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Is it OK for Christians to have cosmetic surgery?

No TV show regularly records what happens after the "reveal" on programs such as Extreme Makeover.

Millions tune in each week to watch television shows such as Extreme Makeover or The Swan, in which plastic surgeons dramatically alter people's faces and bodies for their "reveal"—that magical moment when they're presented to admiring family and friends. Yet have you ever noticed no TV show regularly records what happens after the "reveal"? Selective follow-ups never demonstrate whether this pinnacle moment on reality TV conferred genuine self-worth, or if it proved to be a short-term substitute.

The truth is, despite the cutting-edge techniques available today, cosmetic surgery comes with no guarantee that through it we'll achieve our heart's desire—to be accepted, valued, and loved. That's because body image is based more on feelings than fact. Research tells us the majority of people underestimates their attractiveness and typically misinterprets others' reactions to them. Simply stated, it's a myth that how you feel about yourself is related to how you actually look. Whether or not you see yourself as pretty often is divorced from reality.

Nowhere does the Bible condemn undergoing elective self-improvement procedures. But while it's silent on cosmetic surgery, God's Word has much to say about the condition of our heart and the upkeep of our body, his temple. Ultimately, your motivation, expectations, and safety must determine what you decide to do. Bottom line: You need to be sure you're applying the correct medicine for what ails you!

For instance, 25 years ago, when repeated biopsies in both my breasts uncovered precancerous conditions, my physicians advised me to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. My decision to exchange my breasts for the possibility of a full life was a no-brainer. But the decision to replace what had been removed through reconstructive surgery was not. I agonized over my desire to have my perfect breast size with my belief that I was the same person whether I had breasts or not.

After all my seesaw thinking, I had the surgery—and for many years, I was glad I did. But when my body reacted to the silicon implants, there was trouble in paradise—in the form of debilitating joint pains and fatigue. I finally had the implants removed and now happily wear prostheses. The lesson is this: If you're considering cosmetic surgery, beware of the possibility of surgical and long-term health complications.

Also take a hard look at how you deal with issues of self-esteem. Do you mistakenly believe that not meeting society's standards of attractiveness automatically disqualifies you from self-acceptance and happiness? Do you compare yourself to others, a practice so unsettling God's Word specifically tells us not to engage in it (Galatians 6:4)? Is your focus solely on you? You may need a third party (a therapist or pastor) to help you understand what you derive from holding onto unhealthy ways of thinking about yourself.

Ultimately, to feel good about yourself, you must look beyond personal resources to a personal God. Family, friends, and the latest standards of beauty (and techniques) all can let us down. God remains the only reliable source of unconditional love that transforms us internally, freeing us from the pressure of constantly proving we measure up. Whatever you look like, whatever you do to enhance your looks, it is this assurance that ultimately makes you whole.

Mary Ann Mayo is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of numerous books, including Twilight Travels with Mother (Revell) on Alzheimer's and Good for You! (Siloam) on hormone health and aging well.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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