Christians and Plastic Surgery

Recently I saw several articles about how Heidi Montag got a ton of plastic surgery done. In one of the interviews I saw, she claims to be a Christian, and made some rather weak excuses for why she thought she needed plastic surgery. This made me think more of the general state of the importance of appearance and beauty in our culture, and what it means to Christians. So how much should Christians care about our appearances? Should we go to such lengths as plastic surgery to feel beautiful? I hope to address these issues in this article, so we can all be confident and happy with our bodies.

Heidi Montag's Surgery

Now, normally I wouldn't say much about another celebrity who gets plastic surgery. However, Heidi's case is somewhat more disturbing, as she was beautiful already and also she claims to be a Christian [1]. For context you can see a summary of the before/after results and the list of all the procedures she had done here [2]. In the interview here [1], the interviewer asks her why if God made her that it's ok to change herself so dramatically. Her answer was "God also made (name of plastic surgeon)." and "Maybe God gave me extra because he knew what I'd be doing and blessed me with a great doctor.". This doesn't particularly seem to match either the attitude of God in the Bible (God would not tell her to get plastic surgery to be more pretty), and doesn't address the larger more important issue of how Christians should care about appearances.

While Heidi's surgery is her own choice, because she is in the media spotlight and does claim to be a Christian, she could potentially affect many young girls who have low-self esteem. This is the most concerning aspect of her transformation. Young girls may think - "Oh, she didn't like herself, so if I don't like myself I should fix it also". Or perhaps "Wow, if she wasn't pretty enough, then what am I?". So in this article I will examine what the Bible says about our appearances and how we should try to think of ourselves, instead of letting culture and celebrities influence our thoughts.

Photoshop and Celebrities

It seems that in our culture, it is nearly certain that female celebrities will get several plastic surgeries during their lives. This is leading to an obsession over how we look. Celebrities are popular in the media and so can easily become role models for girls and women. The problem is that they are not shown as they really are - there is so much makeup, hairstyling, and Photoshop done that they are hardly recognizable afterwards. For example, see some photos of celebrities without their makeup [3] and you'll see that they really don't look much different than the random stranger you could see at the grocery store. The effects of Photoshop can dramatically change what we think as "reality" - for example see this comparison of an edited and non-edited magazine cover model here [4], and a few more examples here [5] and here [6]. An interesting commentary on celebrity/model Photoshopping can be found here [7].

The average model is about 5'8" (if not taller) and 115 lbs, but the average woman is 5'3" and 144 lbs [8]. It's no wonder girls compare themselves to the images they are shown over and over again of models and celebrities and feel inadequate. According to some sources, girls as young as grades 1-3 want to be thinner, and 81% of 10 year olds are worried about being fat [9]. This is absolutely ridiculous and shows how much our culture is focused on appearance. It doesn't help now that even some parents are getting their kids' photos retouched - which basically tells the kids that they're not good enough as they are [10].

Biblical Discussion on Appearances

So what does the Bible say about all of this? How are Christians supposed to act and think when we live in a culture that is obsessed with appearances, even to the point of the "ideal" being nearly unobtainable, even for the most beautiful of people? The Bible does talk about this, and these are important points to remember or discuss with anyone who is self-conscious about their appearance.

We are designed by God

  • "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13)
  • "You, Lord, are our Father. We are nothing but clay, but you are the potter who molded us." (Isaiah 64:8)
  • "God gives everything the kind of body he wants it to have. People, animals, birds, and fish are each made of flesh, but none of them are alike." (1 Corinthians 15:38)

God has designed each of us including our personalities and our bodies, and we are each unique. Although because of our non-perfect world, there will be illness, disabilities, and deformities. Many people are born with birth defects, down syndrome, and a ton of other various problems. Some people may not be as "beautiful" as others. This is not God's fault, but a reflection of our cursed world due to the sin of Adam and Eve. However, God will fix all this when we are in Heaven, where "The blind will see, and the ears of the deaf will be healed. Those who were lame will leap around like deer; tongues once silent will begin to shout." (Isaiah 35:5-6). This is discussed further in the next section.

We will get new bodies in heaven

For Christians now (as well as all those through history that have died), our bodies will be changed when Jesus comes back at the Rapture: "These bodies will die, but the bodies that are raised will live forever. These ugly and weak bodies will become beautiful and strong." (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). Paul recognized that our current bodies are not our final version, and made the comparison of our bodies now being like a tent, but our body in heaven will be a building (2 Corinthians 5:1-3). Paul admits that there are problems with our bodies, and we may not like them completely, but that we should look forward to heaven when we will be perfect: "These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don't do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die."(2 Corinthians 5:4). My dad once made the comparison of our body here being like a bulky winter glove - rather awkward and ugly, but the hand inside being what our new bodies will be like in heaven - much more natural, fitting us perfectly, and the true "us".

In Heaven all our little problems and issues here will be resolved. "We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing."(2 Corinthians 4:16-17). So if you're not happy or have low self-esteem, remember that God has made your body how he intended, and that by enduring time in a body here on earth which is not perfect you will be much more ready for the perfect body God will give you in heaven. I believe this lesson is one that people such as Heidi Montag did not learn, and so they strive to be perfect while on earth. This promise of being perfect in heaven should keep us satisfied with what we look like on earth. Compared to eternity, our lives here are an infinitely small fraction of time, and so we should not be upset if we have one too many bumps on our noses, or some acne scars, or stretch marks, or if we're not as beautiful as we think other people are.

