As someone who has grown up in Orange County her whole life, I have seen plastic surgery up close. Certain stereotypes about Orange County (perpetuated by shows like The Real Housewives of Orange County and Botched) make outsiders believe we all have plastic surgery. I don’t have the statistics on this, but as an “insider”, it feels like about 5% of residents here actually get it. Still, plastic surgery is a problem here (and the rest of the world, really) and raises up a big issue: Is it OK if Christians get plastic surgery?
This reminds me of a classic story. The fairy tale Snow White, written by the Grimm brothers, tells a story about the love of beauty gone awry. When the Evil Queen discovers that there is a new fairest woman in the land, Snow White, the Queen is shocked and distressed; she becomes fixated with looking better than Snow White, to the point she’ll even make herself ugly to kill Snow White. In the end, the Queen dies as a hideous hag, and Snow White gets a happily-ever-after.
It’s easy to feel like the Evil Queen nowadays; with Hollywood putting increasing pressure on society to look good, and magazines obsessing over body image, a high percentage of the masses have been inspired to ‘spruce up’ the reflection they see in the mirror. That’s where plastic surgery and other body modification procedures come in, each promising anyone a more youthful, stunning appearance. But where do we draw the line? When are we just vain Queens, wanting to be beautiful, and when do we become Evil Hags, becoming obsessed with being beautiful?
Body Modifications in History
Before we break down the issue of plastic surgery, I think it is important to review other kinds of body modifications in history first. You’ll see why in a second.
Early body modification customs were considered highly fashionable in their time, even with their serious health risks. For example, foot binding was a Chinese custom that attempted to stop the growth of and reshape the feet. Bound feet were considered works of art, and objects of erotic desire. According to the book Aching for Beauty by Wang Ping, foot binding was practiced on girls and women, beginning between the ages of four and seven, “when their bones were still flexible” and they were “mature enough” to grasp the significance of the practice. The four small toes were broken and bent under the sole, while the arch of the foot was bowed to make the foot shorter. Once the process was completed after two years, the foot was only 3” long, and useless for walking very far. Bound feet had to be washed and cared for daily because if toenails grew into the arch of the foot, an infection could set in. Although foot binding was painful and posed as serious health risks, this custom lasted for one thousand years in China, lasting from the 10th century to the early 20th century.
In Africa and some parts of Asia, women elongate their necks. This is accomplished by neck rings; a neck ring is a band of metal worn as an ornament around the neck. The process starts at the age of two, and gradually with age, the number of neck rings worn increases to elongate the neck. While it appears the neck is becoming longer, the neck rings are actually pushing the collarbone and ribs down; thus, the neck is, in fact, not becoming longer. Like foot binding, neck rings can pose health risks; the force of the neck rings upon the neck can cause trauma, such as the stop of blood flow in the veins or hematoma, a form of internal bleeding. Neck rings are still worn by African and Asian cultures today, most notably the Karen tribe in Thailand.
Another body modification tradition didn’t start far from home; in European countries and America during the 16th to 18th centuries, women wore corsets underneath their dresses to turn their torsos into a stylish cylindrical shape. This custom was called tight-lacing. However, corsets can create damage internally, mainly on the digestive system. Both the liver and the stomach are forced downward, leading to indigestion, weak lower back muscles, breathing difficulties, decrease of lung function by 33%, and infertility by dislodging the uterus.
These body modifications demonstrate that our beauty standards are constantly changing. Take a look at this viral video for proof:
Plastic surgery has become a huge part of our culture, being the quick fix to our “undesirable” parts. According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nearly 10 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2008, and Americans spent almost $11.8 billion on cosmetic procedures that same year. In the media, we see plastic surgery everywhere.
NOTE: It’s important to pause here to remember that we are talking about plastic surgery as a way to enhance one’s looks or fight aging. We’re not talking about plastic surgery procedures that are corrective or help victims of fire, trauma, etc. In those cases, plastic surgery is not a vain procedure, but a way to help those with severe or even life-threatening physical issues.
