The pursuit of beauty through alteration of physical appearance
is a growing trend. Rates of cosmetic surgery have soared, suggesting that
surgery is now a common and acceptable solution to self-improvement.
The demand for cosmetic surgery is growing rapidly across most
Western countries fuelled by increased societal perceptions of the ideal body
image. A large population-based study in the UK "found that concern about physical
appearance is widespread among the general population and does not vary markedly
by socio-economic status or standard of living." Similarly, a US study
has shown that many Americans are dissatisfied with their physical appearance.
Consequently, statistics for 2005 show that more than 10.2 million cosmetic
surgery procedures were performed in the US in 2005, an increase of 11 percent
over 2004, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
Under the influence of Western culture, even places like Israel
and India are experiencing soaring increases in elective cosmetic surgery.
Twenty years ago, Israel had only two licensed surgical clinics performing
plastic surgery. Now, with a 120 licensed clinics nationwide, Israel has one
of the highest per capita rates of plastic surgery in the world. In India
even the elderly are not immune to the desire for physical perfection. Statistics
show that "there has been a 40 % increase in the number of Indian men
and women in their sixties having cosmetic surgery over the last year."
In the US, the top five surgical cosmetic procedures performed last year were: liposuction; nose reshaping; breast augmentation; eyelid surgery; and tummy tuck according to the ASPS. In addition, minimally invasive cosmetic procedures increased by 13 percent to nearly 8.5 million in 2005. The top five were: Botox injections; chemical peels; microdermabrasion; laser hair removal; and sclerotherapy (removing spider veins).
One of the more alarming trends is facial surgery that is intended to make
you look like your favorite celebrity. MTV has even launched a series called
I Want a Famous Face, to follow the transformations of twelve young
people who have chosen plastic surgery in order to look like their celebrity
idols. One participant, Matt Schlepp said he never realized how happy he could
be until after plastic surgery. "If any part of you drains all your self-esteem,
then why live like that?"
Now remember, this was a normal looking 20-year-old man. He
was not the victim of a tragic accident or some disfiguring birth defect;
he only wanted to look like Brad Pitt and apparently his god-given appearance
proved inadequate, to the extent that he was willing to spend $22,000 to shore
up his "self-esteem." Let me just add that I am not universally
opposed to cosmetic surgery nor do I think that the desire to maximize one's
appearance is immoral - although you won't see me sporting a Toupee' anytime
soon. There are countless people that have benefited from reconstructive surgery
and the correction of physical defects that adversely impact one's life. The
increasing ability on the part of surgeons to remedy these conditions is a
very good thing and a great blessing to many. What I am addressing is the
growing obsession on the part of so many that elevates the physical and superficial
above those things that are truly meaningful in a human sense.
Apparently this obsession has reached a point where some are
willing to kill in order to achieve their dream of physical perfection and
the life satisfaction that they assume it will bring. Consider the case of
Cynthia Sommer, 32 of San Diego, who is accused of poisoning her Marine husband
in order to use money from his life insurance policy to get her breasts enlarged.
She had the $5400 surgery two months following his death. According to witnesses
against her, Sommers was a consumerist run amok, "a chronic over spender
who refused to live within the family budget."
While most people are not driven to commit murder in pursuit
of their consumerist dreams, the increasing emphasis upon image and style
as the principal means of "self-improvement" are clearly signs of
a culture enslaved to consumerism. Make no mistake about it; the amplified
demand for cosmetic surgery is deeply rooted in the consumerist ideology which
idealizes lifestyle and image as the object and aim of the human life. Gone
is the appreciation of wisdom, character and nobler virtues. The "inward
life," as it used to be known, is regarded as being of little or no use
and the result is a culture obsessed with physical beauty, style and image
devoid of substance. Such a culture tends toward hedonism and narcissism and
encourages people to live according to the lower pull of material goods and
base physical appetites. In these conditions, people seek to authenticate
themselves on a baseless sense of "self-esteem" that is built upon
physical appearance, stylishness, or sexual prowess as these are the exalted
values of a consumer culture.
Clinical psychologists, Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H.
Elliot, Ph.D. write in their book, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of
a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth that "the self-esteem movement-the
teaching and parenting panacea that was supposed to cure social ills and create
brilliant, healthy children-has fallen flat. By bending over backwards to
make kids feel good about themselves, educators, the media and well-meaning
parents have created a generation of hollow kids who lack the fundamental
understanding of who they are and what they can accomplish." In the absence
of "understanding who they are" and without any direction to discover
any meaningful (biblical) answer to the question I would argue that we are
creating generations of slaves to the consumerist mantra of be all you can
be through the endless self-improvement of one's image and lifestyle.
Scripture says, "Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart." As Christians we should strive to see others as the Lord sees others. This means that we resist the pull of consumerism in our assessment of people that is rooted in what they have. And, we resist the same inclinations to prioritize superficial "self-improvement" in our own lives opting instead to incline our minds, bodies and strength to God, learning to be content with who we are in Christ. Do we really need anything else?
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.