Is plastic surgery unethical?


Fact Box

  • Some of the oldest forms of plastic surgery date back to ancient India around 800 BC where skin grafts were performed for reconstructive purposes.
  • A 2016 Pew Research Center survey about US adults’ attitudes toward cosmetic surgery revealed that 61% of respondents thought “people are too quick to undergo cosmetic procedures in order to change their appearance in ways that are not really important.” 
  • The two types of plastic surgery are reconstructive surgery, which “is performed to restore function and normal appearance, and correct deformities created by birth defects, trauma or medical conditions including cancer,” and cosmetic surgery, which is utilized to “enhance overall cosmetic appearance by reshaping and adjusting normal anatomy to make it visually more appealing.” 
  • As of 2019, about 18 million plastic surgery procedures took place in the US annually, with breast augmentation, liposuction, blepharoplasty (eye surgery), rhinoplasty, and facelifts among the most popular.

Luna (Yes)

Plastic surgery creates an unrealistic standard of perfection in a world where women already experience double standards of beauty. If more and more people start having plastic surgery, it will become normalized, putting unnecessary pressure on others, especially women, to use plastic surgery to look “good.” 

The persistent problem in plastic surgery is that it could widen the income gap and create more inequalities. Not everyone can afford expenses like getting plastic surgery for non-medical reasons. The use of such a practice risks alienating people who earn less or belong to a lower socio-economic class. People belonging to such groups may feel like “outsiders” and struggle to build and maintain positive relationships in their life. 

Beauty comparisons like these may also nudge people to create a fake persona to “fit in.” When people start relying on plastic surgery to “fix” their appearance, they are essentially maintaining an expensive facade hiding their true selves, which can create inauthentic relationships. People may start actively suppressing their identity to present an appealing picture. We already see this happening with celebrities who mold their lives to suit the limelight. 

Behavior like this, combined with the socio-economic pressure of getting plastic surgery, can also lower self-esteem in the long run. Feeling the need to get plastic surgery done stems from a poor relationship with your body. Moving forward with the surgery may further worsen how you see your body, and such feelings may prove detrimental to your mental health long-term.

Quick and expensive fixes are anything but ethical. 

Grace (No)

While the reasoning behind some plastic surgeries might be connected to more systemic problems related to body image, a person’s choice to follow through with those procedures is an exercise in bodily autonomy. People go on diets, get tattoos and dye their hair to change something about themselves all the time; plastic surgery is just another example of body modification. And, in many situations, plastic surgery is necessary for quality of life.

For some transgender individuals, gender affirmation surgery helps with gender dysmorphia--a constant and sometimes debilitating desire to present as a different gender. While there’s lots of anecdotal evidence of trans people expressing their happiness after surgery, a German study following trans women for years post-operation found that 75% of their subjects displayed an increased quality of life.

Burn victims also benefit from plastic surgery--many undergoing reconstructive procedures that return a sense of normalcy after tragedy. This kind of surgery can reduce the appearance of scars, which serves a cosmetic as well as practical function: severe, thick scarring can inhibit basic functions and movements on some areas of the body. Additionally, physical memories of pain can be traumatic for survivors.

Children with cleft lips and palates need plastic surgery for overall development, as without this surgery, babies will have trouble feeding, speaking, and hearing--along with deformed teeth and gums.

While there are crooked doctors and dangerous practices, this isn’t unique to plastic surgery. As long as everyone is safe and making autonomous decisions, plastic surgery is perfectly ethical.

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