"Appearances, the 'Nip, Tuck' Culture, and the Latter-day Saint"

Lindsey Hulet*

SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall 2010)


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* The opinions expressed below are those of the author alone and do not reflect official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article explores the prevalence of cosmetic surgery in the United States and among church members and presents thoughts for consideration concerning how Latter-day Saints can respond to these trends. The author recognizes that there are many faithful Latter-day Saints who have either had cosmetic surgery or who are cosmetic surgeons by profession. This article is not meant to be construed as an attack on these individuals or to pass judgment on their personal decisions.

            There is no doubt about the importance of appearance in American society. In relation to our bodies, there are things we can put on such as clothing and makeup; things we can remove such as unwanted hair; things we can alter temporarily such as the color of our hair, skin tone, or teeth; and permanent alterations we can make such as tattoos and piercings. Every civilization and generation has had its own standard of beauty but throughout the past century, medical and scientific advancements have given rise to a host of new procedures, allowing for increasingly complicated alterations to appearances. Corrective procedures, often covered by health insurance, can fix poor eyesight or bad tooth alignment. Elective non-surgical procedures, including skin injections, chemical peels, and laser treatments, can counteract the signs of aging or remove unwanted body hair. Reconstructive plastic surgery can correct deformities or injuries present due to genetics, illness, or accidents. Finally, elective plastic surgery, otherwise known as cosmetic surgery, can “enhance” the face, breasts, and bodies of otherwise healthy individuals. [1]

I do not attempt to make judgments about relatively minor non-surgical cosmetic procedures or medically indicated surgical procedures. In fact, reconstructive plastic surgery is, I believe, one of the medical miracles of the 20th century and has been blessing lives of thousands of individuals since disfigured soldiers began returning home from World War I. This essay will be referring to elective plastic surgery, or cosmetic surgery - surgery undertaken for purely cosmetic reasons.   In addition, because around 90% of all cosmetic procedures are performed on women in the United States [2], I will mainly be addressing issues faced by these women in America and in the Church, although men undoubtedly experience similar pressures as women to look young and attractive.


In 2009, there were 10 million cosmetic procedures performed in the United States, equaling roughly one procedure for every 30 Americans. Of this number 1.5 million, or 15%, were surgical procedures and the remainder were non-surgical procedures. Of the 1.5 million surgical procedures, the most common were breast augmentation (21% of total),  liposuction (19%), eyelid surgery (10%), rhinoplasty (9%), and abdominoplasty (8%). Almost half of all procedures were performed on men and women between the ages of 35 and 50. [3]

How much do Americans spend on all this surgery? Estimates put the amount between $13-15 billion in 2005 alone [4], a figure roughly comparable to the size of the pornography industry in the United States. Global beauty business is growing at a rate of 7% a year and all signs point to increased growth for the cosmetic surgery industry in the future. [5]  Between 1997 and 2009, there has been an over 147% increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures, with surgical procedures increasing by 50% and nonsurgical procedures increasing by 231%. [6]

Cosmetic surgery is so common it is now simply a part of mainstream American culture. Books and magazine articles written by plastic surgeons, academics, and journalists speculate on which celebrities have had which procedures, why cosmetic surgery is so popular, and what America’s obsession with appearance has done to society. [7] One observer notes that,

“Making oneself over – one’s home, one’s car, one’s breasts – is now a part of the American life cycle. Doctors have sold us on the notion that surgery is no longer an issue as crass as mere cutting and suturing; it is merely part of the journey toward enhancement, the beauty outside ultimately reflecting the beauty within. The notion that we can enhance our looks is terrifically appealing to insecure Americans.” [8]

That appeal means cosmetic surgery is now viewed more favorably than ever before. Young adult Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 had the highest approval rating for cosmetic surgery, with 69% of respondents in favor. For all age groups approval is around 56%, mostly due to older generations’ lower approval ratings, which are in the mid 40%. The study, commissioned by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), also showed that 32% of women and 20% of men would consider cosmetic surgery at some point in their lives. [9]


Although there is no hard data on how many Latter-day Saints in the United States have had cosmetic surgery, one can look at a few clues that indicate Mormons in the US are keeping up with the larger cosmetic surgery trends in their communities.

First of all Salt Lake City, whose population is roughly 50% LDS, was recently voted the “vainest city in America” by Forbes magazine. [10] This title was obtained by taking the number of plastic surgeons per capita (excluding residents under 18) in 50 of America’s most populated cities. Surprisingly, Salt Lake City contains more plastic surgeons per capita than cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Certain factors besides the popularity of plastic surgery in Salt Lake City, including the University of Utah School of Medicine’s residencies in plastic and reconstructive surgery or Utah’s proximity to California (plastic surgery in Utah is much less expensive than in southern California), might also contribute to this high ratio.

Billboard advertisements for cosmetic procedures – particularly breast augmentation, body contouring, and laser hair removal – abound along the I-15 corridor in Utah and Salt Lake counties. A few years ago one particular billboard advertising breast augmentation displayed a woman’s chest, wrapped in a red bow, with the statement, “Finally, a gift you can both enjoy.”[11] I happened to be in Utah at the time, and a classmate of mine actually called the plastic surgery center that paid for the billboard to complain about the ad. The employee she spoke with called her a prude Latter-day Saint woman for objecting to semi-nudity on a billboard and justified the ad for breast augmentation by stating that his bishop’s wife recently had implants done. If a bishop’s wife does not have a problem with breast enhancement, this employee argued, neither should my friend.

The ridiculousness of this story aside, other anecdotal evidence also points to the prevalence of cosmetic surgery among Latter-day Saints. I personally know of five women in my immediate and extended family that have had breast implants put in place in the past five years. Additionally, a handful of other acquaintances of mine in the Northwest have also received the same surgery.  My guess is that, for every woman I know or suspect has had breast augmentation, there are as many others who have had less noticeable surgical or non-surgical cosmetic procedures performed on them. My experience is not unique to me; it seems almost every Latter-day Saint with whom I have discussed this issue knows of someone who has had cosmetic surgery. I do not believe this was the case fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago.

Why are American Latter-day Saints latching on to this trend? Why is cosmetic surgery so common, not just in Salt Lake City, but throughout Utah? Keeping in mind that Latter-day Saints across the country live in cultures unique to their areas (for example, plastic surgery rates among LDS might be reflective of the rates of the community in which they live), there are a variety of theories about why cosmetic surgery has caught on in some LDS communities.

Mommy Makeovers:  Dr. York Yates, a prominent plastic surgeon in Layton, Utah, states that many of his patients are Mormon mothers who simply want their bodies “back” after having many children at a young age. He states that “childbirth and the associated stretch marks, loose and hanging skin have taken a toll on their tummies and breasts. They [his patients] are generally attractive and care about their image and appearance.” Their solution? A “mommy makeover” that includes “various combinations of a breast lift, breast augmentation, tummy tuck and liposuction.” [12]

Keeping up with the Jones’s:  Dr. Yates goes on to explain that many of his Mormon female patients “have a tight social network of many women who may have previously had cosmetic surgery.” He states that there can be a lot of pressure to “keep up with the Jones’s” and this pursuit is facilitated by the fact that plastic surgery is, in general, very socially acceptable in Utah. [13]

Social Acceptance Breeds more Adherents: As with other “gray areas” in LDS doctrine, the prevalence of a certain behavior is bolstered by its social acceptance. Trends can emerge simply because “everyone else is doing it.” Just as the plastic surgery center employee cited his bishop’s wife as justification for breast augmentation, church members seem to likewise take comfort in the fact that their church leaders are either cosmetic surgeons or their church leaders’ wives or family members have had cosmetic surgery. One blog reader commented that her plastic surgeon was also her stake president, and his assurance during her pre-surgery consultation helped her make a decision to go ahead with her facial surgery. [14] In such a tight-knit religious community like the one most Latter-day Saints enjoy, trends that creep into a ward or stake family can certainly have a significant impact on members’ personal decisions.

Other Theories:  It is possible that there are other reasons for the prevalence of cosmetic surgery in Latter-day Saint communities, including ones that are more deeply rooted in Mormon doctrine or culture. For example, does repeated emphasis on the importance of femininity, womanhood, and motherhood cause women to pursue cosmetic surgery (particularly breast augmentation) in an effort to feel more feminine and get closer to the womanly ideal? Do the traditional roles in many Mormon marriages contribute to women feeling too much pressure to alter their physical appearance in order to please their husbands? [15] The answers are unclear, but these possibilities are definitely interesting to think about.

Further evidence that Latter-day Saints are grappling with issues of body image, self-esteem, and the increasing availability, affordability, and popularity of cosmetic surgery is seen across the internet. Popular blog sites for LDS women such as Segullah or Feminist Mormon Housewives have featured posts on cosmetic surgery, usually eliciting dozens or even hundreds of comments from readers anxious to weigh in on the issue. [16] It is interesting to note the wide range of personal opinions and experiences regarding image and cosmetic surgery. Latter-day Saints across the country appear to be divided into three camps:

  • Group A: People who approve of cosmetic surgery for others, have had it done themselves, or who would have it done if circumstances allowed it.
  • Group B: People who do not approve of cosmetic surgery for any reason (excluding reconstructive plastic surgery).
  • Group C: People who would never get cosmetic surgery themselves, but who do not see anything wrong with others having it done.

Through formal and informal research on cosmetic surgery in the United States and observations in the LDS community, I have come across many different arguments for and against cosmetic surgery, which are discussed below. 


If it makes you feel good about yourself, why not?
In American society there is an undeniable value placed on feeling good about oneself. Whatever it is called – feeling good about oneself, having confidence, high self-esteem, or a good body image – it has become the holy grail of individual fulfillment. Although the innate desire to feel good about oneself is not new, this state of mind has become inextricably connected with appearance. Joan Rivers, one of the few celebrities who openly discusses her cosmetic surgery, sums up this argument when she states: “Looking good equals feeling good. Feeling good equals having more confidence. So why not do whatever you can to improve your appearance? Unlike a dress that goes out of style, or a diet that ultimately fails, a beautiful nose is forever. You can get mad about society’s demands, you can say, 'I’m proud of the way God made me,' or you can get beautiful.” [17] If feeling good about oneself is the end, then cosmetic surgery becomes one of many possible means to that end. For many, making the decision to “get beautiful” can be a relatively easy way to “fix” something in one’s personal life that otherwise might be detracting from one’s happiness. One plastic surgeon makes an articulate defense of people who choose to do just that:

“When how you feel about your looks regularly affects your mood, confidence, relationships, or career, the problem is more than skin-deep. And if there’s a solution that will help diminish or eliminate the problem, seeking that solution is hardly an act of vanity. It’s an act of practicality and common sense, and it’s an important sign of your willingness to be pro-active about your own mental health and emotional well-being. In short, it’s what you would do without hesitation about any other problem in your life.” [18]

Outsiders to the plastic surgery phenomenon might be guilty of hyperanalyzing the motivations of those who have had plastic surgery, who simply “want to fix something that bothers them. Period. No Freudian analysis, no overthinking.” [19] The concept of “fixing” is especially applicable to women who have so-called ‘mommy makeovers’ and are looking to get something back about themselves they feel is broken or lost. [20]

More than just fixing something that bothers a patient, however, cosmetic surgery is also viewed as a “catalyst for all kinds of other improvements. Sure, your face and/or body will improve, but more to the point, your life will improve.” [21] We live in a society where self-improvement is admired in almost every facet in life. Plastic surgery is seen as just an extension of men and women’s innate desire to improve themselves. Interestingly, one plastic surgery center in Utah has a slogan that reads, “Utah Cosmetic Surgery is dedicated to improving you!” [22] One blogger noted that his faithful Latter-day Saint family member, while eschewing tattoos and piercings as disfiguring the temple of the body, simultaneously defended her plastic surgery by comparing it to the remodeling of a temple when it gets “a bit old and worn out.” [23]

Feeling good about oneself, fixing a long-standing flaw, and “remodeling” the body in the name of self improvement are touted as paths to increased happiness and confidence. As Rivers argues, “Happy women make happy homes and families. They’re better neighbors, colleagues, bosses, and friends. Joy and confidence spread like wildfire.” [24] Many men and women in America do not see anything wrong with extremes like surgery in order to obtain that happiness. In fact, many celebrate the fact that science now allows for such a high level of achievement in individual fulfillment. As a professional patient educator for plastic surgery states, “This is the ultimate in confident people, personal fulfillment, and where science and artistry translate through medicine to enhance natural human beauty.” [25]

Like it or not, appearance matters
Every civilization and generation has had its own idea of what constitutes beauty. Men and women have, throughout history, “loaded themselves down with uncomfortable jewelry, submitted to body piercing and tattooing, worn outrageous wigs, and squeezed themselves into constricting corsets, clothes, and shoes, all in slavish pursuit of their culture’s ideal of beauty.” [26] The 21st century is no different. Today men and women “do all sorts of other things to make ourselves look better and feel younger. We diet. We color our hair. We whiten our teeth. We hire personal trainers. We spend billions yearly on over-the-counter skin-care products. We pop vitamins. We take hormone supplements. We get hair implants. We get facials. We take Viagra. Yet so many of us hesitate at the prospect of reaching these same goals with plastic surgery. Why?” [27] It seems a valid question. Is plastic surgery simply an extension of other things we do in pursuit of attractiveness and beauty?  Is it simply the next step, the next frontier, in our attempt to achieve a look that is considered to be attractive?

Not only does the current ideal of beauty include a lot of features that are only achievable through cosmetic surgery, it also emphasizes a youthful appearance. As bodies naturally change due to the passage of time, men and women find themselves facing their own mortality and searching for a certain amount of control, albeit only perceived control, over aging. For some people that control comes in the form of anti-aging beauty regimes, physical exercise, or fashionable clothing. For others that control comes in the form of nipping and tucking to remove wrinkles, sags, spots, and fat. Appearing young, in addition to enhancing one’s perceived attractiveness, also becomes a practical [28] and admirable – as opposed to “frivolous or superficial” [29]  – way to level the playing field so-to-speak and achieve success in a competitive world. In particular, cosmetic surgery is the solution for many men and women desiring to excel in their professional or romantic pursuits. We can “call it shallow, label it politically incorrect, swear that real beauty is on the inside…but, like it or not, looks matter.” [30] Studies show a high correlation between attractiveness and higher pay and, as a result, many people are seeking cosmetic surgery in an effort to level the playing field. Studies show that attractive men and women simply make more money than their less attractive counterparts and that younger people have an easier time finding a job. [31] [32] Furthermore, men and women often feel pressure to look a certain way in order to attract or keep a romantic partner. [33] In short, “In our appearance-centric society, beauty is a huge factor in everyone’s professional and emotional success – for good or ill, it’s the way things are.” [34]


As one can see, the arguments in favor of plastic surgery can be very persuasive. In the face of such convincing philosophies, what is a Latter-day Saint man or woman to do to address a convincing philosophy like “if [cosmetic surgery] makes you feel better about yourself then what’s wrong with that?” [35] Turning to the scriptures, to general authorities, and to secular scholars provides us with equally convincing arguments against plastic surgery.

True beauty and happiness are not the result of outward appearance
There is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to maintain a good appearance. In fact, Latter-day Saints are repeatedly encouraged to be clean and neat in dress and manner. [36] The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet teaches youth to be modest, appropriate, and to avoid extremes in appearance in order to show respect for our bodies and the Lord. Appearances are important because the Lord wants us to accurately reflect who and what we are on the inside and send the right messages about ourselves to those around us. [37] It is interesting to note that church leaders teach that “how we feel on the inside shows on the outside” [38], while proponents of cosmetic surgery would argue the opposite - that what shows on the outside affects how we feel on the inside. This is consistent with the dichotomy that Ezra Taft Benson notes as the Lord working from the inside out while the world works from the outside in. [39]

Regarding beauty, Latter-day Saints are taught from a young age that the “Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” [40] Our modern prophet has recently declared that “appearances can be so deceiving…such a poor measure of a person.” [41] It is interesting to note that the Savior himself was not considered to be particularly comely or attractive. Isaiah prophesied that “when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” [42] Not only do we know that outward appearance is not significant in the Lord’s eyes, but we are warned about focusing too much on outward appearances (whether beauty or the appearance of righteousness) and neglecting the things that matter in the Lord’s eyes. The Savior compared the scribes and Pharisees to whited sepulchres, which “appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones.” [43]

Wanting to be a beautiful person and feel good about ourselves are worthy pursuits but as with many things in the gospel, the means to righteous ends are everything. When God’s children turn away from gospel principles to worldly solutions in order to feel confident and secure in who they are, problems are almost guaranteed. Messages about beauty and outward appearance in the media confirm this phenomenon:

