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Beyond Beauty: Should a Christian get Plastic Surgery?
This is the fourth week in our Sermon Series based on your questions. Today’s sermon addresses the question Should Christians get plastic surgery? This is a question that allows us to stop and ask, what does God think about our bodies, and what does God think about beauty? There are many reasons to get plastic surgery some of them are good (think burn victims), but for today I want to talk about plastic surgery that is purely cosmetic. The Bible doesn’t speak directly about plastic surgery. We can’t go to the Bible and find a story about a woman who prayed and prayed until God blessed her with a new nose or until all her wrinkles disappeared. Still, this is a big question today as more and more millennials are opting for plastic surgery and that trend seems to be continuing in Gen Z as well. People under 34 make up about 30-40% of clients getting cosmetic surgery and that number is growing. As I was reading different articles about this, I found some plastic that advertise plastic surgery, specifically to young people. There was one, in particular, that gave a list of reasons to have plastic surgery and here are some of those reasons:
As a young person, you are constantly being told to wait, but you don’t have to wait anymore or let us help you become your best self
It’s healthy to project your best self to the world and cosmetic surgery can help you do that.
Cosmetic surgery can improve your self-esteem, your confidence and your sex life.
Live for the Now – Not to get too political, but we live in divided times. There is no certainty about tomorrow, so more and more young people are living for today. Our environment is on the precipice and global tensions are careening towards a proverbial cliff. Why postpone one’s enjoyment when the future is so uncertain? Youth is to be enjoyed, so get out there and live it up!
A plastic surgeon in Calgary was interviewed by CBC and she told them her patients used to bring in pictures of celebrities and ask for their nose or their lips. Now, they will often bring in edited selfies and ask to achieve the same look. There is one celebrity whose photo is brought in to plastic surgeons quite often and young women will say, make me look like Kylie Jenner. It’s funny, Kylie Jenner was in the news recently because with the pandemic, she’s relaxed her makeup routine and so she went out in public without doing herself up and guess what… she was unrecognizable. It turns that out that Kylie Jenner doesn’t even look like Kylie Jenner.
Social media has given us a new way to explore our obsession with beauty. It’s not a new obsession. It something that has been present in every generation and culture, though it manifests in very different ways. The ancient Greeks thought that perfect proportions were the key to a woman’s beauty. The Victorians valued pasty skin and tiny lips. In the 1950s and 60s, Marilyn Monroe was the ideal as a full-figured woman and then in the 70s, Jane Fonda helped place a new emphasis on athletic bodies as beautiful. When I was in high school, the big thing for celebrities was tanned skin and bleach blonde hair. All the celebrities were sporting glowing skin which, is easy to do when you live in California. I bought into this, but since I live in Canada, I would buy those skin tanning lotions so that even though I hadn’t seen the sun in months, my skin would tell a different story. I only stopped doing this, when I travelled to the Philippines. I was in a store and I saw a product by the same company that sold my tanning lotion, except this product was intended to whiten the skin. Both products were marketed as something that would make you look healthy. Seeing this skin whitening cream made something in me click as I realized the message this company was sending was If you want to be beautiful, then change the way you look. There are thousands of ways that culture tells us to change our bodies to conform to a dictated standard of beauty. The message is often about changing who you are and becoming better.
Feeling good about your body is something that historically, the church has not encouraged. Often, when we talk about the body in church, we talk about how it lets us down or leads us astray. Our bodies are also the source of a lot of temptation. We eat more than we should, we experience lust as a physical reaction and we have to work hard to discipline our bodies so that the bodily desires we experience don’t take over. We tend to think that our Spirit is good and our body is bad but that’s not what the Bible says.
If we want to know what God thinks about our bodies, it’s right there at the beginning in Genesis 1. God creates man and woman and verse 27 says that God saw everything he made (including their bodies) and indeed, it was very good. Our bodies came into existence through the very words of God and by the very breath of God. That tells us that we are good and beautiful. If we are good and beautiful, then why do we want to change our bodies so much? Why do we obsess over what we see as imperfections?
