Cosmetic Surgery For The Christian Woman?
With my 46th birthday approaching, it doesn’t take a long glance in the mirror to realize that babies, difficult life seasons, and age have marked my face and body a bit more than I like. I have way more lines around my eyes and mouth than I wish I had, a thicker middle than years past, and unfortunately, body parts that have gravitated from the place God originally put them. Tell me you get it!
In years past, there were no options except to live with the effects of aging and get over it. But today’s world offers the skilled hands of doctors and surgeons who have the ability to turn back the clock. With just a few hours and a bit of money, we can have smoother skin, flatter stomachs, perfectly sized boobs (whatever those are), and “fix” nearly anything we find unflattering.
According to the latest statistics by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 1.8 million cosmetic surgeries performed in 2016 and 15.5 million minimally invasive procedures.
Whether it’s push-up bras and spandex, make-up and hair color, or professional trainers and hours in the gym, almost all of us take some measures to put our “best face” (and body) forward. But when we move into the realm of surgical procedures and even less invasive medical procedures, there tends to be a great divide of opinions.
Many feel like any of these procedures are “superficial” and feed into vanity. Others feel they can be useful for boosting confidence and a general sense of well-being. Then there are those in the middle who would strongly oppose a breast lift but wouldn’t blink at braces to close a gap in teeth when both are costly and for appearance’ sake only. Or those who would oppose a chemical peel for their wrinkles but would have no issue with the same procedure to clear acne.
So we have to ask ourselves, in a world driven by appearance and youth, what should our response be to more invasive and permanent cosmetic procedures?
If we approve cosmetic surgery after a mastectomy, should we shun it if we’re underdeveloped and feel the same sense of inadequacy? Where should we draw the line?
And the most important question to ask as a woman of faith is, What does God say about it?
Before I offer my opinion on this, I’d like to caution that it is just that. I have searched the scriptures and my heart in order for my opinion to be an honest and sound one, but the bottom line is this:
God does not clearly tell us that cosmetic surgery is either right or wrong.
Therefore, our choices have to be guided by the principles of scripture, applied with wisdom and thoughtful prayer. If God doesn’t speak directly to it, then we must be careful with the personal conclusions we draw and more careful not to use those to condemn others.
So what principles of scripture can we use to navigate our decision?
- Our Body—God’s Temple
There are those who use these scriptures to make a stand against elective surgery, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. As His temple, we are to reflect His beauty. It takes only a glance at 1 Kings 6 to see that God spared no expense in building His physical temple and making it beautiful. He then established priests who would tend to it. God is a God of beauty and craftsmanship and He expects us to represent that to the world. This is not to suggest that we are to expend our energy on the outward beauty of the temple. But we can’t ignore it either, because He certainly did not. His temple was beautiful inside and out and it was admired for both its beauty and its holiness.
Today we understand that we are the New Testament equivalent of the temple, the spiritual house of God. And we have a responsibility to represent the God in us well. I believe that is very personal. We serve a relational God. He will not hold back His opinions on the care and keeping of His temples. All we need to do is ask.
Then, we can care for our bodies within the context of the real world we live in without compromising the holiness of the God who lives within us.
- Our Heart—God’s Throne Room
1 Peter 3:3-4 tells us “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”
This doesn’t say we can’t have fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes (and I would add to this, expensive procedures, since Peter is addressing appearance). It simply reminds us not to be caught up in these so that we miss the more important adornment—the “unfading beauty” of the inner woman.
It’s impossible to escape the reality of a world that judges by appearance. Every day, people look on the outward appearance to determine who they ask on a date or who they hire for a job. God tells us the reality of this in 1 Samuel 16:7, “People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” So how do we balance this reality of a world driven by appearance with a God examining our hearts? We first do what God does. We examine our hearts.
To do this, we have to keep in mind that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). So we must be careful to discern our true motives despite what we try to convince ourselves are our motives. We can only do this by asking God to reveal what are we really after.
Are we seeking attention? Are we driven by insecurity? Are we hoping it will make us feel more loved and accepted? Are we trying to fix something within ourselves that only God can fix? If so, it is important to seek the right antidote. We can’t seek a physical solution to an emotional issue, because it will never satisfy.
If fear, insecurity, or vanity is really behind our decision, can we lay that before the Lord and trust Him as the Great Physician to heal it? If after a heart examination our conscience is clear that our motives are not underlying unmet emotional needs, then we can move in freedom, knowing that we do not stand condemned.
So, if we can conclude that our hearts are in the right place, can we determine then that medically or surgically enhancing our appearance is right for us? I think there are still several things to consider.
Counting the Costs
- We need to count the costs to our finances.
