Prick Me: Is A Tax On Botox Discriminatory Towards Women?

"This tax is not just a luxury tax... This is a tax on the middle class, which is directly against what President Obama campaigned on." People, including the plastic surgeon quoted, are outraged at the proposed tax on cosmetic procedures.

The 5% tax was inserted into the health care bill by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who believes that the additional fees will help to raise at least $5.8 billion to offset the costs of health care reform.

The opposition to the bill comes from an interesting crew. Over the past few weeks, plastic surgeons and the makers of products like Botox have rushed to protest - but so have feminist organizations like NOW.

Opponents contend the tax will unfairly target middle-income women, threaten the confidentiality of patient reports, and lead to a surge in people traveling to other countries for wrinkle-zapping procedures. [...]

Why the surgery surge among working-class folks? "We're seeing a lot of patients concerned about the competition [for employment] and if they don't look young enough or vigorous enough, that could be an issue in getting a job," says Dr. Michael McGuire, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. [...]

There's a gender issue too, as roughly 86% of people seeking cosmetic enhancements are women, ASPS data shows. The National Organization for Women, NOW, even spoke out against it. As Terry O'Neill, NOW's president, told the New York Times, "[Women] are going for Botox or going for eye work because we live in a society that punishes women for getting older."

From that angle, the protests on a Botox tax don't seem so shallow. Outside of the entertainment industry, I doubt anyone can claim their tri-monthly injection as a business expense. However, research studies have demonstrated that the perception of attractiveness does translate into tangible gains in the workplace:

After variables like education and experience are factored out, Fed researchers said the "beauty premium" exists across all occupations, and that jobs requiring more interpersonal contact have higher percentages of above-average-looking employees.

For example, the study found there was a higher beauty premium among private sector lawyers than their government-supported counterparts since private attorneys need to attract and keep clients.

If that weren't enough, the Fed also discovered a "plainness penalty," punishing below-average-looks with earnings of 9 percent less an hour.

Clearly, there are income disparities in the workplace based on looks. However, there also people who undergo plastic surgery to raise their perceived social capital, and others who do so to ease their own insecurities. In light of this, I'm not sure that there's a strong enough argument that a tax on optional body modifications amounts to discrimination.

Time also notes that Reid's office has emphatically claimed the bill's taxation policy is equal opportunity:

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senator Reid, dismisses suggestions women are being targeted and notes that senators are looking everywhere for ways to fund the bill. "There was a point a few weeks ago when Senator Reid needed some additional revenue for this bill - the goal was to keep all the financing within the health-care arena, and in the end, he decided to include this provision in the bill," says Manley

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Proposed 'Botox Tax' Draws Wide Array of Opponents [Time]

Related: Surprise! Pretty People Earn More [CNN]