A recent article on Mormons and boob jobs is circulating the news waves and getting a lot of attention. According to a study release by RealSelf, residents of Utah have the highest number of web searches for breast augmentation procedures, beating out more obvious locations like California and Florida. The article on totalbeauty.com also points out the prominence in billboards promoting cosmetic surgery along I-15 or the so-called “Mormon corridor” in Utah, named for its path through some of the most populated Mormon areas. Billboards advertising plastic surgery are “everywhere,” according to residents.
“At least half of the billboards have to do with teeth whitening, Lasik surgery, cellulite reduction or any sort of plastic surgery,” says one Utah resident. “It’s pretty crazy. People comment on it all the time.”
This isn’t the first time Utah’s come out on top when it comes to plastic surgery. In 2007, the mostly Mormon state (over 60 percent of the overall population is Mormon, with over 80 percent documented in some counties) made headlines when Forbes name Salt Lake City America’s Vainest City. This ranking was largely contributed to the high number of plastic surgeons per capita, which doesn’t necessarily give numbers of actual cosmetic procedures compared to other states. But the data does still leaving people asking “Why are so many mormons getting boob jobs?”
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, licensed psychotherapist and founder and executive director of Wasatch Family Therapy, is a Mormon with more than 20 years of experience counseling women in Utah. She says that it’s the grouping of like-minded people that may contribute to Utah’s high plastic surgery rate.
“There are things about Utah that are unique, and I think those things happen when you get a large, homogenous group together, living together for a long time.”
Some link the high instance of plastic surgery among Utah residents to a culture that strives for perfectionism.
“There are some Mormon doctrine issues that come into play that I think are misunderstood,” says de Azevedo Hanks. She’s referring to an oft-cited passage from the Bible’s New Testament,Matthew 5:48, which reads, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“I hear people talk about that [passage], and say, ‘Well, I should be perfect.’ I think because of the society we live in that is so externally focused and beauty-focused, that the scripture, which is not really about being externally flawless, gets misinterpreted in the context of our culture of youth and beauty obsession,” says de Azevedo Hanks.
It’s a sentiment echoed by 33-year-old Mormon mother-of-two Amy Smith*, who had a breast augmentation at 18 and liposuction a few years later.
“There is this weird thing in Utah,” says Smith, who lives in Utah but formerly resided in Los Angeles. “In Los Angeles, people accept you for who you are and being different is valued, but here it’s very ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ You have to try to be perfect, everyone is kind of cookie-cutter and everyone looks the same. I think that the [popularity of] plastic surgery has to do with the image of being perfect. That’s very big in Mormon culture. If you’re different, you’re kind of ostracized.”
The statistics are puzzling to some because of the stance the Mormon church has taken on altering one’s body. According to lds.org, Mormons are instructed, “You would not paint a temple with dark pictures or symbols or graffiti or even initials. Do not do so with your body.” The church took an official stance against piercings and tattoos a few years ago.
Though prevalent, plastic surgery is not commonly talked about among Utahn’s nor are they known, outside of recent statistics, for cosmetic surgery. Most associate the Mormon population with door-to-door missionary work, shirts under sundresses and large families.
Smith addresses that point by saying, “[Plastic surgeries are] kept secret. People have this image of being perfect, and if you tell them you got boobs to make you perfect, that makes you less perfect. [Plastic surgery] happens, and everyone does it, but, no, we don’t really talk about it.”
“You don’t know where the pressure is coming from or who’s putting it on, but you know it’s there. You don’t know if it’s the church, society or both.”
Renalto Saltz, full-body plastic surgeon in Utah, points to a few other statistics in order to explain Utah’s interest in breast augmentation.
“One of the factors is you have families here that have kids very, very young,” says Saltz. “When we see these women in their late 20s, their anatomy has already been really damaged by multiple pregnancies.”
Having children in a short amount of time really changes ones body and many of these women say they really just want what they had before. It’s more of a restorative procedure for them.
Utah also has the highest birth rate and the highest number of children per family in the U.S., which de Azevedo Hanks says contributes to the plastic surgery numbers. She says her clients feel they have sacrificed their body for their families, and they see the “mommy makeover” they get after having children as a gift to themselves. “They’re trying to get back some of what they’ve given up,” she explains. She also says that looking good may be a way young mothers seek to redeem themselves. “When you’re marrying young, there’s a tendency to give up other parts of your life — talent development, education or whatever — and so you may turn to external things to get a sense of self-worth,” she says.
You can read the full article HERE.
And for Dr. Thompson’s response, see Plastic Surgery in Utah – Dr. Thompson Responds To A Recent Article on Mormons and Plastic Surgery.