The idea of what is beautiful varies from culture to culture. America has the largest cosmetic market in the world bringing in almost 54 billion dollars a year. Hair care products have long been hot in the marketplace, but now skin care has almost passed it in total revenue. Cosmetic surgery continues to grow as a beauty and youth restorer and each year it becomes more affordable and less invasive than ever. A 2020 report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons indicates that there are over two million American women each year who go through major cosmetic surgical procedures from breast augmentation to eyelid surgery. The Aesthetic Society releases their annual statistics revealing Americans spent over $9 Billion on aesthetic plastic surgery in 2020.
And over 14 million procedures are done in America that are categorized as minimally invasive procedures. These include Botox injections, chemical peels, and laser hair removal. I personally attach neither stigma nor judgment on those who choose these procedures and products. None is evil or unchristian. However, the expense, the pain, and the risks need to be evaluated first and then the questions should be asked of one’s self: Do my looks define who I am and therefore how significant I am to the world? Will I stop at nothing to alter my appearance to feed my sense of value?
Skin care in other countries is seen as important too, but for different reasons. In cultures where the women are naturally dark-skinned, the cosmetic aisles in their stores are stocked with lightening creams. And as you might imagine, in countries where naturally light-skinned people reside, bronzers and tanners are all the rage. However, in Japan, they love their light-colored skin so much that they go to great lengths to keep it that way. In fact, a century-old tradition of using nightingale droppings as a cleanser is still observed there. This product has even migrated to the U.S. as a popular, but expensive, beauty treatment.
In the Far East, certain tribes still believe that a woman’s desirability is in the length of her neck. At the age of five, girls start wearing brass rings around their necks adding more rings each year until they achieve the desired look. In India, a woman’s long hair is considered beautiful as is her extravagant jewelry and colorful dress. Some Polynesian women get tattoos on their faces believing this enhances their appearance.
Speaking of tattoos, and in case you haven’t noticed, body art (which includes body piercings) has become hugely popular in the current culture. When I was growing up, only some crusty old sailors had tattoos, and body piercings were mostly confined to the earlobes of young women. Nowadays, however, these procedures have become all the rage. One survey shows that 20 million Americans are tattooed and an even larger number have body piercings. The highest percentage of people having tattoos and piercings is among the college age students. A third of these students have one to three tattoos. Over half, it is reported, have one or more body piercings other than earlobe piercings for women.
There was a time in modern history when these procedures carried a stigma. Certainly, among the Christian community, this was seen as outrageous. They were considered rebellious, unseemly, dirty, and maybe even satanic. Attitudes have changed somewhat in the past couple of decades. For one reason, piercings and tattoos are generally being done in more sanitary conditions, and the art less violent or offensive. So, what about Christians who decide to get piercings and tattoos? Should they? Biblically, there’s no law against it, except in Leviticus where it was forbidden. It was dangerous, in those days, and it often was related to a master “marking” his slave and considered a pagan tradition. Some mention of the practice is found in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, but no prohibition is addressed in those writings. It would seem, then, that body art is not unbiblical necessarily, and is up to individual discretion. It is big business, however. According to U.S. News and World Report, tattooing is the country’s sixth fastest growing retail business, growing at the rate of one new tattoo parlor opening its doors every day. As with anything that alters your appearance permanently, you should go into such things prayerfully, asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” “Am I more interested with my outward appearance than my inward beauty?” “Are peer pressure and trends driving me to undergo such a procedure?” Again, if your goal is to please God, then going “under the needle” doesn’t necessarily fulfill that purpose. There are several resources that address this practice from a Christian worldview. One, in particular, I recommend is an article called “Under the Needle” by Lorne Zelyck which can be found at https://www.equip.org/article/under-the-needle/.
No matter the cultural standard or the trends, appearance, especially for women, carries a stigma all its own. Dr. James Dobson, renowned psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family, states that the “disease” of inferiority has reached epidemic proportions among females, particularly, at this time in our history. Dr. Dobson addresses the connection between beauty and value.
It is enough to say that physical attractiveness (or the lack of it) has a profound impact on feminine self-esteem. It is very difficult to separate basic human worth from the quality of one’s own body; therefore, a woman who feels ugly is almost certain to feel inferior to her peers. This pressure is greatly magnified in a highly-eroticized society such as ours. Isn’t it reasonable that the more steamed up a culture becomes over sex (and ours is at the boiling point), the more likely it is to reward beauty and punish ugliness? When sex becomes super-significant as it is today, then those with the least sex appeal necessarily begin to worry about their inability to compete in that marketplace. They are bankrupt in the most valuable “currency” of the day. Millions have fallen into that trap.
Since Dr. Dobson is a psychologist and a Christian, he comes to his conclusions from both a scientific approach and a spiritual perspective.
Stop: Do you sometimes use your looks to get noticed? Maybe you think that your looks are tied to your sense of worth.
Lie: All you are is connected to something that you can do nothing about. Your looks define who you are.
Truth: “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.”