Although the pandemic was a world-wide challenge that caused incredible loss and suffering, not everyone fared badly. Most prominently, within weeks of the beginning of the pandemic, “Zoom” became ubiquitous. It seemed like everything was on Zoom: meetings, parties, family get-togethers, shiurim, yoga, etc. Pfizer and Moderna have also done well in recent months.
One of the more unexpected surges during the pandemic has been for plastic surgery. Spending so much time on Zoom and video conference calls has forced people to look at their own faces for extended periods of time. Many people have become disenchanted with their “lockdown face.”
The truth is that the image of ourselves that we see on screens is not wholly accurate. A BBC article entitled, “Why plastic-surgery demand is booming amid lockdown,” quotes Dr. Jill Owen, a psychologist from The British Psychological Society, who notes that the version of ourselves we see on our screens can be deceiving. The angle, lighting, and limitations of the camera on many devices can lead to distortions of facial features.
Owen notes that obsessing over our own image can lead to “perceptual distortion,” which occurs when we “highlight a fault, then focus disproportionately on this until it becomes magnified in our perception.”
That perceptual distortion seems to have impacted multitudes of people. Cosmetic doctors and plastic surgeons around the world have reported surges in bookings for surgical and non-surgical treatments following lockdown. It’s being referred to as the “Zoom Boom.”
According to halachah, although there are occasions when it is permitted, plastic surgery is not a simple matter. The fundamental issue is whether one has permission to inflict damage upon his/her own body.1
The very concept is revolutionary. Most people assume “it’s my body and I can do with it as I please.” The Torah viewpoint, however, is that our bodies are not our personal property. Rather, they are “on loan” to us to use properly to house our souls so that we can accomplish and be productive in this world. We are charged to care for our bodies and use them properly.
I was thinking about this concept recently when I received the COVID vaccine. Side effects are common after receiving the vaccine, including injection-site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, to go along with fever and chills.
Personally, the day after I received the first Pfizer shot, I woke up not feeling well but was able to push myself to go about my day. As the day wore on, however, I felt increasingly worse.
By the time I arrived home in the late afternoon, I had what felt like a full-blown flu, including fever, achiness, an intense headache, and chills. I woke up the following morning in a pool of sweat, but my symptoms were almost completely gone. I was quite concerned about what would happen after the second vaccine, but thankfully, aside from some fatigue, I had almost no side effects.
It’s intriguing that everyone who receives the vaccine seems to have a different experience. Some report not having any side effects at all, while others report becoming very sick for a few days. Even of those who suffer some strong side effects afterwards, some report side effects only after the first, others only after the second, and some both times.
As I heard people speak of their experiences, including reflection on my own experience, it was fascinating to realize that we speak about our bodies’ reactions as if they are foreign beings with minds of their own.
I was similarly reminded of this phenomenon after the recent Meron tragedy and during the Hamas missile attacks in Eretz Yisrael. I was listening to a lecture by a trauma expert who noted that everyone has different reactions to trauma. This can include anger, moodiness, irritability, becoming obsessive, crying, denial, disbelief, uninterest in previous activities, emotional numbness, forgetfulness, grief, guilt, isolation, nightmares, panic, and sleeping too much.
The lecturer stressed that everyone reacts differently, and all reactions are normal in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic situation or experience.
Once again, I noticed that we refer to people’s reactions as if they are a foreign force over which one has limited or no control.
We tend to define ourselves and think of ourselves based on our physical bodies. Although we are aware that our true life-force and identity is our soul, we live in a physical world, and therefore think of ourselves based on our “physical casing.” In our youth, we get used to our bodies and feel that we understand them well. But as we age, we start to feel that our bodies are somewhat foreign to us, and at times can even feel betrayed by our bodies (at least that’s what my friends tell me).
What really defines us is our soul, which transcends the limitations of this world. That is our real essence and, therefore, we would be wise to invest in it.
All that said, I want to thank Pfizer for giving me a shot in the arm in reminding me who and what I really am.
1 - The Gemara (Bava Kama 91b) quotes a Tana’itic dispute whether one is allowed to damage himself. The Rambam (Choveil U’Mazik 5:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 420:1) rule that it is forbidden. The question is whether totally elective surgery done for an understandable reason is included in the prohibition. See Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 5:66, the Minchas Shlomo II:82, and the Minchas Yitzchak VI:105.