Singer Cindy Jackson is listed in the 2017 Guinness World Records for having had more cosmetic surgery procedures than anyone else in the world. To date, she has spent $99,000 on the surgeries, including “three full facelifts, two nose operations, two eye lifts, liposuction, knees, waist, abdomen, thigh and jawline surgery, lip and cheek implants, chemical peels, chin bone reduction and semi-permanent make-up.” When asked why she has had so much plastic surgery, Cindy Jackson said,
“Because there was more than one thing I didn’t like about the way I looked. I didn’t want to look just a little better, I wanted to look a lot better. I saw no point in only changing one or two of them when I could change them all. I look in the mirror and see room for improvement.”
Perhaps the most famous entertainer who has undergone extreme amounts of plastic surgery is deceased Michael Jackson. Dr. Wallace Goodstein, who worked beside Jackson’s surgeon in the 1990s, said Jackson had multiple nose jobs, cheek implants, a cleft put in his chin, and eyelid surgery. In fact, Dr. Goodstein said, “You name it he had it.” Dr. Alex Karadis, a plastic surgery expert, explained, “Someone like Michael Jackson looking in the mirror will see something significantly different to what you or I saw.”
However, plastic surgery has been given a new face by people like the Kardashian family. These women have received cortisone shots in their butts, boob implants, rhinoplasty, and lip fillers. If you’ve ever watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians, you most likely have noticed that a blurry filter is applied to the women’s faces to make their skin appear softer and flawless. Kylie Jenner has been under the most scrutiny due to the huge difference in her looks within the last two years, although she vehemently denies the rumors of severe plastic surgery. Regardless, the Kardashian-esque hourglass shape (big butt and boobs, flat stomach) has many young women turning to the knife these days, making plastic surgery not just an old lady’s game against aging anymore.
So, is it OK?
Nowhere in the Bible (at least that I can find) does it explicitly say do not change your body. However, I think there are several passages in Scripture that arguably speak against the practice.
According to Genesis 1:26-27, the first man’s body was perfect before the first sin which caused death and aging, and was made in the image of God. Because we are created in God’s image, and called to His service, we are to honor and respect our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). God does call us to modify ourselves, but not body modifications – we are called to modify ourselves spiritually (1 Timothy 4:8). God calls us to let ourselves be transformed by His standard, not by the world’s (Romans 12:2).
In 1 Samuel 16, God told Samuel that one of Jesse’s seven sons would be the new King of Israel. As Jesse introduced his sons, Samuel waited for God to reveal His choice. Samuel was sure that God would choose Eliab, who was the big, strong, muscular, and good-looking first-born. But, God was not impressed with Eliab. The Lord said to Samuel,
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
David was not the best-looking one of the sons, but he had a heart for Godly things; thus, his looks were insignificant to the Lord.
Now, concentrating on your heart, not your body, seems easier said than done. In a world where looks are frequently pushed, it’s easy to fall down the hole of low self-esteem. But 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Whenever you feel yourself falling into despair because of your appearance, look to God. Even the most skilled surgeon cannot prevent the hands of time, and every cosmetic surgery will ultimately have the same result—aging. The lifted body parts will sag once more, and those cosmetically altered facial features will wrinkle. Therefore, it is far better to work on beautifying the person underneath, “that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4).
Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (emphasis added):
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
What the Evil Queen failed to recognize was that Snow White was the fairest in the land not because she was merely beautiful on the outside, but because she had kindness, love, and acceptance towards others. When we look in the mirror, it’s important to reflect on the inner beauty, not parts of our body that we feel need to be modified.
What about you? Would you ever get plastic surgery or any kind of nips and tucks? Do you think it’s wrong or OK? Tell me in the comments!
For all my lady readers wanting to know how to concentrate on your heart, not looks, then pick up a copy of our Proverbs 31 Woman Bible Study: