Is cosmetic surgery the sin of pride?

A recent article showed that some people consider having a Botox injection to be committing the sin of vanity, and that got me thinking. How sinful is cosmetic plastic surgery?

There are two main and opposing view points in my opinion. Cosmetic surgery may be a sin of vanity, as in one of the seven deadly sins, which has since the age of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, been considered an odious trait—vanity is a class of the sin of pride. On the other hand, cosmetic surgery may be a venue to allow us to get closer to the deity by making us closer to his image. Here is a paraleipsis of a book-worthy topic.

Cosmetic surgery is a sin

For many, the idea of cosmetic surgery is an avoidable sin, given that most of us commit so many of the others. This premise is based on the concept of vanity or pride (superbia) being one of the seven deadly sins, along with jealousy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, greed and lust.

Vanity, or pride, is offensive in its self-centered attitude; one’s “excessive” preoccupation with the self detracts from good works that can be done for others and for god. Its ostentatious character is the opposite of the humble and pious attitude of the esthetes, who are deemed to be more virtuous by their rejection of earthly things. Jesus, Buddah, Ghandi and whoever wants to achieve an air of holiness will opt for the unflattering and vanity-free white robe. The popes wore white but with gold trim, and more recently with red Prada shoes, which in my book is definitely vain. Yet vanity is one of those extensible concepts. Its definition explicitly includes excessive preoccupation with one’s attributes. My vanity is different from yours, and how much I will allow myself is also different from what you may feel comfortable enjoying. All of us are vain to some extent, after all. Do you not wash and brush your hair and shave your armpits or beard? Why if not for vanity? Making yourself presentable in the morning is vain. Who has not heard the maxim “cleanliness is next to godliness”? In fact, vanity may be encouraged by society itself, and different levels of vanity are ordained by different cultures at different times. For example, the Hmong tribes of the Laos-Thai-Vietnam golden triangle do not wash but still placate their vanity by wearing extensive, colorful clothes and jewelry. Defining vanity as a Kantian truth is hence difficult, as it seems to be more in the realm of metaphysics with its relations to time and place.

Cosmetic surgery is god’s work

A particularly religious patient of mine once told me that she thanked god in prayer every day for having created plastic surgeons to keep her looking young and beautiful. For her, cosmetic surgery followed the religiously ordained belief that because humans were created in god’s image, they had an obligationa religious dutyto ensure that they looked as good as possible, as young as possible, as presentable as possible, and thereby to honor god, in whose image we are made.

Artistic representations of gods across all cultures are depicted as being beautiful and young. Old age, sickness and ugliness were traits associated with evil and things dark and sinisterthe devil. One still uses “Greek goddess” as a descriptive term for women of exceptional beauty. Is beauty attainable or, rather, maintainable without having an accompanying trait of vanity? And if so, how could vanity possibly be a sin if it is necessary to bring us closer to god’s image? Cosmetic plastic surgeons can be likened to high priests helping mortals achieve a higher level of being, get a little closer to Nirvana. Cosmetic plastic surgeon’s are doing god’s work on Earth. That is why they wear white coats.

Come to think of it most cosmetic surgeons may well be practitioners of the seven holy virtues every day of their lives; they surely exhibit some humility, charity, kindness, patience, temperance (not on weekends), diligence and maybe even by some a little chastity!

For more information, please check the Bible, book of Proverbs.

Morad Tavallali, M.D., FACS

Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon