Considering (or perhaps because of) the amount of time I have spent working in hospitals I am still rather squeamish when it comes to surgery. I think it's amazing that it's possible to drill a hole in a bone and then tie a tendon or ligament through it or whatever it is they do, replace worn out ear drums using skin from behind the ears, or reconstruct a breast using tissue from another part of the body, but I don't much want to talk about it and I definitely don't want to watch. The idea of having unnecessary surgery is as incomprehensible to me as playing 'chicken' on a busy road, especially when I've trawled through enough medical notes to know that those wielding the knife don't appear to have the fine motor skills required to use a mere pen. Cosmetic surgery I find frankly icky (technical term, as I'm sure you can appreciate), especially the type where they suck fat out of one place in order to put it into another. Consequently I was surprised to read that this is on the increase.
This morning I was reflecting on the Holy Father's message for World Communications Day and I was initially surprised at how positively he spoke about social networks. I have read and heard a lot of comments about the evils of facebook, twitter et al which destroy interpersonal relationships, as individuals seek virtual relationships in which they can pretend to be whoever they want to be. However, as usual, Pope Benedict is right: social networks are neutral in themselves, it is how we use them which makes them positive or negative, good or bad. (I know I look like I've gone off topic: bear with me!) Similarly, plastic surgery is not intrinsically bad. There are many good uses to which it can be put, such as reconstruction following accidents or surgery or to correct physical abnormalities which present health risks in themselves. I am glad to see from the BBC report, though, that the number of 'man boob' operations has decreased because people are going to the gym instead. The operation, whilst superficially resolving a problem, does nothing to address the underlying cause, whereas going to the gym requires commitment and taking responsibility for oneself. At root it recognises that our actions have consequences.
When I say that there are good uses to which plastic surgery can be put, I don't know that think that all the others are bad. What concerns me is why people feel the need to have surgery to alter their appearance. In the same way that we can create an alter ego online, we can also project a different image by changing our physical appearance. We all constantly use 'masks' to hide our fears and insecurities, to make ourselves more likeable, or employable, or attractive (on whatever level). In other words, we take steps which we think will make us happier. In the drastic case of cosmetic surgery, it would seem that many people think that looking younger, or thinner, or having a certain body shape, will have consequences which in turn will lead to happiness. I question whether this is true. If a life is built on something which isn't real, can it lead to real happiness? And wouldn't our time and efforts be better spent on trying to be more like the One in whose image we are made, rather than attempting to alter our exterior to conform with any other image?