Beautiful enough

Recently my travels took me through Salt Lake City.  Beautiful place.  Dramatic mountains.  Lots of things to do.

Wherever you drive in big cities you pass a lot of billboards.   Billboards tell you a lot about a town.  And in Salt Lake City they tell you that plastic surgery is clearly a big deal in the Beehive State.

How big?  It turns out Utah has the sixth highest per capita number of plastic surgeons in America—only one spot behind California.

But unlike fifth-place California, Utah isn’t exactly a hotbed of Hollywood-style liberalism.  So what’s up with Utah’s hyper- focus on improving what God gave us?

As everyone knows, there’s a church in Utah that tends to be the dominant religious influence in the state, and whose influence reaches well into the states surrounding it.  As it happens, it’s also the church I call home, and have for four decades.  So I have a pretty good feel for the cross-currents between culture and doctrine that a lot of your friends and neighbors live with daily.

As is also well known, Mormons on average tend to have larger families than non-Mormons.  If you’re a Mormon mom, you may have been down the pregnancy path several times yourself, or know others who have, or both.

Naturally, not all plastic surgery in Utah is performed on LDS women.   But in a state that’s 62-percent LDS, Utah wouldn’t be sitting at #6 without them.  I personally know several Mormon moms who make no bones about their plans for procedures once their child-birthing days are done.  If you’re LDS, you probably do too.

The LDS church officially takes no position on cosmetic plastic surgery, but they’re clearly not crazy about it.  In 2005 Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said in a Church conference that “in too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet… a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard.  In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive.”

Not a ringing endorsement.

So where does this leave all those billboards in Utah?  Personally, I’ve known several LDS women who have risked the spiritual decay referred to by Elder Holland, and appear to have come through their “mommy makeovers” and more feeling better about themselves.   I’m sure there are many others who have decided not to take the risk.

It gets back to a central issue—and, yes, I feel awkward talking about it because in the end I’m just a guy, and an old guy at that.  But you’ve made it this far, so here goes.

Numbers don’t lie.  The plastic surgery thing in Utah is, in fact, a thing.  A lot of women are getting work done, a lot of them are LDS, and are doing it despite the stated concerns of the Church leaders downtown.   Are they doing it because they feel compelled to maintain a level of physical perfection that denies the reality of their own children, solely because of the shallow but unrealistic expectations of both men and women?  Or do they simply want to feel better about themselves, and who cares what anyone else thinks?

I hope it’s the latter, but I have my doubts.  I’ve heard women talk about the pressure for perfection.  Perfect family, perfect children, perfect appearance, all effortlessly achieved.   Perhaps in a world where we’re all just Facebook brands instead of human beings, it’s to be expected.

Meanwhile, humans have been modifying themselves to fit cultural standards of beauty as long as there have been humans and culture.  From American orthodontists to Chinese foot binding to elaborate Maori tattoo art, we all feel the pressure of cultural expectations of beauty.

To the women who pay thousands to go under the knife, I hope you’re not doing it because of pressure to be something you’ve moved beyond.   Sadly, the industries that make millions on your insecurities will never leave you alone, and neither will their customers, who double as your friends.  I hope you can figure out how to politely tell them all to go to hell.  God bless.

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