We are told to be good stewards of all we have and to invest in what is eternal. In the same way that this doesn’t prevent us from making repairs to our homes and other possessions, it doesn’t restrict us from making repairs to our bodies. We simply have to realize we own nothing. It is all given by the grace and generosity of God, and we need to spend our resources in light of that. Our houses are not eternal, but the memories made within them are. Therefore, we invest in them.
Likewise our bodies are decaying every day and will not last forever. But how we use them will glorify or destroy the image of God. We are His likeness, and we have a responsibility to invest in that. Again, what that means to each of us is very personal.
What we know for sure is that putting our appearance before the needs of our family is not good stewardship. It is not wisely investing in what God has entrusted to us and will not give us a good return (Luke 16:11-12).
- We need to count the costs to our health.
Any medical procedure will have an effect on our overall health. We need to understand these clearly, and use wisdom before moving forward. Altering our bodies is no small thing. There are always potential side effects that can extend beyond the physical into our emotional and spiritual health. Wisdom would mandate that we know and consider all of these in our decisions.
- We need to count the costs to our witness.
We are not autonomous. Every decision we make has the potential to draw others to the God we serve or to push them away. I have always taught my children that they only need to be concerned with one opinion of them and that’s God’s. I stand by that. But along with that, we need to be concerned about how we affect others’ opinions of God. As mamas, it is critical to judge the perceptions of the little eyes watching us. If we don’t ask ourselves what message we are sending them in all major decisions we make, then we can inadvertently misrepresent God to them and our faith in Him.
- We need to count the costs to our relationships.
Who else will be affected by our choices? Maybe no one, but for most of us, we have to at least consider the effects on our relationship with our husbands.
I have two friends who had the same surgery but for very different reasons.
One had a beautiful relationship with her husband who constantly assured her that he loved every part of her body. Still she felt inhibited in the bedroom by her almost non-existent breasts. She felt unwomanly. Through prayer and discussion together, she opted for breast enhancements. Years later, they are both very glad she did. She wasn’t seeking his love or acceptance. She wasn’t desiring the attention of others. She simply sought to please her husband sexually and this helped her move more freely in that. She is able to throw off the covers and turn on the lights and think of him rather than her own perceived shortcomings.
Another friend was in a hard place. She was unhappy with her marriage, unhappy with herself, and unhappy with life. She had wrestled with feelings of insecurity her whole life and spent hours in the gym each day to bolster her self-esteem. None of her efforts helped long-term. Her marriage was hanging on by a thread and she determined on her own that “fixing her body” would somehow fix her life. Her breast enhancement was a temporary fix, and soon things were worse than ever.
Through God’s Eyes
I believe we serve a beautiful God. I believe He created us in His image and He makes no mistakes. But I also believe we live in a fallen world where His creation becomes more and more flawed. Still, I am convinced that He, like a good Father, sees each of us as a masterpiece and wishes that we would be able to see ourselves through His eyes. But I also believe He knows our brokenness, knows our frailty of heart and mind, and knows the harshness of the world we live in. And He meets us where we are and cheers us on along the journey to wholeness. I believe He gives us far more freedom than restrictions.
I believe also that as sisters, we have to use the Romans 14 approach to this. If it’s a sin to you, then it’s sin. If not, then be free, but be careful not to let your liberty offend others as much as it is up to you.
Where I Am
For me, I’ve come to this. I can look at my body and see what 46 years (almost) and 4 nursing children took from it. But then I stop and consider that it hasn’t taken anything. Instead, my body bears witness to a life lived failing forward. The reality is, for me, I don’t want to remove the evidence of my life or my choices. Not all my choices have been good, but they have brought me to a good place. A place of knowing who I am, whose I am, and where I’m going.
Some of my best choices (to give life to 6 children, 4 that I gave birth to and nursed) caused the greatest “flaws” to my body. But I will wear those flaws as this reminder:
Love often causes beautiful scars.
How awesome to know that Jesus wears a few of his own for me…and for you! He bears the scars through His hands and feet and side as evidence of His love.
Now, if my husband and I weren’t on the same page, I’d have to wrestle through different decisions. But for now, he’s okay. So I’m okay.
And I pray you’re okay too. I hope you know that you are beautiful and a masterpiece to God regardless of flaws. How you walk that out in a world obsessed with appearance is a tough one. I hope you’ve been encouraged and blessed to know God knows your struggles and cares about everything that concerns you. When you put those concerns before Him, He promises to “perfect” them and I think He can do that with or without surgery.
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands. (Psalm 138:8 NKJV)
And I’d love to hear about where you are. Have you had a procedure you’re glad for or regret? Are there other things you have to consider that I haven’t thought about? I’d love for you to share.