Women should allow their bodies and faces to age naturally, a Vatican council suggested Friday, citing a woman who said plastic surgery enforces unrealistic standards of beauty.
The Pontifical Council for Culture, a body that reports to Pope Francis and is responsible for representing the Roman Catholic Church to the world, declared, "Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model? What do we think of women used in advertising and in the mass media?"
The document cited what it called one woman's "harsh and incisive description" of such procedures: "Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh."
The statements are contained in an outline document, "Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference," released in advance of next week's plenary assembly of the council addressing that subject.
The meetings will focus on several areas, including the "quest for an equilibrium" between equality and differences of the sexes, "'Generativity' as a symbolic code,'" and on women and religion. However, the session on "The female body: between culture and biology," and the council's statements on procedures such as Botox and tummy tucks will likely draw the most attention.
The Irish Times, reporting on the statement, noted the council's assertion that non-theraputic "plastic surgery can 'amputate' the expressive possibilities of the human face which are so connected to the empathic abilities."
At The Boston Globe's Crux website, correspondent Inés San Martín observed, "The text suggests that elective plastic surgery may reflect the stress many women feel about their bodies, which sometimes result in 'pathologies' such as eating disorders, depression and dysmorphic disorders."
And women-oriented website Jezebel headlined its summary with words of approbation: "Chill Vatican Thinks You Ladies Are Beautiful Without Plastic Surgery." The site did wonder if a call for greater female participation in Catholic Church life would leave "the nagging feeling that all this discussion is just going to result in more (menial) work for Catholic women."
Plastic surgery is a popular medical procedure in many parts of the world. In the United States alone, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, "15.1 million cosmetic surgery procedures, including both minimally invasive and surgical, were performed in the United States in 2013, up 3 percent since 2012."
The news came as an apparent surprise to media representatives at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons as well as the Catholic Medical Association. The surgeon's group had not heard of the document when the Deseret News called seeking comment, and CMA spokeswoman Anne McGlone said, via email, the organization "does not have a comment since we are unfamiliar with this policy."
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