I was watching “I want to change my body” on BBC Three (on BBC iplayer here) and was quite shocked by the things people were saying and the ways in which they wanted to change their bodies. But there were some interesting cases that raised the question – when are we allowed to want to change our bodies? Among the requested changes were nose jobs, boob jobs, reduced acne, hair implants and weight loss. As a Health Psychology student, I am obviously very much interested in trying to implement healthy ways of living and making healthy habits easier to conquer, and some of the young people filmed had health issues that were an obstacle in their life. I warmed towards a particular girl who was struggling with painful acne. I was happy for her when she finally found a treatment that worked. She wanted to change first and foremost because acne is ugly, but on top of that, there were health issues involved that were obviously important too. Another girl, who put all her effort in to losing weight, had my full admiration for such determination. I was less impressed with other people, for example one guy who had a hair line tattooed on to his head because as a professional dancer he was dependent on looking good. I wondered what I would do if I were in a similar position.
I have always been a firm believer that it is OK to change our appearance if some kind of deformation has taken place which was completely outside of our control – but not for reasons that appear to be born out of pure vanity. For example, plastic surgery seems to be perfectly OK to repair a face of a person who was involved in a car accident, but not for someone who is simply not happy with the way their face looks. But how can we determine which is which?
As some of the people in the documentary received what they had been longing for for years – a new nose, new boobs, new hair, I couldn’t help but think about the way in which we are so easily led by the world around us. The Bible tells a story of how a Father rescues His children because He loves them beyond their sins. He loves us just as we are. This world lives a life oblivious to the fact that our confidence, joy and hope is made complete not in making our appearance more perfect, but in knowing that we are loved for who we are, not what we are. But do we, as Christians, live that belief? There’s a fine line between taking pride in the body that God gave us and changing that body to make something that is more beautiful in our own eyes.
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
The bodies God gave us are beautiful and perfectly shaped as He designed them (Psalm 139:14). As a volunteer for Caudwell Children Charity, I am privileged enough to meet some amazing people. A little girl with cerebral palsy is the joy of my week, but some people might say she isn’t perfectly made – that her creator must be pretty brutal to have allowed such a thing to happen. There is terrible physical suffering in this world and I would perhaps be wrong in claiming that it was God’s plan for such suffering to enter the world. I don’t believe He made someone have an illness or disease. Yes, He allowed it to happen, but we must not forget that we are sometimes more blessed in our suffering than in our healing. For a world that has turned its back on Him, His glory shines all the more brighter in our suffering. When we turn to Him, we find warmth and comfort and are ever more grateful for His love and gentleness than if everything was perfect. His very nature is defined in the way He can turn a bad thing into good (Isaiah 61:3, Romans 8:28).
In addition, the mind is so intricately linked with the body that we should not be surprised at the fact that sin has not only caused our souls to become deformed, but that it has effected our bodies as well. Some people think that Adam and Eve had perfect DNA. The mutations that we find in everybody’s DNA today have developed over many generations because of the result of sin. From this, it is thought that Jesus’ DNA was perfect as well – for He is the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). As such, when God frees us from sin, it is possible for us to experience spiritual as well as physical healing.
One definition of poor health is having an illness or disease that leads to a significant reduction in quality of life. And I guess this is where the clue lies: if we base the foundation of our happiness or our value on something in which we find no satisfaction but cannot change, then we are leading ourselves into a place in which that significant reduction in quality of life is felt deeply. But if we base the foundation of our happiness on Jesus, then we are reaching out to receive that peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Living the Christian life – placing our hope in Him isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen on its own. God created us with a mind and a body and gave us full control over both. It may seem impossible, but when we follow God’s way, then we can be sure to receive His help: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2). It means consciously choosing the thoughts we think (Philippians 4:8) and having full control over our body and mind (1 Peter 4:7, 2 Peter 1:5-7, Titus 1:8, 1 Corinthians 9:25).
I’m trying to teach myself to stop striving for worldly things. Stop being drawn into social patterns of popularity. Stop feeling as though I need to please people in my looks and behaviour. Trying to figure out which behaviours those are is especially challenging, as this insecurity is deeply innate, as the documentary clearly showed. But at the same time, I’m trying to value what has been given to me by looking after my body as well as my soul (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Perhaps our deepest fears will come true. Perhaps people will turn away from us because of who we really are. Perhaps illness (mental or physical) will set in and make our lives difficult. Some people may never have children. Others may feel like they’ve never achieved anything that is of worth in this society. But if what we stand on is Jesus, then that’s the cross we must bear (Luke 9:23).
That’s what I want to strive towards: finding my happiness and worth in Jesus amidst all my disappointments and failures. Because if I was worth Him dying for, then He’s definitely worth living for, no matter what other people think!
So, to answer the question, “when are we allowed to want to change our bodies”, I believe that it is important to consider the motive behind the desire – as Paul wrote, “‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Are our desires from God? Ultimately, is our fundamental desire to love Him by following His laws (1 John 5:3)?
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).