“The term self-esteem is a mantra that is repeated, yogi-like, throughout the episodes [of Extreme Makeover]. Through it all, there is never a question that the beautiful is good, a way to convey the true identity of the soul underneath, lost behind pounds of fat, submerged by a lifetime of bad habits. Being beautiful is the final path to confidence and to the life that ought to have been lived for so many years. Ugliness is bad, the mark of missed potential, an all-encompassing failure to show off the true identity of the living person beneath.” [44]

In the quest to solve very real problems with temporal, superficial means, valuable truths get distorted in the process. Sister Susan Tanner, YW General President at the time, spoke in general conference about Satan’s attempts to get women to despise their bodies. She states, “I am troubled by the practice of extreme makeovers…The Lord wants us to be made over—but in His image, not in the image of the world, by receiving His image in our countenances…When we become other-oriented, or selfless, we develop an inner beauty of spirit that glows in our outward appearance. This is how we make ourselves in the Lord’s image rather than the world’s and receive His image in our countenances.” [45] We all know men and women like this, whose beauty and goodness has nothing to do with their appearance, nothing to do with size or shape, but who have a “glow of health, a warm personality, a love of learning, stability of character, and integrity. If we may add the sweet and gentle Spirit of the Lord carried by such a woman, then this describes the loveliness of women in any age or time, every element of which is emphasized in and attainable through the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” [46]

If every element of being a lovely woman “in any age or time” is attainable through the blessings of the gospel, then what good are the world’s philosophies about beauty, fulfillment, and happiness?  Modern-day apostles have warned against the dangers of “worshipping the false idol of body image.” [47] The danger in overemphasizing the importance of appearance and body image in one’s life is that it can too easily become a distraction from the things of eternal significance in mortal life. A plastic surgeon told a story of a seventy-year-old woman, who experienced a life-threatening heart attack after her cosmetic surgery operation and afterwards declared, “If I don’t look good after this face-lift, then nothing matters.” As can be seen with this woman, for many it is already too late; the pursuit of a perfect appearance has become the ultimate distraction – an unyielding “determination to rediscover happiness and self-assurance [that] supersedes all else.” [48]

Yet most Latter-day Saints know that true happiness does not come from temporal things. Church leaders teach us that happiness “comes as a result of our obedience and our courage in always doing the will of God” [49], and “from meekness, from humility, and from a passive spirit in bending one’s own will to the will of God in recognition of his greater wisdom.” [50] While the world would teach that the finding happiness can be facilitated by improvements to the outer body that increase self-esteem and body image, the Lord would have us know that “the odyssey to happiness lies in the dimension of the heart.” [51] Sadly, many people inside and outside the Mormon faith do not understand these principles and continue to seek happiness elsewhere. Looking and feeling good – the “holy grail” of individual fulfillment mentioned earlier – can be warped into a place of importance to the exclusion of everything else.

Preoccupation with outward appearance is spiritually destructive
This exclusion of everything else can become detrimental to one’s emotional and spiritual growth. In a 2005 general conference talk addressed to the Church’s young women, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at length about appearances. He pled with young women to “please be more accepting of yourselves including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else.” Additionally, he addressed the pressures young women face in modern society to look a certain way:

Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. As one Hollywood actress is reported to have said recently: “We’ve become obsessed with beauty and the fountain of youth. … I’m really saddened by the way women mutilate [themselves] in search of that. I see women [including young women] … pulling this up and tucking that back. It’s like a slippery slope. [You can’t get off of it.] … It’s really insane … what society is doing to women.

In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world.” [52]

Among other things, Elder Holland also spoke about vanity and “vain imaginations” of men running wild in secular society. Vanity is defined as inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance or something that is empty or valueless. [53] One of Satan’s most useful tactics is to tempt mankind to seek the vain things of the world [54] and outward beauty is one of those things on which man can easily “spend money for that which is of no worth” or their “labor for that which cannot satisfy.” [55]

Corruptible mortal bodies and aging are all part of the Plan of Salvation
All of God’s children who chose His plan will come to earth to receive a body. Each body is a unique combination of physical characteristics from mortal parents and progenitors. All mortal bodies are imperfect, although some are healthier or function better than others. Despite these imperfections, having a body is a gift from God that puts His children further along the path toward becoming like Him. An understanding of the importance of the body in the eternities is vital to proper respect toward the body in mortality. In American society, “we have begun to think of our bodies as something like an accessory that can be modified when necessary, discarded when it is worn-out, and upgraded when required, a leathery sack to transport us from one medical specialist to the next.” [56] Yet Latter-day Saints know better! We know bodies are part of the Plan of Salvation. Bodies not only enable us to experience the physical aspects of our mortal experience, including pain and pleasure, but they also enhance our spiritual growth as well. Through our bodies we learn self-control and we all have the opportunity to overcome feelings of insecurity and look outside ourselves to the needs of others. Learning to be grateful for our bodies and all that they entail is part of our earthly experience. One woman reflected on her decision to not ever get cosmetic surgery after listening to Elder Holland’s talk quoted above. She recalls, ““[At first] I didn’t understand Elder Holland really. He was encouraging me to discard desires to want to change God-given physical attributes, not hang onto them with a pious sense of displeasure. To be a daughter of God means that I love what He gave me.” [57] Sister Susan Tanner corroborated this valuable lesson when she taught that “happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world.” [58]

Learning to accept the bodies we have been given – complete with their limitations and imperfections – does not mean we will necessarily escape feelings of insecurity, dissatisfaction, or inadequacy.  Those feelings are part of the mortal experience. It is fascinating to find signs that many women yearn to love their bodies the way they are more than they yearn for money for cosmetic surgery or an instant magical fix to things that have bothered them. When prompted to list one thing she would change about her body if she could, Erin stated, “I wish I didn’t have such a long list of things I want to change about my body. Physically there is a lot I would LOVE to change: brow lift, flat tummy, smaller arms, smaller nose, bigger booty, tan, no acne/scars, better toe nails, etc… But I think deep down, most of all I would ask to learn how to love myself just as I am… I think if I had that then the rest wouldn’t be as important.” [59] What a profound idea that learning to love oneself would be of more valuable than any physical alteration money could buy.

