As a plastic surgeon, I spend a lot of my time reflecting on the concept of beauty. Is it a purely physical idea? Is it an attitude? Is it yet deeper, within the essence of a person? Beauty, for me, has gradually taken on a more holistic tone. By this, I mean that it is based not only on the bodily or physical appearance, but is also centered in the mind and spirit. As such, external beauty can only reflect what exists internally.
Nonetheless, as a plastic surgeon I am constantly trying to attain, or maintain, certain standards of physical beauty. During my training, I was taught that the ideal breast has the nipple centered 21 cm from the sternal notch, and is exactly 21 cm from the opposite nipple, thus forming an equilateral triangle. Prior to each surgical breast procedure that I perform, those measurements are marked on the patient’s breasts. During the procedure, I am incising, rotating, and suturing tissue according to those set norms. However, although I try to achieve a certain standard of physical beauty during surgery, it is really the patient’s positive response to her bodily change that makes the result “beautiful”.
The Buddha said that there is a beauty beyond the physical, what might be called attitudinal beauty. In Buddhist psychology, certain qualities such as generosity and honesty are considered to be beautiful, or sobhana. In the Dhammapada he states, “If someone is jealous, selfish or dishonest, they are unattractive despite their eloquence or good features. But the person who is purged of such things and is free from hatred, it is he or she who is really beautiful.” For an amusing depiction of this concept, see the 2001 film “Shallow Hal”, in which Jack Black plays a shallow man who, following a spell placed upon him by Tony Robbins, is able to see each person as he or she actually is, despite his or her external appearance. Because this is a Jack Black movie, there is a fair amount of silliness involved in the process, but it takes nothing away from the message. (And who doesn’t love Jack Black?)
Of course, it would be foolish of me not to freely admit that I gain something in the process of creating beauty as well. As Alice Walker wrote, “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.” My hope is that, whether restoring form and function or enhancing existing features, that I can in a small way promote and support the blossom of internal beauty in each of us.