Young People Ask . . .
Should I Have Cosmetic Surgery?
“Prior to my nose operation, I suffered a lot because of teasing. I did not want a nose that was special, just one that suited me. I am very happy with the result, and I would do the same thing all over again.”—Eleni.a
“Why should I submit to standardized ideas of good looks? With surgically altered body parts, I would feel like fake money. Not genuine.”—Mathias.
“Everyone must decide for himself or herself. It is very difficult for someone else to judge.”—Manuela.
“WHOEVER is prettier than I am must be wearing makeup.” In Germany, that humorous saying has long served as a sort of defense for people who worry that their looks are less than perfect. In some lands nowadays, though, the saying might well be updated to: “Whoever is prettier than I am must have gone under the knife.” Indeed, cosmetic surgery is becoming commonplace.
“The days are over when cosmetic surgery was reserved for the rich,” reports the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, adding: “Two trends have emerged: More and more men are turning to cosmetic surgeons . . . , and female clients are getting younger than ever.” According to a survey in Germany, almost 20 percent of those surveyed between 14 and 29 years of age have either undergone cosmetic surgery already, plan to do so, or have at least thought about it.b Perhaps some of your friends, schoolmates, or relatives have put their looks into the hands of a surgeon.
What about you? Have you ever toyed with the notion of improving your appearance through an operation? Do you feel that your ears protrude, that your breasts are too big or too small, that your tummy or thighs bulge, or that your nose is awkward? If so, you are not the only person to suffer from such feelings. A group of high-school girls wrote an article in a German newspaper stating: “There is hardly a girl our age who hasn’t gone through bouts of discontent with her own body.” The desire to be attractive and well liked is normal. But is surgery the answer?
A Solution to Your Problems?
Consider the young people you know. Would you be surprised to learn that many of them—perhaps even some that look fine to you—are unhappy with the way they look? But that is very likely the case. The question is, Do you think they should all undergo corrective surgery? Or do you think most would be better off if they learned to feel happier with the positive aspects of their appearance? Might the same principle apply in your own case?
As Eleni’s comment shows, cosmetic surgery can in some cases curb ridicule and harassment. On the other hand, cosmetic surgery is no cure-all. It is certainly no substitute for a healthy life-style, which does a great deal for one’s personal appearance. And whereas a surgeon might be able to change your looks, he cannot change your personality, nor can he remove your anxieties or increase your self-respect.
Keep in mind, too, that some clinics or doctors make claims they cannot fulfill. They may seem, in effect, to promise you happiness. In truth, though, they may be more interested in your money than in your happiness. Sad to say, there are a few unscrupulous surgeons who will undertake an operation that is unnecessary, has little chance of success, or is risky—as long as someone foots the bill.
There are also long-term concerns to think about. For example, what looks terrible to you when you are 16 might look quite different when you are 21. Says aesthetic surgeon Dr. Urs Bösch: “As a general rule, cosmetic surgery should not be performed on teenagers. A teenager’s body shape and his awareness of his own body change at this age.” Additionally, youths are more likely to need follow-up operations. And as your body grows, the scars of an operation might also grow.
Count the Cost
The Bible advises us to count the cost before we start an important project. (Luke 14:28) For most young people, cosmetic surgery is out of the question because of the financial costs involved. And that price tag may not include the follow-up examinations—or the touch-ups that might be needed.
There are a number of people who have paid for surgery not only with money but also with their health. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, health risks include temporary swelling, permanent scars, loss of sensation and breast-feeding abilities, and even heavy blood loss. Anna, for example, almost died during liposuction. She complains: “I now have horrible scars and a dent in my belly.” Regarding liposuction operations, a German newspaper notes: “Reports of serious complications, even deaths, are piling up.” Do not forget: “Surgery remains surgery, with all its risks,” as the health newsletter Apotheken Umschau puts it. Therefore, carefully weigh the risks before you opt for any operation—especially one that is not medically necessary.
You might also ask yourself: ‘What sort of signal would I be sending? That physical appearance is my top priority? How might my choice influence my peers or younger siblings?’c
Your motives too are worth some serious thought. And it may not be easy to figure them out. You might, for example, want to ask yourself: ‘Do I want to put a stop to constant teasing about an awkward feature? Or has vanity come into play? Is my desire to change my looks influenced by peer pressure, slick advertisements, or some entertainment star? Am I trying to attain the extreme beauty ideal promoted so heavily in today’s media?’
Some think that physical enhancement might improve their chances of finding a marriage mate or a good job. But honestly, is every married person you know physically attractive? What about every person with a job? No, such attainments do not hinge entirely on personal appearance. Besides, would a potential mate or an employer who puts more emphasis on your looks than on your inner qualities really be worth the cost and risk of surgery?
As you analyze your motives carefully, discuss your feelings with your parents or a mature friend. If you think that one part of your body really is a problem, ask them for their honest opinion. Do not simply trust the mirror. Regarding the way we see our own physical shortcomings, Nana says: “You take it more seriously than others do because you simply see yourself through different eyes.” Researchers at the Landau University, in Germany, explained that in many cases cosmetic surgery is contemplated, “not because a part of the body is really disfigured, but rather because it appears to be disfigured to the person concerned.”
Do not decide on the spur of the moment, but evaluate all factors carefully. View any surgery as irreversible. At any rate, you will likely have to live with the results for some time.
Your Most Important Beauty
Happiness does not come from your looks. While looks can either enhance or hinder self-respect, what really counts are your personality and attitude. After her life-threatening experience, Anna concluded: “Beauty, I have learned, has nothing to do with your outer appearance.”
While speaking positively about physical beauty, the Bible shows that it is of secondary importance compared with spiritual beauty: “Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain; but the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself.” (Proverbs 31:30; 1 Samuel 16:7) Adopting this view could help you find inner peace, despite some body feature you dislike.
Whatever you decide, remember that perfect looks and perfect happiness are simply out of reach for now. Everyone is imperfect in one way or another. (Romans 3:23) You cannot change that. What you can change is the person you are on the inside—what the Bible calls “the secret person of the heart.” (1 Peter 3:3, 4) Refine who you are by building qualities that are beautiful in the eyes of God. There is neither risk nor financial cost, and the rewards are immeasurable!
a Some names have been changed.
b Cosmetic (or aesthetic) surgery is performed on healthy body parts to improve their appearance. Reconstructive surgery aims to restore body parts that are disfigured because of injuries, diseases, or congenital deformities. Both are types of plastic surgery.
c See also the chapter “How Important Are Looks?” in the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Blurb on page 19]
Is your “problem” feature really a problem, or do you need to adjust the way you view yourself?