Is cosmetic surgery right or wrong?

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Is cosmetic surgery right or wrong?

Jul 06, 2009 |Candice Watters
Question

What are your opinions regarding cosmetic surgery from a biblical perspective? I understand that some would say we should be satisfied with "how God made us," but in my opinion there are a number of gray areas.

For example, is it wrong for a parent to have corrective surgery for a child born with cleft-lip, or give growth hormones to combat dwarfism? A number of Christians denounce breast implants arguing women are altering their bodies for the sake of appearance, but the same argument could be used about hair dye. What makes the former "wrong" and the latter "OK"?

I'm not advocating an "anything goes" attitude toward rhinoplasties, liposuctions and the like. I'm just trying to find the right balance between accepting how God created us and living realistically in this fallen world where appearances do matter.

In my case, I'm considering Asian blepharoplasty to reshape the skin around my eyes.

In my younger years, I often dismissed any type of cosmetic surgery (for both men and women). But then I kept hearing stories about how some (mainly women) were "much happier" after having cosmetic surgery done. For example, this one lady at my church had a stomach staple done a few years ago. She lost over 100 pounds and has since been married for a couple of years. I don't believe that she's naive enough to deny that the surgery helped her find a mate.

There are other stories of men/women going bald who had hair restoration treatment, teenagers who underwent laser surgery for severe acne treatment, etc. In many of these cases, from their testimonies, they certainly sound happier.

Of course I'm aware that you typically hear of the good stories and rarely about the regrets. And I know that ultimately, self-worth is found within. However, since I've been working out a lot and have gotten trim and fit it made me think: I am probably more physically attractive now than I was a year ago. And I do feel better about myself in that regards.

If there are traits that make someone more desirable, is it sinful to pursue those? We tell both women and men to wear clothes that look good on them. Some men and women wear perfume/cologne in part attract the opposite sex. So even though surgery sounds extreme (which it is), I wonder why that should be taboo.

Answer

It sounds like you have two questions: Is it OK to pursue cosmetic surgery that will make a person more desirable to the opposite sex? And will a certain cosmetic procedure — in your case, surgery to alter the look of your eyes — help you in your search for a wife?

It's important when exploring your first question to distinguish between medically warranted and purely cosmetic surgeries. They're not the same. And many of the examples that you claim are simply cosmetic — female baldness, severe acne, gastric bypass and cleft paletteYou suggested that surgery to correct a cleft-lip is cosmetic. I asked my brother, a maxillofacial surgeon, about the medical indications for cleft lip. He wrote, "The psychosocial implications of a cleft lip are profound. It certainly has functional/medical implications with regard to lip competence, speech, mastication [chewing], efficient feeding etc. Of course there is also a cosmetic aspect but certainly it is not purely cosmetic." — in fact aren't. They're far more complicated.

I suspect your friend who lost over 100 pounds had many health reasons for her surgery and the extensive behavior modification that followed. The fact that she was more attractive was surely a bonus, but not her primary reason for wanting to take such extreme measures to lose weight.

Where doctors, surgeons and/or medicine are able to alleviate physical suffering and/or correct deformities, and the risks of a procedure are outweighed by the benefits, I believe we can give thanks that God brings healing through such means. As Gene Edward Veith wrote in God at Work,

When we or a loved one gets sick, we pray for healing. Certainly God can and sometimes does grant healing through a miracle. But normally He grants healing through the vocations of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and the like. It is still God who heals us, but He works through the means of skilled, talented, divinely equipped human beings.

When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people.

As such, I believe medical technology applied to medically indicated conditions is consistent with God — the Great Physician — working through other people to bring healing. Notice the physical conditions Jesus healed: He gave sight to the blind, made the mute talk, cured disease, stopped bleeding, straightened crooked spines and restored withered limbs. What He didn't do was make cosmetic adjustments to people He created in the first place. His medical miracles weren't about making people look more attractive to the opposite sex.

What you're considering, however, falls into a different category. And it's different too from superficial and temporary enhancements like makeup, hair color, clothing and cologne. Scripture has much to say about how we enhance (or neglect) our appearance and that's something we've talked about a lot on Boundless.

Though what you're asking about is cosmetic — and it's no secret I like tasteful cosmetics — it's far from superficial. Blepharoplasty is a permanent change that requires surgery and is not without risks. This is why it's a trickier question to answer.

While I'm an enthusiastic proponent of tasteful hair, makeup and dress, as well as sensible fitness and eating regimens — making the most of the beauty God gave you — I'm a lot more cautious about permanent, surgical alterations that go beyond treating a medical condition or repairing a deformity.