Beyond “fixing” perceived physical flaws, elective plastic surgery is very focused on the importance of reducing or eliminating outward manifestations of mortal experiences.  If the Lord designed and created our bodies, then it follows that He knew how they would change and alter throughout a mortal experience. Do the wrinkles, crease lines and spots of old age mean a body is worn out and in need of remodeling? Do the sagging skin, stretch marks, or extra fat of childbearing mean our bodies are broken and in need of fixing? It seems these physical features, imperfections though they may be, are important reminders of the accomplishments we have achieved, the lives we have lived, and the lessons we have learned. Our bodies bear the marks that accurately reflect our mortal sojourn. A wise Proverb states that the “beauty of old men is the gray head.“ [60] When did old age become something to be embarrassed about, something to hide?

If there were ever a people on earth who should be peaceful and confident in their aging, it should be the Latter-day Saints. One Latter-day Saint woman stated, “I feel pretty grateful to have a body that for the most part works well, claim those few inches that tag along unwantedly around my waist as battle scars for getting 3 boys into this world, and want to be known for who I am and what I do - not how I fill out a sweater.  I want to accept age and change graciously.” [61] Latter-day Saints have an understanding and faith in the resurrection and know that “after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” [62] Latter-day Saints know they cannot carry vain things of the world [63] – including artificially perfected bodies – into the hereafter. “This life is the time…to prepare to meet God,” [64] not to attempt to postpone inevitable aging and death or chase the resurrection prematurely by attempting to perfect what God has promised He will perfect in due time. 


As mentioned earlier, online discussions between Latter-day Saints about cosmetic surgery and body image are very interesting to observe. One particular thought-provoking post on the Feminist Mormon Housewives website elicited over 100 responses representing a wide variety of opinions reflective of some of the ideas addressed above. For example, one male reader stated that “self-esteem, individualism, self-expression, etc. are all just convenient vehicles for selling [a product].” Another reader questioned whether the quest for self-fulfillment through plastic surgery was in harmony with the potential God sees in each of His Children. Yet another reader wondered if the desire to nip, tuck, enhance for reasons that are purely cosmetic indicates an unhealthy emotional relationship to our bodies. [65] Other readers defend each individual’s right to make such a personal decision free of the judgment of others. Whether individual Latter-day Saints are supportive of elective plastic surgery, oppose it, or are somewhere in between, there is no doubt that it is a topic on people’s minds. No matter what “camp” Latter-day Saints find themselves in, the fact that we live in a society that pressures people to look good and celebrates the prevalence of cosmetic surgery warrants a pause for examination and reflection.

It is doubtful that there has ever been a man or woman on earth who did not desire to change at least one thing about their body. Whether these desires were for functional improvements, such as eyes that see properly, or for aesthetic improvements, such as a smaller nose, they have been unobtainable for most of the billions of God’s children who have walked this earth. Amazingly enough, modern science and medicine have given mankind the ability to change physical defects or attributes that were previously unchangeable. Naturally, this new technology has blessed the lives of thousands of people.  There is always a price to pay, however, for such advances. At the same time science has attained the ability to cure diseases and heal injuries, it has also devised clever ways to “fix” body parts that function perfectly well. Why do people do these things to themselves?  The answer is that they do them “because we can. In our advanced society we have the technology, we have the money, we have the leisurely lifestyles that let us sit around and worry about our eyelashes and minor wrinkles.” [66] It is certainly enlightening to reflect that elective plastic surgery only became possible as people became wealthier, more preoccupied with appearance, and less preoccupied with surviving from day to day.

By accepting cosmetic surgery as a legitimate way to feel better about oneself and find happiness, are we as a country and as God’s people subscribing to the “false, vain, and foolish doctrines of men?” [67] Are we taking our instruction about what is important in life from the world rather than from the Lord? Can you imagine reading the following passage out loud to your child with the hope that they would believe its message? Can you imagine the following passage shared by a general authority in a general conference address?

“We’ve been taught since kindergarten that the quest for inner beauty is noble and powerful, while pursuing outer beauty is vain and superficial and not nearly as empowering as achieving a really good personality. Yet, come on! Despite a woman’s bedrock belief in her inner goodness, her eyes keep drifting back to her wrinkles, or her big nose, or her belly roll. The truth is, inner beauty might get you a promotion, or, for that matter, a raise, but it won’t get you a husband, or a lover.” [68]

Some might argue that ideas like those expressed above are extreme. Once upon a time, perhaps they were. But all around us we find increasing evidence that people are absorbing, repeating, and spinning out their own versions of such philosophies. This is the world we live in and the larger implications of these changes are deeply concerning to many Latter-day Saints, including myself. One blog author, while hesitating to judge another person’s reasons for having plastic surgery, questioned whether by “engaging more in aesthetic procedures (although it’s our own individual choices) are we at all responsible in some part for collectively placing psychological pressure on other women and girls by presenting the altered norm?” [69] It is a valid point that each person that decides to have cosmetic surgery, regardless of how justifiable they may feel their decision to be, contributes to the prevalence of a “new normal.” Concern over an altered norm for physical appearance is not just limited to Latter-day Saints. An associate professor of sociology at Arizona State University expresses her alarm “that we are creating these plastic bodies. The standard of beauty that we're putting out there is not achievable without intervention. We are changing the norms about what a body should look like." [70] Another writer has observed that,

