Would God want us to change ourselves?

Published 18 February 2014
(Photo: Flavio Takemoto)

Statistics show that plastic surgery is enjoying a boom in sales in the UK and the temptation to make ourselves more beautiful is no doubt just as strong among Christians as it is among non-Christians.

With a Church that is known far more for saying 'no' rather than 'yes', and staying silently judgemental on issues that real people are grappling with, it's good to explore these things for ourselves, look at cosmetic surgery through a biblical lens, and consider the theology of beauty.

Christians are usually well versed in a number of Bible passages that speak of how God made us perfectly, as we are, without error – including our hooked nose, cleft chins and wobbly bits.

We are told that he knit us together in our mother's womb and knows every hair on our head. He didn't make any mistakes - he is the Creator, how could he?

So doesn't that mean that to undergo cosmetic surgery is to disagree with God, to claim that he is wrong? How could he have made us this way when it would be so much better if we were taller, thinner, browner (you can fill in your own adjective here)? We're not perfect, but we just might be if we got rid of those crow's feet...

It does seem that there is an invisible line between acceptable adjustments – tanning, wearing make-up, getting rid of the odd wrinkle here and there – and making drastic enhancements to our bodies, especially to the face.

When another celebrity gets a boob job done or goes crazy with the botox, the public raises its collective eyebrow and sighs. When evangelist Joyce Meyer's features started to change, there was an audible gasp in the global church. A Christian going under the knife? Unheard of, and surely not biblical?

Could it really be possible to reconcile a faith in God with a desire to cosmetically enhance our bodies?

Perhaps it could be argued that cosmetic surgery simply enhances the natural beauty God has given us – just taking make-up to the next level. Others might say, if it increases someone's self-esteem and sense of worth, then why not?

Looking at it from a purely medical perspective, few would argue against plastic surgery for those who have been disfigured by illnesses or accidents.

And few would take issue with older people, for example, wanting to tighten some saggy skin or smooth out their wrinkles.

It would seem motive and the extent of the change has a lot to do with how we judge what is acceptable and not acceptable. Make-up is a way of enhancing our natural beauty, but it doesn't fundamentally change it and it's temporary. Similarly, tightening loose skin or flab is not fundamentally changing what we look like.

Some plastic surgery is about making a permanent and fundamental change to our appearance and this indicates that we find the present version of us unacceptable.

And some plastic surgery seems to be about sexualising ourselves – making ourselves more attractive to the opposite sex - or about making ourselves more beautiful than the rest of the crowd.

Regardless of the extent to which we want to change ourselves – from putting on make-up or wearing Spanx, to redesigning our face - it is sad if we cannot enjoy our natural beauty or feel any sense of worth as a result of how we look.  Our looks, after all, are just one part of who we are and it's a terrible pressure to put on this single element if we start to define ourselves by it. 

A recent study suggested women are finding it harder to be seen by others without makeup. Over half of the women said they felt far less confident when barefaced and the same percentage admitted that they dreaded bumping into anyone if they weren't wearing a full face of makeup. And shockingly, over a third (38 per cent) said they frequently go to bed without taking their makeup off.

Polishing ourselves up is great fun and it's right to enjoy that. But we shouldn't be driven to change ourselves if it is simply to please someone else, and we certainly shouldn't allow the media to dictate the definition of beauty.

The definition of beauty has varied right down through the ages but there is one definition of beauty that never changes – the beauty of the people we love. There is something to be said about the familiar expressions "love is blind" and "rose-tinted glasses", and it's funny how the people we love so often become beautiful to us, even if we didn't see it right away.

Take parents for example, or any other close relative. They always think their son is handsome or their daughter beautiful. Regardless of how other people see them, we always see beauty in the people we love.

Perhaps if we all loved each other a little more, no one would flounder under the stifling pressure to make themselves more beautiful. 

The idea of being a family in Christ should help us in this respect and there is one parent we all share – our Father God. The Bible tells us that God is love. He always loves us and even though it's true that he cares more about our heart, it's hard to believe that a loving God would look upon the face of the person he made and think that it should be sliced up or pulled this way and that to make it look "better".

So on days when we can't bear our own reflection, it's worth asking ourselves, what does God think about me today? Does he want me to take care of myself? Yes. Does he want me to look my best? Probably. Does he want me to bury my face under layers of make-up or book in for some facial readjustment surgery? Probably not.  It's a liberating thought that the One who never stops loving me never stops finding me beautiful either. 

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