Is Body Augmentation Moral?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 10:02am
QUESTION: Is it morally wrong for an actor, actress, or model to undergo body augmentation (for example: breast implants, collagen injections, face lifts) for the primary purpose of maintaining or advancing their career? Correspondingly, is it wrong for professional athletes to take legal (not illegal) performance-enhancing substances solely to improve their game? These two issues have been in the news lately, and I can’t seem to find a satisfactory explanation addressing them. (I understand that procedures to heal injuries and correct deformities are permissible.)
ANSWER: Let’s start with easy examples of “body augmentation,” or procedures that alter our bodies physically. Sometimes we may be tempted to think, “Well, this is the way God made me. If I change anything, I would be going against His will.” But people of both genders regularly shave off unwanted hair, cut their nails, and have their head-hair cut or dyed. We do these things usually without considering them to be moral issues. We do all sorts of things to our teeth (e.g., straightening, whitening), often for purely cosmetic purposes. Some things might be done for health purposes, such as mole removal; but sometimes this is for cosmetic purposes also. In these and in many other ways, we do not simply “let nature take its course.”
Thus with regard to the items mentioned in the above question, such as breast implants and face lifts, whether done for job purposes or not, we cannot say that they are inherently wrong. This does not mean that they are always right, however. Moral issues are definitely involved, though these are usually on a secondary level. For example, is a particular procedure done for the purpose of deceiving? Is it simply a matter of vanity or conceit? Is it bad stewardship of money? Does it involve immodesty, i.e., is the purpose to flaunt one’s sexuality and to incite lust? Does it endanger one’s health? These and other such questions definitely should be raised, and should be answered honestly by anyone considering such a procedure. We as friends and spiritual advisors of such folks can help them to conscientiously answer these questions, but we cannot answer them for other people and should not stand in judgment upon them.
This same approach would apply to questions about legal performance-enhancing substances. I.e., we regularly partake of such things as caffeine and energy drinks or energy bars. When an athlete progresses to some of the more exotic substances or practices, like human growth hormone, steroids, and blood doping, then the kinds of questions listed in the previous paragraph must definitely be asked—especially the question about endangering one’s health. When one is participating in sports organizations or contests that have rules about such usage, it is always wrong to go against these rules.