Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is access to plastic surgery a right?

But [Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo] Pitanguy had long maintained that plastic surgery was not only for the rich: “The poor have the right to be beautiful, too,” he has said. ...

But Pitanguy’s remark raises yet another issue: Is beauty a right, which, like education or health care, should be realized with the help of public institutions and expertise? ...

[Pitanguy] argues that the real object of healing is not the body, but the mind. A plastic surgeon is a “psychologist with a scalpel in his hand.” This idea led Pitanguy to argue for the “union” of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. In both types of surgery beauty and mental healing subtly mingle, he claims, and both benefit health. ...

We might ask: if you’re psychologically suffering, why not have psychological treatment? One doctor had this response: “What is the difference between a plastic surgeon and a psychoanalyst? The psychoanalyst knows everything but changes nothing. The plastic surgeon knows nothing but changes everything.” ...

[A]ttractiveness is a quality that is at least partially independent of other social hierarchies. For example, the rich and well-born are not always good looking.

Beauty is unfair: the attractive enjoy privileges and powers gained without merit. As such it can offend egalitarian values. Yet while attractiveness is a quality “awarded” to those who don’t morally deserve it, it can also grant power to those excluded from other systems of privilege. It is a kind of “double negative”: a form of power that is unfairly distributed but which can disturb other unfair hierarchies. For this reason it may have democratic appeal. In poor urban areas beauty often has a similar importance for girls as soccer (or basketball) does for boys: it promises an almost magical attainment of recognition, wealth or power.

In Brazil’s favelas many dreams for social mobility center on the body. N.G.O.’s offer free lessons in fashion modeling. Marriage is often seen as an out-of-reach luxury; seduction a means of escaping poverty.
--Alexander Edmonds, NYT, on beauty and justice