“We are obsessed with beauty (or what we have come to believe passes for beautiful), with attempting to create it and to hold it hostage for as long as we can. It is the nature of cosmetic surgery that, as it becomes more popular, it adjusts our standards of beauty and our expectations of appearance. Large bouncy breasts, slender hips, and blinding white straight teeth used to be the rare departures from typical human looks. Now, they are no longer rarities; they are everyday expectations. The process begins with our trying to emulate nature, but then we become greedy and try to improve on nature.” [71]

It is frightening to think that “for our children and their children, cosmetic surgery will actively shape how our culture defines feminine beauty, assesses physical ‘perfection,’ and responds to the process of aging.” [72] What do we teach young women as they grow up in this world of pressure to look a certain, sometimes unnatural way? In Elder Holland’s talk to young women quoted earlier, he asks that sisters in the Church set examples for young women by not obsessing over their appearance, for, he reasons, “if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children.” [73] In that light, suddenly decisions that once appeared to be very personal, private, and individual, do not seem so individual anymore. As young men and women navigate a culture obsessed with appearance, the examples of mothers, sisters, and leaders can have a profound impact. Latter-day Saint women of all ages can gain valuable perspective by asking themselves:

“What is it to be a girl who grows up where your perceived normal is not natural? It’s all been sucked, tightened, and plumped to the tune of thousands of dollars.  What is it to look around in a crowd thinking “that” is natural and you must be aberrant? What are the deeper implications of all this on women and girls, body image, and sexuality? Is it just part of our times and as natural as getting new furniture or renovating a room? Still aesthetic procedures are on the rise. It’s becoming part of our culture and where does it fit in LDS culture?” [74]

Does it fit at all into LDS culture?


As demonstrated, there are powerful arguments both for and against cosmetic surgery. What can we conclude? What particular actions in the name of beauty or self-confidence are acceptable in the Lord’s eyes? Does He care if or how we primp, pluck, dye, or cut as long as we do not neglect spiritual matters? I do not know the answer and I do not think the Lord is going to give us one anytime soon as we know we will not be instructed in all things. Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently told church members, “I do not need to tell you all the ways whereby you may misuse your bodies…You know what is right and what is wrong, and you have the individual responsibility to learn for yourself ‘by study and also by faith’ the things you should and should not do and the doctrinal reasons you should and should not do those things.” [75] I suppose the conclusion ends up being, like many other things, that having cosmetic surgery is a matter of individual choice that requires deep reflecting, soul-searching, and the companionship of the Spirit. In addition, each of us needs to find our own balance [76] between maintaining a healthy and attractive appearance and leaving room in our minds, hearts, and lives for the things that are of eternal worth.

Although I hesitate to judge individuals’ decisions to have cosmetic surgery (since, unlike the Lord, I cannot see into their hearts to know the pain or stories behind those types of decisions), I can speak of my own feelings. Do I think that plastic surgery is inherently immoral or vain? No. In many cases, particularly in cases of accident or disease, I think plastic surgery is a miracle. Do I think it is an appropriate means for children of God to feel good about themselves, to build confidence, or to be happy? No. Is it something I want my sons and daughters accepting as “just a matter of reality” in the world we live in? No. Ironically, however, I find myself wondering. I am only 24 years old, and have not yet seen what effects bearing children and aging will have on my body. Will I one day find myself dissatisfied with my appearance and longing to look younger and firmer? Probably. Will I likely be able to “fix” whatever imperfections might one day bother me? Again, probably (and for an ever increasingly affordable price as well). But I cannot envision setting that kind of example for my future children, especially when I so strongly desire to teach my sons and daughters to be grateful for and pleased with the bodies that they have been given and to pursue beauty by developing their character and serving others.

At the same time I afford each person’s inherent right to make such a personal decision free from the judgment of others, I cannot help but feel that a culture of “nip and tuck” and incessant pursuit of physical perfection is simply not the answer to individual insecurities or problems. Latter-day Saints, with their strong testimonies of the Plan of Salvation, the purpose of mortal bodies, and the importance of internal growth, beauty, and development, are uniquely situated to bring hope to a world “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” [77] By leading lives where happiness, confidence, and beauty abound – without the aid of external plumping, filling, or cutting – Latter-day Saints in America and across the globe can counteract the world’s emphasis on outward appearance and send a powerful message that true beauty and happiness lies not in superficial and artificial alterations to the body, but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



[1] The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) contains information on over 30 different plastic surgery procedures. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, “Procedures,” http://www.surgery.org/consumers/procedures (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[2] The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, “Quick Facts: Highlights of the ASAPS 2009 Statistics on Cosmetic Surgery,” http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/2009quickfacts.pdf (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[3] ASAPS, “Quick Facts.” [Back to manuscript]

[4] Alex Kuczynski, Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery (New York: Doubleday, 2006), 7. [Back to manuscript]

[5] Kuczynski, 7. [Back to manuscript]

[6] ASAPS, “Quick Facts.” [Back to manuscript]

[7] Virginia Blum’s Flesh Wounds or Alex Kuczynski’s Beauty Junkies are two good examples that I consulted for this article. [Back to manuscript]

[8] Kuczynski, 8. [Back to manuscript]

