Jews and the 'Bo-tax'

The Slate folks recently had an online spat about Congress’s idea to help cover the cost of health care with a 5% tax on elective cosmetic surgery. On the main site Christopher Beam argued against the tax, using studies to show that, despite assumptions that this would only affect the rich, one-third of the people getting plastic surgery make under $30,000 a year, while 86% make under $90,000. He also makes the case that better-looking people are often more productive and higher earners.

Meanwhile, Jessica Dweck, over at Slate’s women’s-interest blog the XX Factor, argues that there is nothing wrong with the so-called “botax.” She thinks that this would be more akin to a sin tax, as opposed to a payroll or an income tax, and best serves as a discouragement to questionable behavior. Dweck writes:

Now the fact that the tax was presented as a way to cover the estimated trillion-dollar cost of the proposed health care bill, and it was not an attempt at “father Obama knows best,” as Dweck calls it, is besides the point. This is still a pretty interesting debate on the plastic surgery.

At first I read Dweck and cheered.

Then I realized that a lot of people I know have had plastic surgery. And none of them look like the “Swan,” from the makeover TV show. They had a nose job or their ears pinned back or their breasts slightly augmented or reduced. Do I agree with all of their choices? No. But overall these surgeries did boost their confidence — and don’t seem to have served as a gateway procedure for a life filled with nips and tucks.

Since the first nose job, by a Jew to a Jew, was performed, there’s plentiful anecdotal evidence that we have been pretty big consumers of the stuff. And I can’t say it has all been in vain.

Dweck believes that the poor should stay away from the knife and “invest in education.” We Jews are a group that have always done both, and I think that both are probably responsible for our assimilation and relative success in this country — of course, not in equal measure. But I do think that our willingness to physically manipulate ourselves is connected to our drive.

This is not to say that I endorse any specific standards of beauty and have certainly witnessed the insecurities such standards can stoke. But, let’s be realistic: Such standards exist; they have always existed — in every society. Of course these standards change over time and, in recent years, have rightfully expanded to include a much more diverse range of features.

As far as the Slate debate goes, I fall on the side of Beam, especially when I think about the fact that 86% of cosmetic surgery patients are females, according to the Los Angeles Times. I think there is a lot of work to be done on improving self-acceptance in women, but this isn’t one of them.

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