RELIGION

Vatican Report Calls Cosmetic Surgery A 'Burqa Made Of Flesh'

02/02/2015 04:38 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2015

ROME -- "Women try to conform to be accepted," Italian actress Nancy Brilli said at a press conference Monday at the Vatican. "I do not understand demonizing someone if she doesn’t feel comfortable, and then after the operation feels better. As long as the point is to become what you want and not to follow a standard imposed from outside."

Brilli was passionately defending the use of cosmetic surgery in response to a working document released by the Pontifical Council for Culture in the lead-up to its Feb. 4-7 plenary assembly. The gathering later this week in Rome is dedicated to "Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference." The document provocatively quoted one description of cosmetic surgery as "a burqa made of flesh."

Brilli had appeared in a video that was also part of the lead-up to the plenary assembly. That video turned out to be so controversial that the English-language version was taken down by the Vatican.

At the press conference, the actress directly challenged Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture and promoter of the women’s initiative. According to the journalists present, he appeared to be mildly embarrassed by the phrase "burqa made of flesh" and commented on the use of cosmetic surgery as "an interesting aspect" of contemporary culture.

The working document, however, explicitly condemns plastic surgery: "'Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh.' One woman gave us this harsh and incisive description. Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model? What do we think of women used in advertising and in the mass media?"

Brilli responded to that characterization at the press conference. "Defining this surgery as 'the new burqa' rests on the fact that women often seek to conform to one model to be accepted," she said. "If a woman changes the features she was born with but is not comfortable with, however, I do not understand why she should be demonized and criticized. If she feels better, where's the harm?"

The actress also noted that her partner is a plastic surgeon "who deals mainly with reconstruction after cancer."

Using the hashtag #lifeofwomen, the video that featured Brilli had solicited reflections on women’s roles. The English-language version, which aimed to publicize the "Women's Cultures" initiative outside Italy, sparked sharp criticism from conservatives, who disliked the use of a sexy actress who preaches women’s equality, and from liberals, who said the video does not focus on the key issues that the Pontifical Council for Culture needs to address.

Among these issues, said Ravasi, is the idea of establishing a women’s council within the Pontifical Council for Culture, which would continue and expand the assembly’s work on women's issues.

For instance, the working document makes the observation that the matter of female priests is important only to a relatively small number of women.

"It's not that women want to be cardinals, but they want to take part in this totally new opening of the church, which I think might be there -- and that I did not expect," said Brilli.

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.

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