Millions of pounds are spent on cosmetic surgery every week in the UK, But just as the surgeon sharpens his scalpel, so society sharpens its claws, ready to tear strips off the men and women who have made survival of the fittest a double entendre for our times.


If, as many studies suggest, you could improve your social status, get a better job and have your choice of sexual partners by becoming more beautiful, cosmetic surgery begins to make perfect sense. Yet as a society we still regard it with suspicion.

Is dying your hair any more moral than boosting your bust? Is lifting your face so different from shedding your waist? In a world that pushes us to put our best foot forward, shouldn’t we applaud, rather than mock or envy, those who wish to take the next step?

There is no real sense in which cosmetic surgery can be described as perverse. We all ascend the same ladder; a nip and a tuck may make all the difference in getting to the next rung.

No one denies that cosmetic surgery raises a host of ethical, legal and medical questions. Unfortunately, much of the media coverage that the subject receives is designed to produce hysterical headlines. There is little sober analysis of pros and cons, and few measured reflections in the context of society’s attitude to beauty.

No matter how long you attest that we are all born equal, it is undeniable that people who have the social advantage of beauty are born more equal than others. In denying others the concrete advantages of physical beauty, we too play God. We judge people who do no more than adhere to the rules of human nature. From the cradle we are taught: all that is good is beautiful. When we praise someone’s appearance, what we are really praising is the imagined goodness we associate with his or her beauty. But the attraction is slighted when we discover that the beauty is a result of cosmetic tampering. Having set the standard, we deride people for living up to it.

As long as we encourage ugly ducklings to blossom into swans we cannot reasonably chastise those who seek a little help along the way. As long as we value youth and appearance and promote self-improvement in all its guises, as long as human beings are hardwired to value these things and there are people to perform the necessary medical procedures, cosmetic surgery will remain a fact of life.

Maybe you reject this argument. Maybe you still think that nose jobs are pathetic, or that the whole subject has got nothing to do with you. That doesn’t exempt you from the moral implications of our collective negligence. Just as patients must be made to comprehend the irreversibility and enormity of a permanent physical alteration, society also has a responsibility. For a willful ignorance – fuelled by snobbery or self-righteous disdain – about the dangers of a “wildly unregulated” industry is inexcusable. Vulnerable people must be protected from unscrupulous practices. That is our collective responsibility.

Wake up, people. This ain’t no time for beauty sleep.