This article won a $1000 Award of Outstanding Merit from the Amy Foundation in May of 2005.
In the reality shows that dominate much of prime time television these days, “The Swan” is the most recent to make a splash. Women who qualified for the show had to leave their families for four months in order to go through a dramatic makeover to improve their looks and their self-esteem, achieved with the help of plastic surgeons, exercise coaches, trainers, dietitians, therapists, make-up artists and others.
The name of the show comes from the well-known Grimm’s Fairy Tale of “The Ugly Duckling.” In this classic children’s story, a swan’s egg gets mixed in with a group of duck’s eggs. Larger than the other eggs, it looks out of place from the beginning. After the egg hatches, it’s obvious that the “duckling” is different from the others. Life was difficult for the baby swan as the other ducks quacked, “He’s ugly. He doesn’t look a bit like us. We don’t want to play with him.” As the story goes, the ugly duckling went through a dramatic transformation as it grew, becoming a beautiful swan, much to the surprise of the other ducklings.
Shows like “The Swan” are tapping into a growing desire of Americans to change the way we look through surgery, exercise, and diet. According to The Freedonia Group, a leading international business research company, it is estimated that demand in the United States for cosmetic surgery products will grow 11.2 percent yearly through 2007.
In June 2002, the Italian magazine “Italia Imballagio” estimated that there are more than 14,000 cosmetics producers worldwide. According to the 2003 annual report of Johnson & Johnson, the global skin care market is worth $43 billion per year. The statistics confirm that we believe our appearance is important.
I asked a group of grade school children recently if they thought appearance was important. The answers varied but most of the children agreed that appearance is important. To confirm this, I asked the children and adults to raise their hands if they looked in the mirror before they came to church. The only ones who did not raise their hands were a few of the younger children.
Our appearance makes a statement. With our appearance we send out messages to people before they get a chance to meet us or know us. With our appearance, we make some kind of first impression.
A 2001 poll conducted by Yankelovich Partners, Inc. found that nearly “seven in ten Americans (69 percent) and more than eight in ten women say that clothing, hair and makeup are very or extremely important for a woman on the job, and for her confidence. Large majorities say that a woman’s appearance affects whether she is taken seriously, asked to represent her company at outside meetings, and considered for raises and promotions.”
The conversation with the children took an interesting turn when I asked them if their appearance was important to God. If so, what kind of emphasis on appearance does God expect from us?
We came up with several answers. First of all, we need to love ourselves. Jesus said that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we don’t love who we are, we cannot love others as Jesus commands. Taking care of our bodies is a type of self-love. Changing something about our appearance sometimes changes how we feel about ourselves. We may have more confidence and a better self-image after our teeth are straightened or after some other cosmetic alteration. However, starting on the outside with hopes of changing the inside with any kind of lasting change is backwards from God’s way.
When Samuel chose the first King for Israel, he was influenced by Saul’s appearance. Saul had an impressive physical appearance. 1 Samuel 9:2 says that he was “without equal among the Israelites, a head taller than any of the others.” Unfortunately, Saul’s physical stature did little to make him a good king. He was eventually rejected by God as Israel’s king and Samuel began the process of selecting a new king. As he began his search, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV).
So does this mean from God’s perspective our appearance doesn’t matter? Well, not entirely. God couldn’t care less whether we part our hair in the middle or on the side; whether we have blond, brown, or black hair; whether we have a lot of hair or no hair at all. To the extent that our appearance reflects who we are as a person, God is concerned.
Often our appearance communicates how we value ourselves or what we value other than ourselves. We have been made in God’s image. Therefore, we should place a high value on ourselves. This includes what we do with our body.
.The people of the church of Corinth were profaning their bodies through sexual immorality. The Apostle Paul wrote to them saying, “Do you not know that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV).
For Christians, the body is God’s temple. Therefore, our appearance is important. We need to keep the temple in good shape with proper exercise, diet, grooming, and proper dress. There’s nothing wrong with cosmetic issues either unless we have become slaves to the cultural undercurrents that tell us we are not people of worth unless we look beautiful enough to enter a beauty pageant.
Outside beauty is wonderful. I can appreciate it along with others, but it’s beauty on the inside that matters most to God. The great makeovers of the Bible had to do with people changing who they were on the inside. Zacchaeus the Tax Collector became Zacchaeus the friend of the people as he returned money to those he had charged too much. Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus the night Jesus was interrogated and beaten, became Peter the great preacher, the rock. Mary Magdalene, a very troubled woman, became an important friend and follower of Jesus who financially supported his ministry. Saul, the Christian persecutor, became Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles.
These are the kinds of makeovers that matter most to God. These are makeovers that have lasting significance. While it’s good to focus on our outward appearance, we must remember that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” 1 Corinthians 15:50 (NIV).
What happens to us on the inside will determine whether we will be given an opportunity to be changed in the greatest makeover of all; the day that the perishable inherits the imperishable; the day that the trumpet sounds and the dead will be raised imperishable. On that day we will be changed. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. On that day, there will no more need for mirrors. Our makeover will be complete and will last forever.