Is ugliness a pathology?

An ethical critique of the therapeuticalization of cosmetic surgery

Yves Saint James Aquino*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Pathologizing ugliness refers to the framing of unattractive features as a type of disease or deformity. By framing ugliness as pathology, cosmetic procedures are reframed as therapy rather than enhancement, thereby potentially avoiding ethical critiques regularly levelled against cosmetic surgery. As such, the practice of pathologizing ugliness and the ensuing therapeuticalization of cosmetic procedures require an ethical analysis that goes beyond that offered by current enhancement critiques. In this article, I propose using a thick description of the goals of medicine as an ethical framework for evaluating problematic medical practices. I first describe the goals of medicine based on Daniel Callahan's account. I then propose that the goals work best in conjunction with ancillary ethical concepts, namely medical knowledge and skills, standards of practice and medical duties and virtues. Next, I apply the thick description of the goals of medicine in critiquing the practice of framing ugliness as disease. Here, I demonstrate ethical conflicts between aesthetic judgments that underpin the practice of pathologizing ugliness and medical judgments that inform ethical medical practices. In particular, the thick description of the goals of medicine helps reveal ethical conflicts in at least three key domains common to clinical practices, which include (a) disease determination, (b) diagnostic evaluation and (c) establishing clinical indications. My analysis offers a novel way of critiquing the practice of pathologizing ugliness in cosmetic surgery, which tends to be neglected by enhancement critiques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-441
Number of pages11
JournalBioethics
Volume34
Issue number4
Early online date9 Feb 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

Keywords

  • cosmetic surgery
  • goals of medicine
  • medical ethics
  • pathologization
  • ugliness

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