Cosmetic Surgery to the Glory of God?
I'd never thought much about plastic surgery until 28 years ago, when my then 2-year-old son bit through an extension cord and burnt his mouth. Even though we had no insurance, my husband and I found a plastic surgeon who restored symmetry and proportion to our son's features. To have left our child's face distorted would have been unthinkable, and Christian friends supported our decision as parents.
Twenty years later, when I considered restoring symmetry and proportion to my body after a 70-pound weight loss, I received the opposite response among Christian friends; many questioned my motives and some my spiritual integrity. Cosmetic surgery was a pursuit of the vain and shallow, they told me, even though I desired the same restoration for myself that I had wanted for my son.
A seminary grad, I began investigating cosmetic surgery through a biblical lens, particularly a theology of beauty and the implications of cosmetic surgery in a postmodern, consumer-driven culture. I wrestled with my motives: What did I really believe I'd achieve through such surgery? Was the story I was telling myself about who I was and would be if I had surgery consistent with God's story for me? And what about stewardship? My husband was a Christian school administrator. Could we justify the expenditure?
In many ways, I saw myself as an unlikely candidate for cosmetic surgery—different from "other vain" women I envisioned. I was a Christian school teacher who didn't know another soul who'd had a cosmetic procedure. (If they had, they didn't talk about it until I came looking for them.) But I discovered on my journey that I was very much like thousands of other women—Christian and non-Christian—who seek cosmetic surgery. I wanted restoration. I wanted healing from emotional pain. I wanted to be average—not a beauty queen, just a woman beautiful for my husband, even though he already declared me beautiful.
My investigation into cosmetic surgery led me to discussions with Dr. Stephen Beals, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and one of Arizona's top plastic surgeons. Beals is a Christian who practices craniofacial and cosmetic surgery in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic. I've had the honor of working with him on a forthcoming book on the topic of faith, beauty, and cosmetic surgery. Our discussions gave me the courage to complete a consultation with a cosmetic surgeon he recommended. An inheritance offered me the financial means to pay for surgery without impacting our family finances. But in the end, my fragile neurological history disqualified me. I grieved the loss for months, but came to see the answer as God's closed door. And my neurologist's unequivocal "no" gave me the opportunity to divert funds to a friend in need and sparked a new interest in children born with craniofacial deformities.
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