Right now the news show “20/20” is doing a series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Last night they did a program on vanity, which is ironically not one of the seven deadly sins, but the whole series is an interesting concept nonetheless. Last night’s program mainly studied the various dynamics of plastic surgery, investigating parents who let their teenagers get boob jobs, women who will get risky plastic surgery in Central America simply for a cheaper price, and even people who will pick out facial characteristics of movie stars and have their faces shaped accordingly. One man had Tom Cruise’s eyes, Brad Pitt’s nose, Johnny Depp’s cheeks, and Jude Law’s smile. Pretty weird. And another middle-aged woman was so addicted that she would have work done throughout the day every day, getting a mid-day make-up refresher by a professional make-up artist as part of her daily routine. And her face reflected this effort–in a bad way. She looked like she was made of plastic. She kind of reminded me of those ventriloquist puppet dolls that come alive in horror movies and kill people.
But what was perhaps the most disturbing thing to me about the various people being interviewed is that they all talked about plastic surgery as if it is the ultimate source of their contentment. When asked why they would buy their teenagers boob jobs, the parents blithely replied that it’s worth it for their children’s happiness. The kids reaffirmed this mentality, saying that they feel remarkably better about themselves, that the plastic surgery has improved their self-image and helped them to be happier in life. You can’t argue with those kinds of results, right?
Well as convincing as these girls sounded, and as perfectly content as they appeared to be, I think the co-host of the show, John Stossel, made a telling remark about them at the end. He explained that one girl was so happy with her implants, that she wanted to get an even bigger size. That statement, right there, summarizes the problem with unnescessary plastic surgery.
All those women claimed to be content with their lives thanks to plastic surgery, but if they were so content, why would they need *more* plastic surgery? Because their contentment is an illusion. The breast enhancements and eye jobs and face lifts may be a quick fix, but they never address the root problem of low self-esteem, so that problem keeps popping up. As a result, plastic surgery can become an endless road. You may think you have just one thing about yourself that you could change if given the option, but as soon as you fix it, there’s going to be something else that appears in its place. After all, those middle-aged women addicted to plastic surgery didn’t appear out of thin air–they are the result of what happens when young women start feeding the beast of vanity. The teenagers who are already having surgery today will probably end up just like the middle-aged woman featured on the show: so unbelievably trapped in the lifestyle of self-improvement that it becomes their identity.
We see this phenomenon described for us in Scripture. In Jeremiah 2:13 describes, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” The visual here is of a cracked cistern that is meant to hold water, but because it is cracked you must return to it over and over and over again to refill it. Unfortunately, because the cracks themselves are never mended, you are stuck in a never-ending cycle that will not end. The cisterns will never be able to hold water the way you intend for them to, so you must keep going back.
This is what happens when we try to fix ourselves with worldly solutions that are not capable of solving our problems. We will slide into an endless cycle, just like the people Jeremiah described. That is why it is so important that women be cautious when it comes to the whole self-improvement fad. Yes, it’s fine to take care of yourself and not look like a vagabond, but once you start down that path of trying to fix that “one last thing” about yourself that you don’t like, you are walking on a slippery slope. You are deceiving yourself into thinking that these quick fixes will help you feel better about yourself, and they do for a time, but in the long run they will trap you.
Instead, when we find ourselves resenting certain aspects of our bodies, we need to look closer at the source of our discontent. Why don’t I like my nose? Is it because there’s something wrong with it, or because society has defined beauty in an extremely narrow way that excludes the millions of ways in which God manifests His beauty? Or why don’t I like my weight? Is it because I’m genuinely overweight, or because our culture has fed us impossible standards for what a woman’s body should look like, standards that are unhealthy, if not detrimental, to the health of women everywhere?
Most of the time, our reasons for disliking parts of ourselves are based on the lies of our culture, rather than the truth of Scripture, which is why we need to recognize them as the lies that they are. And while it is difficult to embrace the bodies that God has given us, it is also liberating once you do it. I can think of times when I stressed and stressed over parts of my body, and when I finally let go and accepted myself the way I am, it was like a huge burden had been lifted from me, because I was no longer anxious about trying to fix myself. That is what it means to walk in the freedom of Christ–we are no longer in bondage to the undending cycle of filling broken cisterns. Instead, we can drink from the Living Water, that never runs dry.