God has given you one face, and you make yourself another…

Today, while I was having coffee with a friend, there was an item on BBC News 24 about the woman who underwent a face transplant. It was amazingly interesting and I’m suitably impressed by the advancements in science and the possibilities for helping those who require reconstructive surgery. However it did get me thinking about cosmetic surgery since the advancements in reconstructive plastic surgery tend to filter into cosmetic quite rapidly after becoming less risky and more refined (at least in terms of visible scarring, reattachment of vital muscles, and anti-rejection drugs).

The issues this particular procedure raises include those of identity and how you internalise your external appearance. By taking on different characteristics would you become a different person? More specifically, would you feel obliged to become a different person?

Cosmetic surgery tends to include certain expectations – “If I look a certain way I will be more outgoing”, “If I tweak this part of my body it will alter my perception of myself and others’ perceptions of me”. In this way body and mind become hopelessly intertwined and part of me can’t see how ones sense of self can remain unchanged after even minor cosmetic surgery. “I can be myself… but better?”

It isn’t that cosmetic surgery is a bad thing – far from it, I think it’s fantastic and can be incredibly positive – I just think that a significant amount of people experience an certain level of dissociation from the body part that has been altered since it hasn’t evolved and been incorporated into their sense of self in any gradual organic way and when the alterations become more drastic this feeling would only ever increase.

It’s all quite a long way off though since I would imagine donors for reconstructive facial surgery aren’t exactly numerous – finding a suitable and compatible person with similar bone structure and colouring  who is willing to give up their face after death must take a fairly long time – and in cosmetic surgery you need to factor in individual preference and whim – the catalogue of available visages would need to be enormous.

I can imagine that one day one might be able to make the choice between being a donor for either reconstructive or for cosmetic surgery. I can also imagine that there would be a greater pleasure in being accepted for the latter since it would imply that your physical features are in some way “exceptional” or “desirable”. I can also imagine the crushing disappointment of being told “Thank you for your offer but we feel you’re more of an internal organ donator“.