part of some who see it that way, those with religious convictions are forced to look even  deeper and confront their beliefs and sometimes even question their spiritual integrity. But in a modern consumer-driven society, the awareness of such personal improvements is all around and are as readily available as the office across the street or in the next biggest town.

Over the years, I have performed cosmetic surgery on many more than a handful of patients with deeply held personal convictions who have undergo everything from breast augmentations to facelifts.  I know of their personal convictions because they told me so. While most patients offer an explanation (although not needed) as to why they want cosmetic surgery, those of religious persuasions are upfront about their struggle with this decision. There are few others that they can turn to for this discussion for fear of judgment in their community as well as to avoid the criticisms they would feel even if such words were unspoken. Most of us are quite quick to judge the motives of others without any real knowledge of their story.

A baby with the cleft lip and a mother who wants a tummy tuck seem worlds apart. But are they really? My observation is that both situations are wholly about the need to look and feel ‘normal’.  No parent corrects a birth defect with aspirations their child will one day become a supermodel, and a mother of four kids whose body has borne the brunt of repeated pregnancies are very similar.  These surgeries are about normalcy; and about feeling confident.   Few cosmetic patients that I have ever met really want to be special,  most only want to feel better about themselves- they want confidence. Whether that desire conflicts with the integrity of one’s religious beliefs, or are mutually exclusive, is not for me to say.

What I tell any patient, of strong religious convictions or not, is that plastic surgery is a tool. It is a method for personal improvement. The decision to have surgery or not is only part of the personal enrichment process.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana