Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Saving Women Through Cosmetic Surgery

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 28, 2006

According to a recent Canadian medical study, women who have cosmetic surgery are more likely to commit suicide. The study in question tracked thousands of women over a period of 25 years. It found that women who have figure-enhancing surgery are about 1.8 times more likely to take their own lives. For other cosmetic surgery, the figure is about 1.5 times more likely. Why?

The Problem with Women

Cosmetic surgery can, of course, repair serious defects which anyone would want to correct. But most of it is performed to make an ordinary physical feature “better”. The kind of person who is sufficiently discontented with ordinariness to resort to surgery is obviously more likely to be suffering from depression, low self-esteem or the wrong values. Problems of low self-esteem and depression often have a spiritual component, but very frequently they need also to be dealt with professionally, on their own terms. For women driven to cosmetic surgery by these concerns, the inevitable result will be that the surgery does not relieve their interior stress.

A significant element of one’s self-esteem and overall happiness, of course, is value-based, or spiritual. For example, if we’re not academically-gifted but we grow up in a culture which constantly emphasizes the importance of academic success, we need significant internal resources to avoid having this emphasis adversely affect our own view of ourselves. In our culture, whatever other pressures may be at work, women are continuously judged by appearance, and the women’s market is dominated by products to improve appearance. Women learn early and often that they are stars if they are good-looking, and that they can dominate if they have a certain type of figure. Thus women must find within themselves substantial psychological and spiritual resources if they are to keep their balance, one way or the other, depending upon where they fall in the appearance spectrum.

Largely a Problem with Men

I don’t want to lay all of this at the feet of men; there is doubtless something about human nature which dictates that the female shall be somewhat more concerned with adorning herself to attract the male than the other way around. But a natural and healthy tendency is probably distorted less often by flaws in a particular woman’s psyche than by the constant subtle and not-so-subtle pressure applied by men (and by other women thinking about or commenting on what men like). If you want to understand the motive for radical feminism, look for men who have treated women as objects and, in consequence, rejected or abandoned them. At a less socially-cataclysmic level, the destructive dependence on physical beauty for self-esteem has the same root.

You don’t have to watch too many beer commercials featuring plain guys and gorgeous women to get the point. If men want to contribute to the well-being of women, they need to affirm women as total persons, not as physical objects. Other women, including sisters and mothers, need to do the same, instead of viewing each other through a distorted male lens. The sense of being valued and loved for who she is (first and foremost a daughter of God), rather than merely how she looks, is tremendously liberating for any woman (as it is, in a different context, for any man when he falls on hard times financially). Even favorite objects eventually become boring and are psychologically set aside at intervals, or perhaps permanently. This problem of the objectification of women is eliminated by every type and degree of authentic love.

Mainly a Spiritual Problem

The root of most of these problems is spiritual. Worse, widespread spiritual problems are generally culturally conditioned, exacerbating each and every particular human weakness. By contrast, Christian culture grows from a spirituality which heals and perfects nature. Like every other counter-cultural trend, this healing and perfecting must begin in the home and will find its greatest initial success in the social and educational circles established by like-minded families. Because of our own fallenness, however, even the efforts of those on the right track must be rooted in daily prayer, custody of the eyes, and a sincere effort to control not only actions but thoughts. There are few of us, male or female, who are without some very relevant chinks in our proverbial armor.

Paradoxically, operating in denial of the fundamental differences between men and women doesn’t help. A politically-correct, public-school mentality of denying the sexual component of identity fools no one and leaves our powerful sexual culture free to operate even more viciously just beneath the official surface. The bonds of this culture can be cut only with a spiritual knife, a continuous razor-like behavioral application of a proper understanding of human dignity, which cuts straight to the heart of the problem. Parents must raise their sons and daughters to understand what this means, and to live by it. A very large factor in the formative years is the cultivation of modesty in the context of a regard for the total person. Unlike modern theories, modesty begins with an understanding of differences.

Fixing the Problem One on One

While we have a great deal of work to do to change the message which women generally receive, especially from mass media and advertising, this is a problem which can be fixed one on one in any particular person’s life. Each of us, by our choice of entertainment, our work habits, and even our everyday speech can do a great deal to send the right signals. In our culture, women have a desperate need for pure, affirming relationships with men, and with other women who have experienced such relationships. The proper spousal relationship is clearly critical, but our relationships with other women are also important. These may be paternal, or fraternal, or simply that of a co-worker, colleague or friend. In many cases, even one pure and affirmative relationship can make the difference between happiness and misery—and sometimes between life and death.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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