I was recently encouraged by what Randy Alcorn wrote in his book "Heaven" [11]. He doesn't think that in heaven we'll all look like the models in swimsuits on Sports Illustrated covers, or like ridiculously muscular athletes. He says this sort of beauty that we admire nowadays is quite artificial, and points out the standard of beauty varies over time. Back in the middle ages, the "beautiful" people were very pale and plumper than the impossibly thin, breast implanted models we see today (for example, see samples of medieval art here [12] and [13]). Mr. Alcorn says that our bodies in heaven will have some fat on them, because God designed our bodies to need fat to work, but it will be in proper proportion, so no one will be too thin or overweight. He also suggests that our new bodies will probably be similar to the ones we have now (same race and gender), but totally healthy, strong, and much more beautiful. We will all be happy and satisfied with what we look like, and there will be no peer pressure, judgment, vanity or envy. Mr. Alcorn says that even the most beautiful person in the world is still under the curse of sin, and that when God lifts it, we will all be more beautiful than anyone who has ever lived on earth.

Our bodies are a temple

However, just because we will get new bodies in heaven doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make the best of what we have here. "You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own. God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honour God." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Since our bodies are a temple, we should try our best to take care of them, to stay healthy, and to look decent. How does it bring glory to God by being slobby and not trying to be clean or well groomed? That's not to say that we should all obsess over our hair or makeup, but that we should try to look nice and take care of ourselves. Some people apply this verse so far to say that people should never do anything to their bodies (i.e no makeup, piercings, hair dye, tatoos etc.). In response, I would say to check out this cartoon [14]. People have some different ideas of how much we can "decorate" ourselves, and while I have my own standards, people are free to disagree. Personally, I don't mind if people want to get a tattoo or two, or dye their hair, or wear makeup or get some piercings, as long as they are tasteful. Obviously, some people maybe take it too far (i.e full body tatoos, tons of piercings, or this guy [15], etc.), and this probably does not honour God, but in moderation these things are not bad. Sometimes I wonder if there might not be piercings or makeup in heaven... but I'll just have to wait and see.

It's not the Outside Appearance that Matters

The main thing Christians need to realize is that our outward appearance is not the most important thing about us. What is in our hearts is much more important. Peter said "Don't depend on things like fancy hairdos or gold jewelry or expensive clothes to make you look beautiful. Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special." (1 Peter 3:3). Everyone needs to realize that we will age, and our appearance will change over time. We can also be subject to disease or accidents which may change our appearance. So we shouldn't get so attached to how we look that we feel worthless if we lose our looks. It's not worth thousands of dollars of surgery or beauty treatments to try to stay looking young. It's more important to try to follow God, and to love Him with your whole heart than it is to prevent wrinkles or lose 5 pounds.

What is true beauty is the fruit of the spirit: "God's spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self controlled." (Galatians 5:22). If we aim for this, people will find our personality beautiful, and if someone is beautiful inside then their appearance is only minor. Even someone such as supermodel Naomi Campbell does not seem beautiful when she is so full of anger that she is well known for assaulting her assistants [16]. If we value our appearance more than loving and serving God, there is something wrong. For example, if God said to you "I'm going to take away your good looks and in exchange you will be able to witness to thousands of people." (say as a motivational speaker), would you be willing to do that? It would be hard for most of us especially today because of our culture, but we need to be sure that nothing is more important to us than God, even our bodies.

So in Conclusion, can Christians get plastic surgery?

So after all this, what should a Christian consider before trying to change how they look through surgery? The Bible doesn't say anything specific, because they did not have plastic surgery back when the Bible was written. It may be a "Romans 14" issue - where if you feel plastic surgery is a sin, then for you it is a sin, but if you're okay with it and it will have no bad effects on other people, then you can probably do it. I criticize Heidi Montag's surgery because it seems to be unnecessary, and it may have a negative impact on other girls who look up to her. So this would fail the Romans 14 test. However, I have no problem with people getting surgery to correct severe deformities, or reconstructive surgery after accidents, or implants for victims of breast cancer. God did give surgeons skills to help people for these reasons. But if it is just a change merely for aesthetics, and there was nothing wrong in the first place, then it gets more questionable. The person must be sure they are not doing it out of vanity, or because they worship their appearance more than God. If it is for a lack of self confidence (like Heidi Montag's was), I would say that first they should try to see themselves as God sees them - more precious than anything else on earth, and loved no matter what they look like. It seems strange for Heidi to claim "God loves me" (as most Christians would agree) and then to not like herself so much that she felt she needed surgery to make it better. If we know God loves us then we can have confidence and hope, and don't need to turn to unnecessary things like cosmetic surgery just to feel good about ourselves.

References

[1] The Huffinton Post - Video Interview with Heidi Montag
[2] The Huffinton Post - Heidi Montag's 10 Plastic Surgeries: Before and After Photos
[3] Blogspot.com - Celebrities Without Makeup
[4] Cover Girl Before and After Photoshop
[5] Likecool.com - Madonna Before and After Photoshop
[6] Themercury.com - Photoshop in Magazines
[7] Newsweek - "Unattainable Beauty"
[8] "Media, Hormones, Peer Pressure Do a Number on Girls Confidence" - Carol McGraw
[9] Newsweek - "Weighty Matters"
[10] Newsweek - "Say Cheese and Now Say Airbrush"
[11] "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn
[12] Wikipedia.org - Olympia (Manet)
[13] Wikipedia.org - Venus de Milo
[14] Reverendfun.com: Cartoon
[15] Anomalies-unlimited.com - Catman: One more case for surgery malpractice
[16] Wikipedia.org - Naomi Campbell

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