While an obsession with beauty isn’t healthy, we can’t deny our desire for beauty, because it’s part of how we were created. God is a God of beauty. He created us with this innate desire for beauty and that desire is supposed to lead us to him. The problem is that our desires were tainted in the Fall so that our sinful nature now dictates our desires. Part of having the Holy Spirit in us is submitting our desires to God and asking him to replace them with Godly ones. We don’t lose our desire for beauty, but that desire becomes something leading us toward God, rather than away from him. So, as we consider the question of cosmetic surgery, we need to ask whether it’s something that reflects the beauty of God, or whether we are trying to conform to a man-made ideal.
Solomon and Beauty
We can’t look up Jesus’ sermon on plastic surgery but we can look to someone wise who had a lot to say about beauty. King Solomon is one who devoted his life to displaying the beauty of God. He wrote the book ‘Song of Solomon’ which gives us a dialogue between two lovers. He talks about longing and love and beauty. The passage we looked at is one where he is extolling the beauty of his bride. He is singing her praises and describing her physical beauty. If you were paying attention to his description, she doesn’t really sound too beautiful. You know that phrase, a face only a mother could love? That definitely comes to mind. There are a lot of animal references in his poem; hair like goats, teeth like shorn ewes, etc. I’m sure he is using poetic license as he describes her and that she really is quite beautiful. But it’s clear that her beauty doesn’t just make him see that she is beautiful. In beholding her beauty, he sees beyond what is there. When he looks at her eyes, he sees doves, when he looks at her cheeks, he sees a pomegranate, when he looks at her neck, he sees the tower of David. And it seems to me that every simile he uses references something significant in the story of Israel. The dove reminds us of God’s promise to Noah that he will never destroy the earth again. The goats and the sheep remind us of the sacrifices made by God’s people. There is a reference to Gilead which we read of in the Bible as a place containing a healing balm. Her lips are like a crimson cord which reminds us of Rahab hanging the scarlet cord from her window so that she and her family could be saved from destruction and inhabit the Promised Land. He mentions that her cheeks are like pomegranates, fruit which were part of the priestly clothing that Aaron would wear when he went to meet God. I don’t know if Solomon was trying to weave historical imagery into this poem, but he was saying that her beauty shows him beyond what he is looking at. When he looks at her, he sees more than just her beauty, he sees life and love and healing. Try to find me a plastic surgeon that can make you see those qualities, those promises in someone’s face.
This is the difference between beauty as the world tries to sell it, and real beauty that reflects God. It seems to me that much of cosmetic surgery is designed so that others will see less of you. Whether you are trying to look younger or trying to look like a celebrity, these procedures actually show people less of who you are. They promise a better self at the expense of your true self. Biblical beauty causes others to see more; more of you as the masterpiece God created, but also more of Go, the original source of beauty. Biblical beauty tells the stories of God’s creation and redemption. So how can we get that kind of beauty? How do we reflect God to others with our bodies?
My body is the temple
Solomon was very wise but he also had a deep appreciation for beauty. God gave him the task of building his temple; a temple that displayed God’s beauty at every corner and in every detail. This building project took years and when it was finished, it was perfect. Every detail had been God-inspired. We still have beautiful spaces to worship in, although we know that God doesn’t dwell in a church building, he dwells in us. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that descended at Pentecost, which is today.
There are verses in the Bible that give us a metaphor of our bodies as the temple of God. If you look in the Old Testament at the descriptions of the temple, you will see that it was the most ornate, elaborate, beautiful building. God gave very specific instructions on what material to use and the measurements of everything. Everything was very deliberate and designed to display the glory of God.
The Psalmist tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). That God forms us in the womb and knits us together. God didn’t create us so that we all look the same. He created us in different shapes and sizes and colours and all to display his glory. He also thought that our bodies were a worthy home for his Spirit. Perhaps God thinks more of our bodies than we do. Perhaps if we could see ourselves through God’s eyes, we would treat our bodies better.
