Christianity and Plastic Surgery

Ohhh, y’all. Do I ever have something to talk about today!

Before we go any further, let me lay the blame for this subject entirely at the beginning of a pretty lengthy conversation I had recently.

Not that the blame doesn’t rightfully belong to this brain of mine that won’t stop spinning around random subjects of its choosing, or anything.

Nope, that totally isn’t it.

So this conversation centered around cosmetic surgery, specifically, how Christian women are called to approach cosmetic procedures.

I can’t even put a number on the times I’ve talked about plastic surgery. Both jokingly and also completely serious, because tbh, years of weight gain and loss, pregnancy, age, and genetics have left me with a whole lot that needs fixin’.

But I also grew up in an atmosphere that forbade cosmetic alterations, to the point of banning lip gloss. Never mind the amount of perming and hairspray and heat tools used by the fine ladies of the assembly, which, you know, also modified their natural state.

But that’s aside from the point, right?

Or is it?

Sometimes, we just want things spelled out for us.  Thou shalt not kill. DONE. Got it. But honestly, the more I read into this subject, the more I see where the Bible is pointing each of us to find our own answer.

Let me unequivocally state that does NOT mean that I think there are many paths to Heaven and we’re all sort of floating around under our own sail, figuring out a course loosely based on the Bible. There is one way to Heaven, and that’s through Jesus.

I just mean that there’s not a cheat sheet in the pages of the Word that applies to every situation, especially situations that are culturally relevant to the world we live in today.

The most compelling scriptures usually quoted in discussions on elective cosmetic procedures are found in 1 Samuel 16:7:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

And in 1 Peter 3:3–4, where Peter writes that the ladies of the church shouldn’t worry themselves about their outward beauty:

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

At first glance, those are pretty clear. We’re called to focus on our hearts, not our physical beauty.

But the Bible also calls us to take care of our bodies (1 Cor. 3:16, KJV):

16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

The Bible also references beauty treatments in the book of Esther, when young Esther was taken captive and being prepared to meet the king. Esther 2:3b reads:

“Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, will see that they are all given beauty treatments.”

Clearly, some kind of cosmetic enhancement existed in Biblical times, given that reference and Peter’s warnings against vain adornment.

Having had some long and heartfelt discussions about this, I can say with certainty that most people understand that there are extremes and agree that some procedures are totally okay. As J. Parker puts it, it’s a matter of degree. If cosmetic procedures are a sort of a continuum of treatments – from makeup and hair dye to Botox to boob jobs, they’re bound to include some ‘neutral’ procedures, like braces or LASIK surgery, which would be widely accepted in the Christian community.

But where’s the line drawn between okay and no longer okay? How much is too much? Is it elective surgery? Is it inherently non-useful elective surgery? Is it too many elective surgeries? How many is too many? We saw earlier that Esther submitted her body to beauty treatments in preparation to meet the king, but we don’t know what those are. Maybe they were major alterations to her person, but maybe we’re talking about facials and manicures, or a good sugar scrub. Cosmetic treatments that could be considered basic hygiene.

But, as Jennifer Bashaw points out in a conversation with Amanda Beck for an article on Christians and Plastic Surgery, Paul encouraged young Timothy to be circumcised, but not Titus. Why? Timothy is half Jewish and half Greek. Paul wants to circumcise him because of the Jews they would encounter and to whom they would minister on their journey (Acts 16:1-5, ESV). Titus is fully Greek, and Paul does not have him circumcised because their target demographic is Gentile and therefore uncircumcised (Galatians 2:1-10, ESV).

Circumcision is arguably a cosmetic elective procedure, even though it’s culturally relevant and sacred to the Jewish people. It was encouraged in one case, but not in the other because of the customs of the societies in which the individuals ministered.

It seems pretty clear here that what is good for the goose is not actually the best choice for the gander.

There’s truth to the points that Bridget Jack Jeffries makes in her discussion on plastic surgery; she notes that ‘acceptable’ cosmetic alterations like braces are pursued by both men and women, but cosmetic surgeries like breast augmentation, tummy tucks, or liposuction are primarily sought by women. Those cosmetic surgeries are the ones at the center of the argument against elective procedures. Simply put, the pushback can easily be considered ‘garden variety sexism’.

Elective cosmetic surgery should be a conversation more Christians are having, because it’s everywhere. It’s not just Hollywood or your local country club, y’all. That’s so 20 years ago. You know plenty of people who have had or will have elective cosmetic procedures, even if they aren’t talking about it.

But we should be talking about it. As prices are driven down by medical tourism and the ideal feminine shape continues to become more enhanced, women are going to continue to struggle with this decision. And it shouldn’t be a decision based on someone else’s degree of acceptability or fear of angering a God who made your body exactly like He intended.

Ultimately, my decisions about elective cosmetic procedures come down to these questions (or, you know, groups of questions, because that’s how my questions roll):

WHY do I want to do this? Is this decision fueled by self-loathing or body dysmorphia? Is it an attempt to become an exaggerated version of perfection I’ve created in my head? Am I doing this to keep or attract someone else’s attention? Am I simply fixing what is broken? Am I enhancing something unnecessarily or am I just restoring symmetry?

HOW does this honor God? Will this fill me with arrogance? Will I struggle to be humble and modest? Will I be more eager to be a witness to others because I have confidence to approach people? How does it affect my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do I intend to use my body as a stumbling block to others?

Having confidence in my decision means that I have weighed those answers against the truth of God’s word. It means that I know what I am called to do – focus my energy on the state of my spirit first. If elective surgery, as a secondary consideration, conflicts with my primary focus, then it’s off the table. But if I find that I can honor God, walk humbly before Him, and still address some things about my physical body that are just plain BROKE – well, then, I’ve made my decision, haven’t I?

Whatever your position on Christians choosing to undergo elective cosmetic surgery may be, I hope that you extend grace towards those who may be struggling with that decision. Maybe that’s you, and you’re in need of grace while you make that decision. Friend, I’m not here to judge. I’m here to remind you that no matter what you decide, you are loved. You are cherished.

You are beautiful.

Happy Monday, friends!

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