Occasionally I actually get to watch a TV show and even more occasionally I get to watch one I like. I was pleasantly surprised this fall by a new sitcom on Fox called “The War at Home.” It is a sleeper that I have no doubt will soon be put to sleep if for no other reason than I have enjoyed watching it. In the very first two months of its first season, it has confronted issues such as teen sex, sexual identity, interracial dating and drug use (not necessarily among teens.). More importantly it has done so not in a preachy way, but in a way that shows these issues are a part of everyday life for the average family and that they may not be as black and white as we think. There is no moralizing on this show – there are just ordinary people getting tripped up by the challenges of living and parenting in our culture. I don’t even know if it knows how smart it is. The people who promote it and choose its advertising sure don’t. Had I named this show it might have been called something like “Everyday Ethics” – which means it surely would have been cancelled by now. So imagine my distress when I watched this past week and found myself booing instead of cheering. This week’s conflict was resolved by the parents agreeing to breast implants for their teenage daughter! What?!?! How could this smart, contemporary purveyor of liberal values get derailed so quickly and easily? Since when are teenage breast implants a pressing cultural problem? What parents in their right minds would agree to that?
After hyperventilating, I started an internet search. Sure enough, there are a plethora of reports out there detailing the trend of cosmetic surgery becoming popular in younger and younger age groups. Last year, over 1800 girls under the age of 18 had their breasts augmented. Parents are taking out financing to do it. The mind reels with all the ways in which this is wrong. Teenagers are still forming their identities and values. They want desperately to fit in and be admired. Learning to accept oneself and find one’s strengths is a skill that needs to be modeled and nurtured by parents. By focusing on breast size and not self worth, such parents are encouraging their daughters to accept the shallow societal depiction of women and their value in the world. I could rant on about this, but others have already done so and done so better than I could. Now my interest is more academic. I always tell my ethics students that in order to understand an issue, in order to make a robust argument, one must examine the arguments on all sides. The problem is, I can’t come up with an argument for getting breast implants for one’s teenage daughter.