As I watched the final tear-jerking moments of Extreme Makeover, I couldn't help but feel envious. The latest recipient of a plethora of cosmetic enhancements walked into a room full of amazed family and friends, revealing her new "identity." I sat on my sofa feeling fat, lumpy, and old.
Granted, this woman had already won my heart with her life story of rejection, abuse, and poverty. She was a deserving candidate if ever there was one. But as I watched her successfully undergo breast augmentation surgery, I was reminded of my own struggle to even "fill out" my bathing suit each year. As she revealed her sparkling new smile, I became more conscious of my medicine-stained teeth. And as this mother of six lost her belly with a simple incision, I bemoaned the crunches I would need to do before bedtime to stay in a matronly size ten.
I turned off the television and headed for the track to work off my fat the old-fashioned way. With pride oozing from my pores, I ran, contemplating the fascination with extreme makeovers. Quickly, I decided that such radical measures to improve one's appearance were pure vanity, and therefore, strictly off limits for godly women such as myself.
But things tend to change as I run. All too often God has gently changed my prideful heart as I have pounded the pavement. While I gloated over my conclusion that cosmetic surgeries, cosmetic dental procedures and treatments such as collagen injections were basically a combination of vanity and poor stewardship, I was reminded of a few points I had overlooked.
What about the $80 I had spent last month to have my hair highlighted? And the $25 I had spent on a pedicure? Or the $20 I had spent on over-the-counter teeth whiteners? I had spent large sums of money for purely cosmetic reasons without ever questioning the spiritual implications. Why was I now questioning the integrity and maturity of people who had simply done the same, albeit on a larger scale? As I finished my final lap I realized that I had been too quick to form an opinion about something I had not put adequate thought into, prayed over, or checked out in God's Word.
While most Christian women today have no qualms about wearing cosmetics or acrylic nails, fewer of us have seriously contemplated such invasive procedures as augmentation mammaplasty (breast enlargement), abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) or rhytidectomy (facelift). Before the turn of the century, it was mostly just movie stars and millionaires who considered these surgeries. But with the cultural trend of going to more extremes for appearances' sake, it is now common, even for Christians, to ask the simple question, "Is this OK for me? Maybe I’ll just get one thing changed."
To accurately evaluate the issue of cosmetic enhancement, I must put all the cards on the table, side by side. When I honestly look at the issue, I come to the conclusion that while some procedures may be more costly, invasive, risky or drastic, ultimately they are all similar in nature: artificial and unnecessary (I am only addressing surgeries and procedures done for primarily cosmetic reasons, not those done for medical reasons).
I also have to admit that all cosmetic enhancements share these defining qualities, including acrylic nails, tanning lotions and teeth whiteners. The tint I put on my hair, the makeup I won't do without, and the pedicure I get at the beginning of each summer are all artificial and unnecessary.
**But why does cosmetic surgery seem more extreme?
I must admit that my inclination to deem some cosmetic procedures acceptable and others extreme really has an ugly root: envy. If I can't afford the procedure, or I am nervous about the surgery, or my husband doesn't want me to have the treatment, then I may arrogantly label what I can't have as extreme.
Still, once I have put all of these cosmetic procedures on a level playing field, I need to make some decisions about their validity. Certainly opportunities for physical enhancement will only become more readily available and feasible. It is not unlikely that one of my friends, family members, or fellow church members has already had cosmetic surgery of some kind. Some may even start having "extreme makeovers."
The conclusions I reach will determine how I treat these people after they have had their teeth professionally whitened, their breasts enlarged, or their wrinkles erased. Will I talk behind their backs out of jealousy or will I be glad for them? Will I silently condemn them or rejoice with them? Perhaps I need to re-evaluate even the low-cost, non-invasive, cosmetic procedures I undergo on a regular basis.
The subject of cosmetic enhancements is only vaguely mentioned in the Bible. Fortunately, as with every other area of life, God has provided principles that will guide me through my personal decisions. These three principles will help me make wise decisions about cosmetic procedures — whether extreme or otherwise.
My body does not belong to me, but to God. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
As Christians, our bodies belong to God and are to be used to bring Him honor. I need to treat my body as if it’s a precious item on loan from a friend. That means I will consult the Owner before I do anything to change it.
God graciously allows me to make personal choices, but I am expected to make wise and godly decisions that distinguish me from the world. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13
The Bible teaches that as a recipient of God's grace I can make personal decisions with a clean conscience. In Titus 2:11-12, I am reminded that God's grace is the very thing that teaches me to "say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live [a] self-controlled, upright and godly [life] in this present age."
The freedom I have in Christ is never to be used in a way that will tarnish my Christian testimony. I must consider how some cosmetic procedures may have a negative affect on my relationships and my effectiveness as a witness. My priority should be to please God in all of the decisions I make about my body (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
With my self-esteem anchored in who I am in Christ, I can proceed to make wise choices about my appearance as well as other personal decisions. I can know that my efforts to beautify my face and body are not attempts to gain worth and value, but simply to be the best I can be.
My focus should be on my inner beauty.
"Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewellery, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
Paul is admonishing women to put more effort into developing a gentle and quiet spirit than on outward beauty. The Bible makes it clear that God is more interested in a beautiful heart than in a beautiful head of curls. In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed king rather than his tall, handsome brother because David has a heart for God.
Both of these passages indicate there is nothing wrong with a lovely appearance or external grooming. David is said to have had "a fine appearance and handsome features" (1 Samuel 16:12). The principle here is that while outward adornment and beautification are fine, they should never become what drive me. If I spend more money, time, and effort developing my outward beauty than my inner woman, I need to rethink my priorities.
The bottom line
Through careful thought, looking at God’s word, and recognizing my envy, my opinion on the matter has changed somewhat. While I still am not planning to go under the knife myself, I no longer feel decisively superior to those who do. And my husband and I have talked a little more seriously about saving money so that I can have my teeth professionally whitened.
I know that my greatest source of beauty is a thriving and fruitful relationship with Christ. I know that a daily diet of His Word and the consistent exercise of prayer are what will ultimately enhance even my physical countenance the most. Still, I want to look and feel my best so that I can represent my Lord well.
Therefore I am at peace with my personal decisions to tint my hair, wear cosmetics, and even indulge in the occasional pedicure. I also am at peace with the choices others make. I have learned that I cannot judge motives, nor can I arbitrarily decide what is extreme and what is acceptable.
The bottom line is I can't make personal decisions for someone else, but I can make confident, responsible, God-honoring decisions for myself. You can too.