Honesty is essential in a relationship. But just how honest should you be?
That question is at the center of a rather curious legal suit that made the news last week. A Chinese man allegedly divorced his wife for giving birth to what he considers an ugly baby girl, sued her and -- astonishingly -- won!
Believing the baby to be the result of an affair, the husband underwent a DNA. Sure enough, the baby was his and that's when his then-wife fessed up -- she had about $100,000 worth of cosmetic surgery done to her before they met.
He sued her on the grounds of false pretenses, for not telling him about the plastic surgery and duping him into thinking she was beautiful, which brings up some interesting questions. Is cosmetic surgery deceptive? (Note: The lawsuit story has since been debunked by snopes.com and various other media outlets.)
In 2011 alone, some 15 million people got cosmetic surgery. Why do so many people, women especially, undergo cosmetic surgery? And, how honest must they be about it?
Plastic surgeon Bryan Mendelson, author of In Your Face, says "people have surgery not to impress others, they do it to impress themselves. For many people, it's about getting their confidence back," and almost all of them don't tell their spouse.
Sociology professor Victoria Pitts-Taylor, author of Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture, points to the incredible power of the cosmetic surgery industry that holds many of us sway:
"Women who get cosmetic surgery are pressured to have the right reasons for doing so. So women are not supposed to be especially vain. They're not even supposed to say they're being competitive. Instead, they're supposed to use this liberal empowerment language -- 'I'm doing it to do something positive for myself.' The cosmetic surgery industry has really capitalized on this and has kind of sold cosmetic surgery back to women through the language of liberal feminism."
Still, what "should" women fess to? Fake boobs aren't easy to hide, period, and many men like them -- or certainly don't mind them. Vaginal rejuvenations? Who would complain? Nose jobs, however, aren't always as "in your face." Tummy tucks, chin lifts and lipo? No one can tell, so why tell? Botox and Restylane? Sometimes, it's pretty apparent, especially when women get to the point of having an immobile face. Facelifts? They can be disastrous but often aren't.
But if you change your appearance drastically, must you come clean -- or does it only matter if you're making babies and your children may look radically different than one parent?
In truth, few of us are honest when it comes to attracting a mate, surgery or not. As one study about mating strategies notes, perhaps somewhat dishearteningly, "although honesty is considered a virtue, it is not quite the norm when it comes to mating strategies. Men and women engage in deceptive practices to obtain an edge and to profit at the other's expense."
Sounds like what Ms. Cosmetic Surgery did. She wanted to snag a husband to be the father of her children, and, after spending $100,000, she did.
Did she deceive her husband? After all, making babies is a crap shoot; they can be born with everything from Downs syndrome to bipolar to dwarfism to the makings of a sociopath. Shouldn't we be honest about our genetic background, too? As for looks, some of the best-looking couples I know have birthed some rather odd-looking babies who grew up to be good-looking young adults. My own parents called me Khrushchev when I was born; if you're too young to know who he was, let's just say that was not a compliment. About 18 months later, I started to get with the family genetic programming. Thankfully, I don't look like Khrushchev anymore and haven't for decades.
And really, wouldn't the husband wonder why his wife looked so different from her parents and siblings, assuming he'd met them or seen pictures of them? Was he only focusing on her beauty and none of her other assets like, say, intelligence, kindness, wit, compassion?
If beauty is all he cares about, what does that say about him and their marriage? Would a marriage based on something so tenuous as looks -- which fade over time, anyway -- be a strong enough foundation for raising a family?
In that light, wasn't he just as deceptive as she was?
A version of this article appears on Vicki Larson's personal blog, OMG Chronicles.