The Sneetches,1 one of the many stories written by Dr. Seuss, is a tale of two groups of Dr. Seuss characters who populate the beaches—the Plain-bellied Sneetches and the Star-bellied Sneetches. The Star-bellied Sneetches have stars on their bellies and though they are only little stars, they think these stars make all the difference. Compared with the Plain-bellied Sneetches, the Star-bellied Sneetches are sure that they are the best of the Sneetches. As they strut and stroll on the beaches with their noses in the air, they ignore the Sneetches with the plain bellies.
The Plain-bellied Sneetches are sullen and sad. They can not help but brood over the absence of stars on their bellies as they look with envy at the bellies of the Star-bellied Sneetches—until the arrival of Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
When Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives on the scene, he announces that he has a remedy for the unhappiness of the Plain-bellied Sneetches. Although this remedy is not free, it is guaranteed. He knows what to do to solve their problem and make them content.
In this children’s story, Dr. Seuss simplistically captures what is, in essence, the relationship between the cosmetic surgeon and the cosmetic surgery patient. The Sneetches, dissatisfied with their appearances, are consumers of aesthetic change; Mr. McMonkey McBean has the tools to alter their appearances. He offers his services at a price.
Clearly, the appeal of cosmetic surgery is not new. It is linked to an underlying desire to appear beautiful. From a very early age, even children notice physical differences in appearance. We begin to grapple with ideas of beauty, ugliness, and difference in tales such as “The Star Bellied Sneetches,” and “The Ugly Duckling.” Eventually, however, what begins as merely an awareness of difference often escalates into mocking, causing the subject of derision significant emotional discomfort.
Unfortunately, these feelings may carry well into adulthood. Plato wrote, “The three wishes of every man: to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful.” Even some of the most respected historical figures have lamented their appearances. When Eleanor Roosevelt was asked if she had any regrets, she responded that she wished she had been prettier.2 President Andrew Jackson suffered throughout his life from permanent facial scarring inflicted by a British soldier. He must have been self-conscious of this deformity because he is always featured with his head turned askance in portraits and renderings. Aware of the importance of one’s perception of one’s own beauty, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Nothing has such a striking impact on a man’s development as his appearance, and not so much his actual appearance as a conviction that it is either attractive or unattractive.”3
Amazingly, this physical attractiveness phenomenon impacts every individual, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or nationality. While definitions of beauty may vary, each society possesses ...