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:
If the majority of those going under the knife cannot afford to do so, the government should dissuade its low-earning citizens from frittering away their scarce resources on larger breasts and firmer calves and encourage them to invest in education instead.
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.
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.
Jews and the 'Bo-tax'
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.