Is It Wrong to Get Plastic Surgery?

Applying God's wisdom to cosmetic surgery

If you look in the mirror long enough, you’re going to see things you don’t like. Wrinkles, a nose that’s too big, flabby skin, and a body that is a better fit for Good Housekeeping than Vogue. Maybe you don’t have to look into the mirror to notice these things. Your physical flaws are imprinted in your mind. They haunt you, making you feel self-conscious around “more beautiful” people.

Along comes the option of plastic surgery. We can elect to change what we least like about our appearance. A skilled surgeon can give you a flat stomach, a strong chin, big boobs, pouty lips, and make you look a decade younger. If you have the money to spend, should you?

You may want to offer a quick condemnation of anyone who would consider something as superficial as plastic surgery. Not so fast. What’s the difference between a medical procedure to alter your appearance and less invasive measures, like dying your hair, using make-up, and wearing SPANX to hold everything in? Virtually every woman takes some measure to present herself as beautiful. How about plastic surgery to correct a birth defect or scar from an accident? And not all plastic surgeries are purely aesthetic. Some, like a breast reduction, can be functional.

Like many other issues we deal with today, the Bible doesn’t give specific instruction on plastic surgery. We live in a very unique time and culture that has the expertise and the expendable income to make cosmetic surgery even an option. When the Bible doesn’t give specific instruction, we can often discern God’s will by applying principles for godly living.

It’s All About the Heart

“People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart,” we learn through the words of the prophet Samuel. This teaching is echoed in 1 Peter 3:3–4 specifically to women, “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.”

You can’t ignore that we live in a world that judges us largely by physical appearance. People do look on the outward appearance. Whether you get hired for a job or get asked out on a date may, in fact, be impacted by your physical appearance. So how do we live in a world as physical beings wanting most to honor God who cares about our heart?

We begin by searching our hearts. Just as we look into the mirror and discern our physical flaws, we ask God to reveal the impurity we can see. Why do you want plastic surgery? What is at the heart of the issue? Fear and insecurity? Pride?

Let me tell you about two women who had a similar surgery for two different reasons.

Jodie is a 42-year-old married woman who had both of her breasts removed because of breast cancer. She joked with me that the silver lining of cancer was that she could finally get a “boob job.” Having reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy is a choice that some women don’t make. But Jodie and her husband felt that this was important to their sexual intimacy and to Jodie’s sense of feeling feminine. Sherry is around the same age as Jodie and is also getting a “boob job” because she sees herself aging and fading in her sex appeal. Underneath it all, she wants to keep her husband’s attention and fears losing him to a younger woman.

How would you advise Sherry and Jodie about their decisions to pursue cosmetic surgery? Is there a difference between plastic surgery that is restorative (like Jodie’s) and surgery that is an enhancement (like Sherry’s)?

Only God knows the motive of our hearts. He discerns the secret fears and desires that fuel our decisions, but sometimes we are not as honest with ourselves. Have you asked him to search your heart? To show you what it looks like to honor him with your body? If the bottom line issue is pride or fear, are you willing to yield that to the Lord and trust him with it?

Use Wisdom

Having elective plastic surgery is a very personal decision that may involve medical and even psychological risks. As a Christian, it is important not just to be godly but also to be wise. The book of Proverbs repeats the wisdom of having a multitude of counselors. Although it may not be a sin to have plastic surgery, be sure you also ask the question, “Is it wise? Is it a wise use of our money? Is it a wise choice for me physically?”

The one time I have considered plastic surgery is for a tummy tuck. After having three very large boys, the skin on my stomach is quite stretched out and flabby. I don’t think there is an exercise program on earth that could possibly get me back to my pre-baby stomach. My flabby stomach used to bother me a lot, but has never been an issue for my husband.

My decision not to get a tummy-tuck came down to wisdom and is probably why I will also never get a face-lift or any other kind of enhancement surgery. This physical body is dying. Anything I might do to make it look great will be very temporary. I’m headed toward wrinkles, sagging, weakness, and eventually death . . . and so are you. What matters most to me is how I use my body. That wrinkly belly is a scar that speaks of the privilege of motherhood. The lines just appearing on my forehead tell the world that I’m a thinker, just as my smile lines testify to the joys of my life.

Would I feel differently if having a flat stomach was important to my husband or if I were in a profession like politics or modeling dependent upon physical appearance? I don’t know, but I would still hopefully base my decision on seeking the Lord’s wisdom.

Actress and comedian Joan Rivers, who died last year at the age of 81, often joked about how many times she had plastic surgery. She admitted to having more than 400 cosmetic procedures and joked, “I wish I had a twin so I’d know what I’d look like without plastic surgery.” Ironically, Joan was not only known for trying to improve her external appearance but for paying little attention to her internal beauty. She was infamous for getting laughs at the expense of others and is remembered as “America’s most abrasive comedienne.”

The external improvements we may make are so temporary! No surgery can keep us out of the grave. But the efforts we make to become more beautiful in character are eternal. Whether you have plastic surgery or not, where is your hope? Can you say with Paul, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16, NIV).

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

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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