So, going back to our question, should a Christian have cosmetic surgery? Well, I can only see two reasons why someone would consider this:
1) You want to look younger or
2) You are unhappy with a certain aspect of your body and you want to change it
It’s strange to me how much we equate beauty with youth. There are so many beauty products out there that promise to defy aging, or even better, to reverse aging. One study done a couple of years ago, found that the anti-aging market is worth over $200 Billion dollars. People don’t want to age and even the way we talk about aging makes it seem like something shameful. I remember when I was growing up, my mom would always tell people how old she was turning on her birthday. She was always proud to reach another year. She never acted like it was embarrassing to get old and that really left an impression on me. Why don’t we want to get older? Because the alternative is dying young and we don’t want that either. Our bodies change as we get older and that’s okay. It’s okay to have wrinkles. There’s a great song by an artist named Brandi Carlisle called The Story, and the opening line says “All of these lines across my face, tell you the story of where I’ve been”. And I think of the women and men that I know whose faces are wrinkled and whose hair is graying. I think of how I see God working in them and through and I pray to God that I will live to be their age and to know Him the way they know him. They know that aging is a gift. Every day that we get older is a blessing. Even the fact that we have a demand for anti-aging products shows how blessed we are. There are countries where the life expectancy is much lower than it is here, like Zambia, Yemen, and Venezuela, they are not concerned with how old they look. They are hoping and praying that they can grow old. Because every day that we get, every year that we get older, is a reason to be thankful.
God has given us each one body during our time on earth. And it is up to us to be good stewards of our bodies. We should eat vegetables and exercise and drink water and wear sunscreen and sleep. If you want to age well, then don’t be on social media late into the night… it’s not healthy. If you want to age well, then don’t harbour resentment towards others. If you want to age well then learn to be content. A few years back I was sitting next to Mary Soley in a bible study, she would have been 102 at the time, and I asked her “What’s your secret?”. And she told me “Two things: keep working, and don’t get mad”.
If you want cosmetic surgery because you’re unhappy with your body, then that’s a different story. And what I would say to you is that God created your body to display his glory. That means that your body, as it is right now, has the capacity to display God’s glory. I want to finish by telling you a story about an imperfect body.
I was in a seminary class with a young woman. She was born with a condition that left her without calf muscles. She has a very particular way of walking and I couldn’t help but stare the first time she walked by me. Later on, in our class, we were talking about our bodies and body-image. This young woman shared her story. When she was born, the doctors told her parents she would never walk and that she would have difficulty doing everyday tasks. But eventually, she did start walking and her parents knew that it was a miracle. This was the message she heard at home; that God had done a miracle and that when her parents saw her, they were reminded of what God had done, of his goodness and his love. The messages she heard outside of her home about her legs, were very different. At best, people stared at her, and at worst, they told her something was wrong with her and that she was deficient. This is unfortunately the way the world works. God tells us that we are beautiful and that our bodies are good but the message we hear, is that we could look better. They tell us that our best self is right around the corner. All we need is a smaller waist, a larger chest, more hair on our heads, less hair on our bodies, whiter teeth, and darker skin, fuller lips, and longer lashes and the list goes on and on. And for the low price of your self-worth and your soul, you can have it all, you can change it all.
We can’t read a sermon on cosmetic surgery from Jesus, but he did talk to his disciples about their bodies. In Luke 12 he says “Do not worry about your bodies. Look at the lilies, they don’t toil nor spin; yet, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. If God clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! Stop worrying. Your Father knows what you need. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. In the message version of that passage, Eugene Petersen writes Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. For the Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.
Let’s steep ourselves in God-reality; the reality that our time on earth is meant for us to reflect the beauty of God to the world. Rather than worrying about a flawless selfie, let’s ask God how we can help bring about his kingdom on earth. How can we bring about the kingdom on social media? How can what we display, reflect the beauty of a Father who loves his creation, who gave his Son so that we could know him. The truth is that your best self is the one that God created. So, embrace the body that God gave you, whatever it looks like, and seek the kingdom. God will take care of the rest.