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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
In the church that I attend, some members are discussing the issue of cosmetic surgery. Is there any biblical guidance on this topic?
This subject is complex and difficult to address for two main reasons. First, there is no explicit biblical guidance that can inform a decision; and, second, the subject is loaded with social, medical, emotional, and psychological elements that make it difficult to evaluate the decision objectively. Any person contemplating cosmetic surgery should get proper medical orientation and in some cases even consult a psychologist. My observations may provide a starting point for further reflection.
1. Effect of Sin on Our Bodies: Sin impacts not only our spiritual and moral life but also our bodies. Our health message is an attempt to limit the inroads of sin on our physical as well as on our mental and spiritual powers. Therefore, fighting the negative effects of sin on our bodies is not necessarily wrong.
There are bodily anomalies that from the medical and aesthetic points of view may require correction (e.g., scars, burns, cleft lips, etc.). In many cases those conditions could have a negative impact on our self-image and on how we relate to others. A measure of psychological well-being could be achieved through the cosmetic correction of what is perceived or recognized to be abnormal.
2. Overcoming Social Prejudice: In some cases the success of people is limited or hindered for the simple reason that they do not nicely fit into a particular social understanding of what is “normal.” They possess a physical feature that is defined as “abnormal” when compared to the more common characteristics of the same feature in other persons. In many cases prejudice against those individuals limits their professional advancement. Attempting to improve one’s physical appearance in order to enhance one’s influence may not necessarily be wrong.
3. Challenges of Cosmetic Beautification: In cases in which the body does not deviate in any significant way from the general norm, or when changes occur because of the normal aging process, cosmetic surgery becomes cosmetic beautification, common in affluent societies. Here, the ethical questions become relevant and difficult to address: What is motivating the desired cosmetic surgery? Is the motivation compatible with your Christian values? Is the intention to attract attention or improve sex appeal? Is the particular physical condition perceived by the person to be so abnormal that it is having a negative impact on the quality of life? The financial impact of cosmetic surgery should also be taken into consideration.
4. Nature of Beauty and Cosmetic Beautification: The modern interest in physical beauty is based on a concept of beauty that is significantly different from the biblical one. It is based primarily on mathematical balances, proportions, and symmetry. It is a superficial view determined by the surface of an object, its exterior design, colorfulness, and symmetry. What does not conform to that physical balance is considered abnormal.
But who decides what the norm is? In the western world it would probably be the fashion, entertainment, or communication industries.
The Bible does not ignore the attractiveness of the physical body; however, it puts the emphasis on the dynamic dimension of beauty and on simplicity and modesty (1 Peter 3:4). “Beautiful” is anything or any person that functions or behaves the way it was intended by God to function or behave (cf. Gen. 1:31). Therefore, the stress is placed on the nature of the object and on the expression of that nature in behavior and physical appearance.
The search for beauty is a search for our true identity in order to live up to it. Once we realize that we are children of God through Jesus, everything changes, including the way we think, behave, and perceive ourselves. Interest in our physical appearance remains, but is no longer our primary concern.
Church members should realize that in the area of appearance we all have different needs and concerns. What one may consider unnecessary could be extremely important for another person (look at me; I’d like to have more hair). In the final analysis, cosmetic beautification is a personal matter to be decided by the individual in conversation with God, who understands us better than anyone else does.