Hugo Chavez recently opposed the breast augmentation trend that’s sweeping through Venezuela, labeling it a “monstrous thing” during a public address on state television. While some rally to his cause and condemn plastic surgery as shallow, excessive and flippant, the fact remains that freedom with one’s own body is a fundamental right.

Cosmetic surgery isn’t the modern, image obsessed craze that some people make it out to be. In fact, cosmetic procedures have been around since the first century BC, when the Romans performed simple surgeries to repair and improve ears and noses. The advent of anesthesia and the development of more effective techniques to prevent and control infection – both features of the 19th and 20th century – helped to transform plastic surgery into the precise, effective practice it is today.

In terms of the pursuit of beauty, body modification has found a place in a vast array of cultures both historically and in modern times. From piercing and stretching the ears and lips to neck elongation, foot binding to scarring, skin lightening to tanning and shaving, embellishment and alteration of the human body has found expression throughout the ages. Modern cosmetic procedures are immensely more subtle and sublime than their archaic counterparts, but the idea of pursuing a culturally defined standard of beauty is very much the same.

Chavez critiqued the Venezuelan people for opting to undergo expensive plastic surgery even in the face of financial distress, saying it was “painful” to see women taking out loans for plastic surgery. While the sentiment is certainly understandable in a still-stabilizing economy, his venomous condemnation of cosmetic procedures reads like a blatant attack on a natural cultural phenomena.

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