[9] The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, “New Study Suggests Young Adults More Approving of Cosmetic Surgery,” http://www.surgery.org/consumers/consumer-resources/news-and-trends/new-study-suggests-young-adults-more-approving-of-cosmetic-surgery (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[10] Rebecca Ruiz, “America’s Vainest Cities,” Forbes.com, November 29, 2007, http://www.forbes.com/2007
l (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[11] David Kiefaber, “A billboard that neither of you can enjoy,” AdFreak.com, March 7, 2007, http://adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/2007/03/a_billboard_tha.html (accessed September 28, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[12] Glen Warchol,”Plastic mommies,” The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake Crawler, July 19, 2010, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogs/crawler/49953848-70/surgery-utah-plastic-breast.html.csp (accessed September 28, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[13] Warchol, “Plastic mommies.” [Back to manuscript]

[14] Jennie, comment on “Beauty in the Age of Plastics,” Segullah: Mormon women blogging about the peculiar and the treasured, comment posted September 1, 2009, http://segullah.org/daily-special/peeling-down-beauty-in-the-age-of-plastics/ (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[15] I know of a couple instances where friends who were considering breast implants were encouraged by their husbands to go up to a specific cup size in order to make the surgery “worth it” in their eyes. [Back to manuscript]

[16]  “Beauty in the Age of Plastics” by Brittany (http://segullah.org/daily-special/peeling-down-beauty-in-the-age-of-plastics), “Fairest of them All” by Jennie (http://segullah.org/daily-special/fairest-of-them-all/), “The Shape of a Mother” by Brittany (http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=1759). [Back to manuscript]

[17] Joan Rivers with Valerie Frankel, Men are Stupid…and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (New York: Pocket Books, 2009), 2. [Back to manuscript]

[18] Michelle Copeland with Alexandra S. Postman, Change Your Looks, Change Your Life: Quick Fixes and Cosmetic Surgery Solutions for Looking Younger, Feeling Healthier, and Living Better (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 13. [Back to manuscript]

[19] Cap Lesesne, Confessions of a Park Avenue Plastic Surgeon (New York: Gotham, 2005), 10-11. [Back to manuscript]

[20]   “I hear a lot of thoughts from women [about their reasons for having cosmetic surgery]. Some say it’s in attempts to keep their husbands happy.  A current popular one among moms is “restored to my former glory” line. “I sacrificed to  have kids and I deserve to be back to the way it was before”. Leslie Graff, “Beauty in the Age of Plastics,” Segullah: Mormon women blogging about the peculiar and the treasured, September 1, 2009, http://segullah.org/daily-special/peeling-down-beauty-in-the-age-of-plastics (accessed September 28, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[21] Copeland, xvii. [Back to manuscript]

[22] Utah Cosmetic Surgery, http://www.utahcosmeticsurgery.com (accessed September 25, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[23] Devyn S, “Breast Implants, BoTox, Tattos, Piercings and Mormon Doctrine,” Mormon Mentality: Thoughts and Asides by Peculiar People, December 4, 2006, http://www.mormonmentality.org/2006/12/04/breast-implants-botox-tattos-piercings-and-mormon-doctrine.htm (accessed September 25, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[24] Rivers, 11. [Back to manuscript]

[25] Diane Gerber and Marie Czenko Kuechel, 100 Questions and Answers about Plastic Surgery (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2005), xii. [Back to manuscript]

[26] Copeland, 4. [Back to manuscript]

[27] Copeland, 11. [Back to manuscript]

[28] “As Americans and their surgeons have come to see cosmetic surgery as the most practical solution for an ever-larger number of problems, not having surgery…can seem hopelessly naïve, at the very least outdated.” Elizabeth Haiken, Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 298 [Back to manuscript]

[29] Copeland, 11-12. [Back to manuscript]

[30] Copeland, 4. [Back to manuscript]

[31] Kuczynski, 87. [Back to manuscript]

[32] Ruiz, “America’s Vainest Cities.” [Back to manuscript]

[33] “Men are stupid…they are attracted to creatures that are their opposites, with hairless bodies, big boobs, slim waists, rounded butts – and this has become the beauty ideal many women aspire to achieve.” Rivers, 1. [Back to manuscript]

[34] Rivers, 2. [Back to manuscript]

[35] Jennie, comment on “Beauty in the Age of Plastics.” [Back to manuscript]

[36] James E. Faust, “The Virtues of Righteous Daughters of God,” Ensign, May 2003, 108. [Back to manuscript]

[37] “Dress and Appearance,” For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God, 14. [Back to manuscript]

[38] Robert D. Hales, “Modesty: Reverence for the Lord,” Ensign, Aug 2008, 34–39. [Back to manuscript]

[39] Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” Ensign, Jul 1989, 2 [Back to manuscript]

[40] 1 Samuel 16:7 [Back to manuscript]

[41] Thomas S. Monson, “Charity Never Faileth,” General Relief Society Meeting, September 25, 2010. Text available at http://new.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/charity-never-faileth?lang=eng. [Back to manuscript]

[42] Isaiah 53:2 [Back to manuscript]

[43] Matthew 23:27 [Back to manuscript]

[44] Kuczynski, 12. [Back to manuscript]

[45] Susan W. Tanner, “The Sanctity of the Body,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 13. [Back to manuscript]

[46] Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 28. [Back to manuscript]

[47] David A. Bednar, “Things as They Really Are,” Ensign, Jun 2010, 16–25. [Back to manuscript]

[48] Lesesne, 5. [Back to manuscript]

[49] Benjamín De Hoyos, “True Happiness: A Conscious Decision,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 31. [Back to manuscript]

[50] Arthur R. Bassett, “What the Scriptures Say about Happiness,” Ensign, Dec 1972, 72. [Back to manuscript]

[51] James E. Faust, “Our Search for Happiness,” Ensign, Oct 2000, 2. [Back to manuscript]

