Cosmetic Surgery and the Christian

Guinness World Record Attempt For Longest Chain Of Paper DollsI recently received an email from a lady, (Christian), who is considering having cosmetic surgery. She’s asked for my advice, so I’ve been trying to think it through.

There are lots of bits of me I’d have like to had altered. I think that’s true for many of us. But as a Christian, I always felt like I couldn’t afford or justify it – at least, not on purely cosmetic grounds. My eating disorder did a similar job and far more damage, so I’m not taking the moral high ground. But whilst it’s one thing correcting a deformity, it’s another to pump up your breasts or your lips, just to look “sexier” or “more attractive.” Right?

Then again.

I’m not sure I’d have made it past puberty without the aid of lipstick and wonderbras. Is there really a difference between external padding and internal? Between a balm and a needle that smooths? One involves surgery and the other can be wiped off. But they do a similar job. And they’re motivated by the same desires, (mostly wanting to look and feel my best).

Or, let’s say it’s not surgery for me – but for my child or someone elses’. What if that child is burned or born with a slight but noticeable deformity? In this situation, I think I’d opt for surgery – and many Christians would do the same. Is there such a big difference between getting something that makes me feel uncomfortable adjusted? And where is the line between cosmetic and medical?

The Bible tells me that beauty is internal, not external – and that’s a vital point. All the primping in the world won’t change my character; and that’s what counts. I do care too much about how I look, (and even if you think you’re “ugly” it’s just a variation on the same theme). So, I find it hard to justify cutting into my body in the name of aesthetics – but I do the same thing with magic knickers and rollers.

Is that the way of the godly woman: slap-free and dressed-down? Forget surgery – but forget make-up, perfume and earrings too? Can’t she be both? Godly (without being prissy) and well presented (without being obsessed?) And where (if anywhere), does surgery fit?

Perhaps there are two vital areas where Christians radically differ from modern, western culture. We don’t think our value comes from our personal qualities (especially not our looks) and we don’t think our bodies belong to ourselves. In other words we don’t think we need to “sex ourselves up” to be admired (we already have God’s approval) and we don’t think we have the authority to mess around with our bodies – they belong to Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Here’s an illustration: Glen and I rent our home. Our house does not belong to us. This doesn’t mean we never change things. We’ve painted the nursery, we’ve fixed various minor problems where we can, we’ve generally tried to keep the property to a good standard. But we haven’t knocked down the walls between the kitchen and dining room (even if, at times, we might have wanted to). We haven’t tried to alter the basic shape of the house or installed a downstairs loo. Why?  Because it’s not ours.

I think the principle applies to our bodies. If the house needs painting: paint the house, as they say. If it needs repairing, sort the repairs. But remember, the building doesn’t belong to you and God’s overall design needs to be honoured.

So then, putting aside the physical risks/complications, (something you need to check out with your doctor), as Christians, what sort of questions might we want to ask?

  • Have I prayed about this and am I open to God saying “no” or “wait?”
  • Am I honouring the fact that God owns my body? Have I thought and prayed through 1 Corinthians 6:12-20?
  • Have I researched (and tried) alternatives? Do I know the risks/possible side-effects?
  • Can I afford it? And if I do, will another area of my life (family/church giving etc), be affected?
  • What is my motivation for this? Is it to attract a certain kind of attention or meet an emotional need (e.g; desire for acceptance) which only Christ can fulfil?
  • Have I discussed this with Christian friends/loved ones? What do they think? Will I let the body of Christ (to whom I belong) advise me on “my” body?
  • If I have this surgery, what will prevent me from having more surgery?
  • What am I hoping the surgery will achieve? Is this purely cosmetic, (I’ll look better in my jeans) or for medical reasons, (correcting necessary surgery or minor deformities which interfere with daily life?)

Many people seek cosmetic surgery, not to be supermodels, but just to be normal. However, in ourselves it’s hard to tell the difference. That’s why getting advice from others (and not just your surgeon) is important. Counselling may also be helpful, to see if any emotional issues can be worked through, before resorting to the scalpel.

Our bodies are not our own and we’re called to love and care for them. None of us do this as we should (I should know!)- but it’s God – the owner – who gives them value and not the surgeon’s blade.


Image source.

3 thoughts on “Cosmetic Surgery and the Christian

  1. Your last line says it all so perfectly Emma.

    The value of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit is a particularly tough one for the Christian who is Anorexic…

    I can’t dwell too much on it…


  2. Thank you for considering this topic with sincerity and sensitivity, Emma. I think it is a subject that is easily and often scoffed at. Your analogy of fixing up and maintaining a rented house is great! For sure we are to take care of our bodies whether this means hygienically (THAT is a hard word to spell!) or simply to appear presentable in the private or public sphere. I probably come from the opposite spectrum as a lot of females in that it scares me to even think of wearing makeup or a dress or any clothing that accentuates or even hints at a “girlish figure.” Yet I often look at myself in the mirror and think, “boy, does she have a case of the uglies.” It is a real struggle for me to believe and understand that God values me and it is in him that I find my worth. I’m not sure I’m making much of a point here, but maybe all I really needed to say in response to your post was an, “Amen!”

  3. Thanks J – I don’t think you’re unusual in not wanting to be girly at all – in fact, it’s funny how wanting to be attractive co-exists with a wariness of femininity (for me at least). It’d be interesting too, to see how much this fear drives surgery – I tend to think of it as being about breast enlargements or appearing more feminine, but I’m sure there are many who use it to efface their gender too.

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