Love or hate her, reality TV ‘celebrity’ Heidi Montag’s image has been splashed over various magazines the last few weeks featuring her 10 cosmetic procedures. I recently watched an interview in which she was asked, as a Christian, whether or not she has rejected what God has created. She answered, “Maybe God gave me extra because He knew what I would be doing, and the career, and blessing me with such a great doctor."
Now, Heidi isn’t exactly a paragon of Christian virtue (Playboy pictures?) nor would a lot of people want her as a public face of Christian outreach. Putting aside her answer that God blessed her with so much so she could have surgery, her recent change raises an interesting question that addresses a larger cultural issue: should Christian’s get plastic surgery? I’m not talking about plastic surgery specifically to correct an ailment, but elective surgery to fix any non life-threatening, less than perfect physical quality. Maybe you don’t like how you look in profile, have a few too many wrinkles, or have a hairline like Danny DeVito’s. Is it OK to go under the knife?
I asked a few friends about this and received a split decision. Some people thought it wasn’t right and others thought it was OK for someone to correct any perceived inadequacies. While I can’t say getting plastic surgery is explicitly a sin, I believe it sends the wrong message, especially for people who are urged to be content in all circumstances, even if your ears are too big.
Why would a dramatic looks-altering procedure not be the proper route? Quite simply, God doesn’t care what you look like. It’s irrelevant. Consider His instructions to Samuel for choosing a king, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
What the world tells us is important doesn’t even register with God. I remember hearing author Dallas Willard say if you follow the Bible you’ll end up backwards from the world, gazing in the opposite direction. The world says turn left, God says go right.
So how does society define beauty? It’s how you look on the outside. It’s what you’re wearing. It’s whether or not you have a six pack. It’s all that you see with your eyes. It’s a physical trait.
God’s definition of beauty is quite different. It has nothing to do with how you look. It starts internally, radiating outward. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4) Beauty is a character trait, not a physical trait. Real beauty is who you are, not how you look. God has changed the definition from an adjective into a verb. Even Christ “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
God, unlike many guests on Jerry Springer, knows that outward beauty never lasts. It inevitably shrivels up and fades. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty if fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30) Paul echoes this same concept in Timothy, urging the women to dress themselves in good deeds, not fine clothing or jewelry.
Why do we get this wrong? The underlining problem is our tendency to reject God’s views in favor of our own. When we start focusing on appearances (or power, or money) we have created an idol - something placed between us and God that matters more than Him. In Heidi’s case it’s an approval, or cultural idol. An idol that tells her, “You don’t have value, worth, or respect, unless people think you are good looking.” She stated that she felt uncomfortable when people would criticize her “Jay Leno chin” and needed to be “upgraded.” Only then can she have meaning.
To resist this cacophony of criticism is harder than it sounds, especially in a culture that bombards us with airbrushed images. By giving in, Heidi risks replacing the sufficiency of grace with the fleeting insufficiency of image and approval.
Martin Luther warned about this. “If we do doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior].”
The unfortunate irony is after all her procedures I think Heidi actually looked better before the surgery.