As you noted, while many people who have elective cosmetic surgery say they're glad they did, plenty of others suffer the possible risks. I have a dear friend, a nurse, whose breast augmentation left her extremely ill. She not only had to have the surgery undone, but suffered several years of serious side effects post-surgery. She had this to say about her experience,

Pray about it! Not just once, but truly seeking and asking over a period of time. God does have an opinion and He will let you know if you ask. I asked and never felt a peace about it. I blatantly rebelled and decided I was just going to do it. In my heart, I was critical of the way He had made me. He used that time to speak so many things to me (see Psalm 139:13-17 and Isaiah 45:9-11) and I finally became broken of my self.

I now believe that the enemy is deceiving so many to believe that they "need" cosmetic surgery, or just feeding them lies/desires to have it done. I was one of the ones who became deceived. I had also become focused on myself and not the things of God's Kingdom and seeking first His Kingdom.

In contrast, my brother-in-law has had an upper blepharoplasty, but his eyelids were so droopy over his eyes that it affected his vision. He's a cowboy type; he does not care about his eyes looking a certain way.

So I do believe that surgery has some good for some, but mostly I believe it stems out of lies/deception of the enemy; especially after working around it so much and being involved in that whole industry. We live in a world that is all about self. I think when we get our focus off of ourselves and onto the person of Jesus, our perspective about all of that inevitably changes.

I asked another friend who could justify surgery, but hasn't, what he thinks about surgical changes. He said,

Imagine I had decided to have plastic surgery to change the way I look before I'd met my fiancé. We'd meet and she might be none the wiser about how I used to look. Then, let's say I told her about it and had shown her a picture of what I looked like before. There is a chance, though not a certainty, that she would feel sad about my change. It might be as though she feels she is missing a part of me. She might feel robbed.

My fiancé tells me now that she would be upset if I had changed the way I look in that way or any other kind of surgical alteration. Is that not a part of the way God designed me to appear? I believe there is something wrong with believing I have the authority as a single person to go around changing this or that surgically, solely based on looks, without consulting my [future] spouse. Even when I'm single, the actions I take financially, physically, surgically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, etc. always have some lasting impact on my future spouse. Always.

The more I think about your situation, the more I realize that my reason for opposing such surgeries has everything to do with your underlying question: Will a certain cosmetic procedure help you in your search for a wife?

I think, generally speaking, the answer is no.

I've been thin and I've been heavy. And though I loved being thin more, I was heavy when I met Steve. In fact, once, after losing over 30 pounds in part because I wanted to catch a certain young man's eye, I was stunned when, upon seeing me after three months — the new, skinny me — he asked if I'd gotten a haircut. A haircut! Months of carrots and crunches and he wasn't even sure what, if anything, I'd changed.

Yes, I was thin, but I was still dateless and lonely, and on top of that, even more unhealthy in my approach to food. (That healing came later, totally unrelated from the numbers on my scale.)

If I had been motivated primarily by my desire to honor God with my body and to care more effectively for His temple, it wouldn't have been such a disappointment when my thinner self didn't result in any dates.

I tell you my story to make this point: Externals don't change internals. And motivation for change matters. Whether thin or fat, brunette or gray, toned or flabby, I'm still me. I can be comfortably fitting into my smallest jeans and still feel bad about myself, insecure and controlled by food. And what's worse, I can be ungodly in how I relate to others! How I care for people doesn't depend on my looks. And when I'm not thinking about how I look, I'm most able to love others.

Attraction really is a state of mind. And of character. If your character needs work, cosmetic surgery won't do a thing to make you more attractive to the opposite sex. If your character is mature and godly, and you're ready to be a husband in the Ephesians 5 model, I'm not sure it will add anything to change the appearance of your eyes.

Meeting a wife may be a matter of timing and situation. What if you go ahead with the surgery but nothing changes in the relationship department? Or what if the surgery is unsuccessful or fails to meet your expectations or causes side effects? All of these questions should be answered before you proceed.

What I would suggest is to pray fervently about God working to make your heart attractive to a potential wife. Then ask Him what He thinks about the surgery. He made your eyes. Does He think they're in need of reshaping? (I'm serious. There's no harm in asking and it's always a good idea to pray about such major decisions. I believe He cares about you enough for you to ask Him.)

I don't know if it's a sin. I think that has to do with your motives and your conversation with the Lord. I'm just not convinced it's essential to finding a wife. It may not even prove helpful — what if you meet and marry an Asian woman who likes your eyes the way they are?

Ideally you would make the decision about your eyelids with your wife. If you're loving her the way Christ loved the church, I suspect she'll say that's what really matters.

In His Care,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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