[52] Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 28. [Back to manuscript]

[53] Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “Vanity,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vanity. [Back to manuscript]

[54] 3 Nephi 6:15 [Back to manuscript]

[55] 2 Nephi 9:51 [Back to manuscript]

[56] Kuczynski, 122. [Back to manuscript]

[57] Courtney K, “Trusting My Premortal Self,” Segullah: Mormon women blogging about the peculiar and the treasured, May 9, 2007, http://segullah.org/cjane-speaks/trusting-my-premortal-self (accessed September 28, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[58] Susan W. Tanner, “The Sanctity of the Body,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 13. [Back to manuscript]

[59] “Why Do We Treat Ourselves with Hate?” The Shape of a Mother, June 10, 2010, http://theshapeofamother.co
(accessed September 25, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[60] Proverbs 20:29 [Back to manuscript]

[61] Graff, “Beauty in the Age of Plastics.” [Back to manuscript]

[62] Job 19:25-26 [Back to manuscript]

[63] Alma 39:14 [Back to manuscript]

[64] Alma 34: 32 [Back to manuscript]

[65] Brittany, “The Shape of a Mother,” Feminist Mormon Housewives, April 23, 2008, http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=1759 (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[66] Graff, “Beauty in the Age of Plastics.” [Back to manuscript]

[67] 2 Nephi 28:9 [Back to manuscript]

[68] Rivers, 3. [Back to manuscript]

[69] Leslie, comment on “Beauty in the Age of Plastics,” comment posted September 1, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[70] Ruiz, “America’s Vainest Cities.” [Back to manuscript]

[71] Kuczynski, 8-9. [Back to manuscript]

[72] Loren Eskenazi and Peg Streep, More than Skin Deep: Exploring the Real Reasons Why Women Go Under the Knife, (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3. [Back to manuscript]

[73] Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 28. [Back to manuscript]

[74] Graff, “Beauty in the Age of Plastics.” [Back to manuscript]

[75] David A. Bednar, “Things as They Really Are,” Ensign, Jun 2010, 16–25. [Back to manuscript]

[76] Jennie, “Fairest of Them All,” Segullah: Mormon women blogging about the peculiar and the treasured, June 20, 2008, http://segullah.org/daily-special/fairest-of-them-all (accessed September 27, 2010). [Back to manuscript]

[77] D&C 123:12 [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Hulet, Lindsey (2010) "Appearances, the 'Nip, Tuck' Culture, and Latter-day Saints," SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHuletCosmeticSurgery.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Raymond Takashi Swenson, January 2011

Since Latter-day Saints believe, perhaps uniquely among Christians, that the physical body has a positive and eternal role in God’s plan for our happiness, investing resources into improving that body, either through diet and exercise or through cosmetic surgery, is not necessarily a theological problem for us. The general belief among Mormons is that, in the Resurrection, we will be restored to our “perfect frame”, a youthful and not overweight form around 30 years of age, before the joints start to ache and the stamina flags. Unlike so many other Christians (as described by Valerie Hudson in her speech at the 2010 FAIR conference), we do not look forward to an eternity in which we have shed not only our physical bodies but also our gender. Even many Protestants who don’t believe in celibacy claim to be scandalized by what they perceive as the Mormon preoccupation with eternal sex. For us Mormons, couldn’t a tummy tuck be viewed theologically as meeting the Resurrection halfway?

I think the best part of Lindsey Hulet’s analysis of the culture of cosmetic surgery among the LDS is when she connects the practice to other aspects of vanity and pride. Like so many other things, it seems to me that the motives we have for getting cosmetic surgery are more important than the fact of getting it. Are we doing it so we can think of ourselves as better than our neighbors, so we can compete for admiration and popularity, even for job advancement or political office? Or are we doing it to relieve ourselves from self-criticism or regret from the physical effects of child-bearing so we can put our energies into more positive concerns?

In this respect, cosmetic surgery is more an opportunity to exercise pride, and therefore sin, rather than sin per se. It is like the opportunity to indulge in pride when we buy a house, buy a car, buy clothes, buy computers, smart phones and other electronic artifacts, or take vacations. Are we expecting a particular purchase to enhance our standing, or to serve a function?

Another aspect of any purchase, including cosmetic surgery, is the cost of it and the alternative ways we could have used those resources. If we are diverting funds from tithes and offerings in order to pay for cosmetic surgery, it is a sin that we should repent of. If we are sacrificing the education and financial security of our families, or the support of a family member serving a mission, it is also a sin. If we are taking time away from our children in order to earn the extra funds to pay for cosmetic surgery, it is a sin. The spiritual demerits of cosmetic surgery depend on how effective it is in distorting our priorities.

For these reasons, I suggest that there is nothing about cosmetic surgery by itself that is socially undesirable. It can only be evaluated in the context of its costs for the individual patient and the motives of the individual patient. Indeed, we can exercise sinful pride in our public denunciation of the cosmetic surgery that others have, just as much as when we denounce those who have nicer houses, cars, or clothing. Having a focus on denying others the opportunity to improve their appearance through cosmetic surgery is an exercise of unrighteous dominion over the lives of others, comparable to criticizing them for failing to adhere to a strict Word of Wisdom regimen of little meat and no cola drinks. We can be just as proud of being more physically worn than thou, as we can be of being more physically attractive. As C.S. Lewis observed in the Screwtape Letters, obsessive humility can lead to just as much soul-destroying pride as showing off. Pride in our strict Word of Wisdom abstinence can be just as harmful to our ability to hear the still, small voice as a couple of beers. Better to have modest cosmetic surgery with gratitude and humility, than avoid it with triumph and superiority.