Ask Zoe is Aleteia’s advice column addressesig the every day decisions we make and how faith informs and guides us. If you have a dilemma, question, or need some general advice for your life, email Zoe. All questions are given consideration and names are withheld.
I’m a 55 year-old Catholic woman and have been considering some plastic surgery to make me look younger. I never thought I’d be the type to do that, but aging is taking a toll on how I feel about myself, and many of my friends have either gone under the knife or regularly do things like Botox injections, etc. I feel like the "grandma" in our group and I’m one of the younger ones! At the same time, part of me thinks plastic surgery is a reflection of being vain and is not a very "Christian" approach to aging. I’d appreciate hearing what you think.
Your question is very timely since just last week the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican released a document taking a strong stance against unnecessary plastic surgery. Here’s an excerpt:
Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic can be aggressive toward the feminine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out.
So, I guess I’m in good company with the advice I’m going to offer today:
There’s a great deal of pressure today to look young and be picture-perfect—and women especially feel it. When many of our friends are getting face lifts and breast augmentations, and the images around us are all of sexy, young 25 year-olds, it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to approach aging and beauty.
There are a number of things to consider as a Christian when you’re tempted to have plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons (And to be clear, I am not talking about surgery used for medical or therapeutic reasons.):
First, plastic surgery can be invasive and therefore risky. It should really only be undertaken by patients who need it. Otherwise, we’re being needlessly reckless with our bodies and our very lives.
Also, when we accept invasive procedures that are simply for vanity’s sake, we start believing that we’re not okay the way we are—that we (and others) must be enhanced and physically altered to be truly beautiful and worthwhile. Our actions can change our ideas of beauty and our expectations of what is "normal" at each stage of our life—stages that have their own benefits and gifts.
I’ve also long believed that succumbing to plastic surgery for the sole purpose of looking younger is uncharitable, and a sin against solidarity. Hear me out:
The more women (and it’s mostly women) that have plastic surgery to alter their looks, the more difficult it is for other women to age naturally. Aging gracefully and naturally is already challenging enough, and women need support. We benefit by sharing the process with other women who experience the same struggles and joys. Plastic surgery says to our sisters that we don’t think it’s okay to age naturally and we don’t want to share in that journey. The decision doesn’t just affect ourselves, but others, too. If I decide to go under the knife to nip my sagging eye lids, what does it communicate to my women friends? My sisters? My daughters? As well as to men? I’m not sure it’s a truly loving action, even when I think I’m loving myself by doing it.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m all for holding on to our youthfulness—by keeping ourselves healthy and fit and maintaining a positive and energetic attitude about life. I’m also a fan of looking good. Women have always sought to enhance their natural beauty through make up, ornamenation, skin treatments, etc. It’s a good thing to want to look your best. But we need to redefine our understanding of beauty and embrace the different ways it manifests itself at each stage of our lives. The most beautiful older women I know focus on their health, have a terrific sense of style, are kind and magnanimous, and are enjoyable to be with. What if we used criteria like these when it comes to choosing our beauty treatments?
I encourage you to make a different choice than your friends have made and adopt another approach to aging. Do some inner work and build a stronger identity in God. You can be an example to all you meet about what it means to age with grace. The next generation need models of this, and in the process you may discover just how beautiful you really are.
If you have a dilemma or question for Zoe, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Romanowsky is the Lifestyle Editor and Video Curator for Aleteia. A freelance writer, blogger, and consultant, she’s been published in many national publications including Real Simple, Catholic Digest, Baltimore Eats, and TruthAtlas. Zoe holds a Masters degree in Counseling from Franciscan University, and a certification in life coaching from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She’s an urban homeschooling mother of twins with a weakness for dark chocolate, Instagram, vintage Harleys, and vodka martinis—not necessarily in that order.