Monday, May 10, 2004

Extreme Think-Over

With shows like Extreme Makeover, The Swan, and I Want A Celebrity Face permeating mainstream popular culture, and shamefully gracing the hapless networks, the issue of surgical enhancement has taken center stage in our relentless quest for self-perfection. Some Botox here, a chin tuck there, plus facial reconstructive surgery here, a new wardrobe, and I'm ready to begin my new life—this isn’t even taking into account the necessary cognitive therapy to assume my new persona.

Even meek, moralistic Canadians are rushing to their plastic surgeons in record numbers. In 2003, the number of Canadians going in for a surgical enhancement procedure increased by 30% from the pervious year.

Indeed, shows like The Swan reflect rather than create or instruct the growing trend toward more surgical enhancement; and, insofar as these shows sensitize and sanitize our previously temperate attitudes toward surgical enhancement, they also cultivate and intensify an atmosphere that regards such activities as socially acceptable and, more importantly, normal.

Therefore, what is interesting is how the public dialogue has pushed the moral concerns closer to the fringes. No longer is it taboo to consider surgical enhancement: a scared cow has been tipped—at least partially. As a matter of personal choice and self-improvement, what essentially is the moral difference between exercise and surgical enhancement? To be fair, the physical differences are scant when taking into account the physiological enchantment of exercise. Thus, surgical enhancement's primary goal, apart from the visible modification, is the notion that visible modification will benefit you physiological, or more specifically: it makes you feel better about your-self. One exercises for the physical and mental benefits; surgical enhancement offers these same ends—though with much less effort.

But the negative opinions still persist. Why is this?

It may simply be that surgical enhancement is a relativity effortless form of self improvement, and that people—viz. rich people—will eventually buy their way to beauty and social prominence (like they haven't already). Soci-economic disparities generally predicate the way in which employment opportunities are distributed. On top of this, it is widely accepted, and shown through numerous studies, that preferential treatment is disproportionately given to good looking people.

Therefore, a strong argument for surgical enhancement can be made on the grounds that but for surgical enhancement the livelihood of a not so good looking person would suffer. If one has the means and the desire, then why not enhance her or his professional and personal livelihood through surgical enhancement?

This, of course, raises ethical implications in our public and social policy mechanisms. Though economic accessibility still remains a barrier to the equality of surgical enhancement opportunities, a comprehensive study of the systemic flaws in contemporary social and political arrangements, which is far beyond the scope of this post, would explore the issue more adequately. Yet, remaining pragmatic on this issue appears to be the only sane position at this point

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