Why do we care so much about being attractive?

(Photo: Unsplash/Amanda Dalbjörn)

Supermodel Linda Evangelista – an A list celebrity during the 90s – revealed last week she has been "brutally disfigured" by a cosmetic surgery procedure, and is suffering mental health problems as a result.

At the peak of her fame, the model once quipped that she wouldn't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. She featured in a George Michael music video and was regularly described as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

However the 56-year-old underwent a 'fat reduction procedure' five years ago, and experienced a rare complication that meant the fat cells increased rather than decreased.

"It... left me permanently deformed even after undergoing two painful, unsuccessful, corrective surgeries," she told her Instagram followers.

"I have been left, as the media has described, 'unrecognizable'.

"It has sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing. In the process, I have become a recluse."

The Instagram post has been liked by over 130,000 people, and garnered many messages of support from fellow supermodels and celebrities.

One of these 'likes' caught my attention – Katie Piper, who understands what it is like to be extraordinarily beautiful and then to be disfigured. She is the survivor of a horrific acid attack by an ex-boyfriend that nearly killed her, and severely burned her face and neck.

Katie has grown into an exceptional woman since the experience and is now a TV presenter, advocate for others who are disfigured, and a writer of inspirational books. She is also a Christian, and credits her faith with bringing her from the brink of desperation and suicide when she was lying in a hospital bed in agony. Her conversion was sparked by a nurse talking to her about God and then praying for the first time.

We can empathise with both women, because all of us, whether stunningly beautiful or not, feel pressure to look attractive. What is it within us that wants this? It's often blamed on what is outside us – the beautiful images we see in magazines, or pressure from men who value the physical too much.

But is this the real reason? What is the root of these feelings? Deep within us is a need to be liked, to be admired, and often to be desired. In our sex-obsessed culture these needs are strongly intertwined with our need to be loved. We often think that if we look better, our partners will love us more, or we will finally find a man to settle down with.

Looking good can also bring other more material benefits – drinks at bars, seats on trains, admiration from other women, and sometimes, fame and fortune.

And indeed, when we look our best, we often do get more attention. But a quick look at the relationship histories of the most beautiful women in the world reveals that while they may be desired by millions, they are not necessarily loved. The attention we receive for our looks is usually shallow and meaningless – it is not love.

That's not to say that to be disfigured can be easy, or that the pain of growing old and 'losing our looks' is invalid. It just means that as with all difficulties, they can help us to go deeper into our motivations, and explore what we really want in life and what gives us peace.

Those who do not have conventional physical beauty find lasting love. Katie Piper has married and started a family despite her scars, and talks about how she has become a better person since the attack. Motivational speaker and Christian Nick Vujicic may be disabled and without ordinary limbs, but he has settled down too.

More importantly, both know that they are loved by God. Our Creator's love is limitless, whatever we look like, whether we have spent time on cosmetics and beauty procedures, or if we look our absolute worst. Whatever our physical attributes, "people judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Sam 16:7 (NLT)

This verse reminds us that what really matters is the love of God working inside us rather than the material exterior.

Perhaps there will be a time in the future when we are so comfortable with how we look naturally, and how much we are loved both by God and the people around us, that the idea of having a medical procedure to try and improve our looks seems impossible.

Until then, the ups and downs of our looks, as we age, or change size, or become ill, may severely affect how we feel about ourselves. The solution to this is to seek more of God's love for us, and consider his biggest concern – our heart.