Philippa Taylor

Altering the Body: the rise and rise of cosmetic surgery

Philippa Taylor was Head of Public Policy at CMF until September 2019 and now works with CARE. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

This week the 90 second daily programme on ethical topics tackles cosmetic surgery, under the headline ‘is it right to alter the body?’

It seems that many are answering ‘yes’ to this. In 2006 nearly £500 million was spent in Britain on nips, tucks and botox, four times more than in 2001. That figure is expected to have grown well into the billions by the end of this year. The UK spends more on cosmetic surgery than anywhere else in Europe, but is still lagging behind the amount spent in the USA.

Cosmetic surgery was widely regarded a couple of decades ago as physically risky, morally doubtful, prohibitively expensive and socially embarrassing but has now been rebranded as something so innocuous and sensible as to be mundane. One survey for Grazia magazine found that more than half of young women now expect to have surgery.

Cosmetic surgery has simply become another consumer lifestyle choice, alongside fashion and home furnishings.

Why? Bhuddist, Linda Briggs, on 4thought, tells us it is her body, she can do whatever she likes with it, and cosmetic surgery was necessary to help her career in an ‘ageist’ society. She considers the £30,000 she spent on surgery as a great investment.

Influenced by the media and celebrities, many women think it will give them more confidence. Cost does not seem to be a concern. And why not have it? What is the difference between highlighting your hair and having a facelift? As surgery gets safer and cheaper, women struggle to see how the latter could be bad, if the former is good. Most patients are delighted with the results, smiling into the camera for their ‘after’ photograph. Linda Briggs again: “I’d have done it sooner if I knew the effect it would have on my life”. The normality of surgery is increasingly justified by its popularity.

So, cosmetic surgery is regarded as a simple, personal choice. But what looks like choice from one angle can resemble coercion from another. Peer pressure, expectations, the desire to fit in and look more ‘normal’ (to not stand out in the crowd because of misshapen teeth or a slightly wonky nose), our celebrity, ageist and image-conscious culture…yes, we do have a choice but standing against these pressures is far from easy.

I highly recommend watching the short 4thought clip this week by Andy Tedder. Having grown up with a genetic condition that would drive most people to cosmetic surgery, in such contrast to Linda Briggs, he stands firmly against these pressures. He has had corrective surgery only, refusing to go down the cosmetic surgery route. Why? Tedder speaks about his confidence in himself as a beautiful person, despite his appearance, because: “I know how much I’m loved by my friends and family and by God.”

Tedder rightly knows only too well that while man just looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. “That inner beauty is what I encourage people to see.”


Posted by Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy



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