Cosmetic surgery is a surgical procedure that is done on body parts that are healthy, and has the purpose of improving appearance. Cosmetic surgery has become more common over the years, especially in the United States. However, many are bringing to attention ethical problems related to the increasing percentage of people who have undergone this procedure. While some critics make a few good points about moral issues of cosmetic surgery, many who bring up the ethical issues of the procedure do not make strong enough arguments. Just like any other surgery, cosmetic surgery is a procedure that comes with many risks, but it is still an important one that should continue to be taught to and performed by physicians.
Stephen Coleman writes a great defensive argument for cosmetic surgery in his “A Defense of Cosmetic Surgery”, which specifically excludes reconstructive surgery. Coleman makes an accurate point by stating that cosmetic surgery can be morally justifiable for actors and actresses because the want for these surgeries are based off of their desire to sustain their jobs. (176) People on television are often critiqued on their physical appearance, and this can skew the hiring process for actresses and actors to role in movies and television shows. This especially affects women in the Hollywood industry. Women are strongly pressured to have certain physical features, and to display those features while playing their roles for media. This leads many actresses, female singers, and female models to undergo breast augmentation, breast reduction, abdominoplasty, and many other cosmetic surgeries to look appealing for the general audience and for directors to hire them for media roles. Even though it is sexist and unfair to hire women solely based on their looks, it is the reality of the world we live in today and many women in the media industry are forced to look a certain way to keep their jobs.
This suggestion that is reasonable for women in Hollywood to undergo cosmetic surgery can be further expanded to any person looking for a job, seeking a job, or looking to get a better job. Several studies have come to the conclusion that attractive people are more likely to be get call backs for job interviews, get promoted, and get paid more compared to unattractive people. While attractiveness can be seen as subjective, there are certain beauty standards that people are held to such as facial symmetry, a youthful appearance, and large sexual body parts. Since having certain physical features would make a person more successful in terms of careers, it would be ethical for a person to seek to attain those features. However, not every person who wants cosmetic surgery is doing so to have a successful career. As Coleman states in his argument, many of the first plastic surgeons performed plastic surgeries to alleviate problems that other people had on a person’s appearance. He gives a great example saying that many Jewish, Black, and Asian people underwent the surgery to avoid prejudice. These minorities had cosmetic surgery done in order to fight against stereotypes and to conform to the standards of beauty at that time. (Coleman 177).
However, Coleman is not seeking to defend these types of surgeries. I disagree with Coleman when he states that surgeries of these circumstances do not fit his definition of cosmetic surgery. Coleman states that surgeries that are performed to relieve serve psychological stress, decrease functional disturbances, and increase physical appearance outside a normal variation should really be considered reconstructive surgery. (173) I argue that surgeries performed to have a more successful career and to decrease stereotypical features of a certain race are definitely cosmetic. They are not medically necessary and some are only performed to fit within Caucasian physical appearance norms, which should not be the standard of attractiveness.
Despite my disagreement with Coleman on these issues, I agree with his main argument, which brings the topic of autonomy into the picture. Coleman argues that since autonomy is a basic human right, then people should be allowed to get surgery solely for the purpose of increasing their physical appearance. It would be unethical to shame people into not getting cosmetic surgery or to ban cosmetic surgery. This would be a violation of patient autonomy. Even though there may be risks associated with cosmetic surgeries, just like any other surgery, it does not cause any direct harm. Therefore it could also be argued that beneficence is also a factor that could come to play, because cosmetic surgery increases physical appearance and does not inflict intentional harm. (Coleman 178-180).
While Coleman makes the argument that cosmetic surgery is ethical because it respects patient autonomy, Franklin Miller suggests patient sovereignty is a topic that should as be discussed in regards to cosmetic surgery. Miller argues that some physicians and medical companies promote cosmetic surgeries by planting subliminal messages in advertisements for men and women by suggesting that they would look better if they undergo cosmetic surgery. He argues that the field of cosmetic surgery is more business than it is medical. While Miller does raise good points, I believe that these advertisements do not increase the likelihood of people undergoing cosmetic surgeries. Miller suggests that physicians are planting the idea in people’s minds that their bodies should be modified. (Miller 355) However, people are fed these ideas everyday. From actresses to models, people are constantly shown what makes someone physically attractive. People always look up to those in the media, and want to look like those actresses and models. Therefore it would not be accurate in suggesting that physicians are the ones planting these new ideas that our bodies are not perfect. Many physicians are capitalizing on Hollywood’s portrayal of perfect looking people, but it is not an idea that they made themselves.
I also argue that not all cosmetic surgeons are doing their jobs simply for the money. Many physicians perform cosmetic surgeries because they actually care about the well being of people and want to help patients in whatever way they can. If a patient would feel better in undergoing cosmetic surgery, then it would be ethical for a doctor to perform the surgery. Also, if one were not thinking about getting cosmetic surgery, advertisements would not suddenly make them believe that they would need the surgery. Advertisements for cosmetic surgeries simply make it more accessible for those seeking to get the surgery.
Overall cosmetic surgery should not be an ethical problem. The two main ethical theories that are upheld through cosmetic surgery are nonmaleficence and autonomy. Physicians are doing no harm to the patients that they perform the surgery on, and performing the surgery would be respecting patients’ autonomy for those who want to enhance their physical appearance. Cosmetic surgeries are also beneficial because they can increase one’s self-esteem, increase likelihood of a successful career, and can help people avoid discrimination due to physical features, thereby avoiding psychological harm. In conclusion, cosmetic surgery is a procedure that should be treated like any other surgery, as it causes no direct or intentional harm, and can increase the overall mental health of a patient.