Cosmetic Surgery in Utah

Does Utah have one of the highest rates of cosmetic surgery in the country?

Possibly. It's hard to say because statistics for plastic surgery procedures are only collected by region, not by state.[1] However, there are two available statistical data sources for plastic surgery procedures in Utah, but they are from relatively small samples.[2] They both indicate that Latter-day Saint women in Utah have less cosmetic surgery than the national average.[3]

Why are there so many articles published that say that Utah has one of the highest rates in the country?

Probably because in 2007 Forbes wrote an article titled "America's Vainest Cities"[4] where it ranked Salt Lake City as #1. This placement was not based on the number of cosmetic surgeries, but instead, the number of plastic surgeons per capita.[5] The University of Utah School of Medicine (in Salt Lake City) has a residency program for plastic and reconstructive surgery,[6] and Forbes acknowledged that this may be a factor that skews the data.[7]

Since Forbes published this article, there have been many articles on this subject,[8] and many of them reference the 2007 Forbes article.[9]

So does Salt Lake City have the highest number of plastic surgeons in the country?

No. The most recent data available, from 2018, shows that Salt Lake City has the fifth-highest number of plastic surgeons per capita in the country.[10]

But that's still high. Couldn't it be because there is a high demand for cosmetic surgery in Utah?

Possibly. But there are many potential reasons for a high number of plastic surgeons in Utah. The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City performs over 3,000 surgeries per year.[11] The University of Utah has residency programs for both plastic and reconstructive surgery.[12] Or maybe people in Utah are more interested in cosmetic surgery than in other states.[13] There is no data available that points to one explanation.

Is "breast augmentation" a popular search term for Utah?

Yes. As of May 2021, Google Trends indicates that Utah is #1 for the search topic "breast augmentation," as well as #1 in the search term "boob job" over the last 5 years.[14] However, it also indicates that for the "breast enlargement" search category, Utah is #37 over the last five years.[15]

There are lots of ways to look at the data on Google Trends (time span, geographic span, terms versus categories, etc.), depending on what kind of narrative someone is supporting. But overall, it seems there is a disproportionate amount of interest in cosmetic surgery related to breasts in Utah.

What does the Church teach about cosmetic surgery?

The Church does not have any official policies related to cosmetic surgery,[16] but two modern apostles have cautioned against it, in the context of condemning vanity.[17]

Doesn't Utah spend way more on cosmetics though?

Possibly. The Forbes article mentions that Utah residents spent more at grocery stores on cosmetics purchases.[18] However, there isn't available data including department or chain cosmetic stores.

Some People Say . . .

"Your body is a temple. Just because lots of plastic surgery happens in Utah doesn't mean it's because of the Church."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The limited data available indicates the Latter-day Saint women in Utah have less cosmetic surgery than average.

  • Nearly all articles related to Utah and cosmetic surgery can be traced to a 2007 Forbes article which notes the high number of cosmetic surgeons per capita in Utah.

  • Utah has a relatively small population but is home to a relatively large plastic and reconstructive surgery residency program at the University of Utah.

  • Utah has a very high rate of Google searches related to breast augmentation.

  • The Church has no policy on cosmetic surgery.

  • Two modern apostles have cautioned vanity while referencing cosmetic surgery.

Our Take

Cosmetic surgery is a complicated issue, especially since it can tie into body image and confidence issues. Is cosmetic surgery a way to improve mental and physical health? Is it a symptom of media messages that push people, especially women, toward unrealistic beauty standards?

And does a Church culture of "perfection" feed into a desire for cosmetic surgery?

The idea of religious hypocrisy as it relates to vanity makes for an irresistible headline, so this topic will likely continue to make headlines.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know about cosmetic surgery as it relates to Utah or Latter-day Saints. The data isn't available. The limited data that is available points to Latter-day Saint women getting less cosmetic surgery than the national average, but it's also not easy to dismiss the data about Utah's internet searches for breast augmentation.

Though there is no official stance on plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes, Church leaders do teach principles that can guide us in such matters. The gospel teaches health, wellness, avoiding worldliness, and the inherent self-worth of being children of God.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Mike
    Health and physical vanity can be co-requisite. I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my face. At the same time, it was considered plastic surgery due to the microsurgery technique used to suture it. Perhaps the stats have skewed interpretations.
  • Scott C.
    Why does the church take such a strong stance against tattoos and piercings, and not take a stand on elective cosmetic surgery? Not all tattoos are for attention as the church claims. Some are cultural, or in memory of family members, and some are an attempt to beautify.
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