6-year-old Gage Berger was being bullied by his first grade classmates because he had protruding ears, and was often derided as “Elf Ears.” His Salt Lake City parents decided to address the problem here and now, before, they say, his self-esteem (I almost wrote elf-esteem…) was permanently damaged, so they had his ears de-elfed to look like everyone else’s.
Now he’s bullying other funny-looking kids.
But seriously, folks, the story has aroused a controversy over societal and medical ethics. Did the parents choose plastic surgery too early and for the wrong reasons? Is that how we want society to be, where bullies and critics can pressure individuals to conform to a narrow standard of acceptible appearance? Doesn’t this give them power? Does it not encourage bullying? Is a first-grader old enough to meaningfully weigh these issues? Isn’t this a choice he should make, when he’s old enough to make it?
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…
Was it ethical to clip Gary’s ears?
Reene Zellweger, the squinty-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked actress who achieved fame in such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” emerged from a period of relative seclusion this week looking like someone else entirely. The consensus was that the 45-year-old had undergone radical cosmetic surgery—not the face destroying kind that actresses like Meg Ryan or Priscilla Presley inflicted on themselves, but the “I don’t care if my mother won’t recognize me, at least I don’t look old” kind. When an actor or an actress does this, since their faces are their trademarks, it is bound to make an impression, and it has.
It is a tragic spectacle illustrating the degree to which American culture elevates looks above accomplishments, individuality, integrity and character, especially for women. Zellweger, whom I foolishly assumed was immune to this sickness since she was so unconventional looking, is obviously a victim, but now she is part of a cultural contagion. A fish doesn’t know that it is in water, and culture is like that water, completely constraining our attitudes, culture and choices without our knowledge or control. When celebrities, who have influence far beyond what their wisdom, virtues and value should rightfully support, and who are seen as being experts in the matter of appearance, send the message to the young and contemporaries that even the forfeiture of one’s identity is a fair price to pay to avoid the signs of natural aging, that pollutes our water.
And poisons the other fish. Continue reading