Thoughts From a Plastic Surgeon’s Office: On Age, Appearance, and Life

I was sitting in the examining room, looking. Waiting for my new plastic surgeon to come in and talk with me about removing a mole from my forehead. I say “new” plastic surgeon to say that this is my first ever, a necessity caused by this misbehaving mole that makes me curse the sun.

So, one wall of the room is filled with framed certificates and diplomas, evidence of the expertise of this group of plastic surgeons. Another wall showcases an extensive collection of brochures about the various procedures available. Even better, the monitor on the counter runs a continuous video showing before and after photos to illustrate the different procedures.

Some of the before-and-after’s are quite impressive, while others strike me as rather frivolous. Still, there are enough different examples to cover anyone’s personal issues and insecurities. After three children and over four decades of living, this body of mine could surely use some work. A lift here, a tuck there… Wouldn’t that be nice? And still my conscience refuses to justify my vanity.

There are many great reasons for plastic surgery, as well as many purely vain reasons. It is not for me to judge. But I do see that the extreme emphasis our culture places on appearance is not healthy. We live with the pervasive message that all things old… wrinkles, gray hair, the effects of gravity… are bad. Perhaps this is a subconscious attempt to evade death, the inevitable. In this society where age is often not esteemed for its wisdom and experience, it seems the only ones who long to grow older are children, speaking from their inherent ignorance.

Granted, it’s hard to see ourselves change physically when on the inside we always feel like the young people we once were. Our inner person is still there, though it may wear a different mask and receive different treatment, whether good or bad. We have a certain sentimentality for the way we used to look, much like our nostalgia for our “glory days” whether they were in high school, college, or some other especially happy time of life.

Naturally, we judge others partly by appearance. But our culture encourages us, both openly and more subtly, to try to look younger.  Dye your hair so the grays won’t show. Watch what you wear (for example, “mom jeans” are out if you want to be in). Exercise more so you can look good in that swimsuit. A little Botox can take care of those wrinkles. And plastic surgery can lift your face, tuck your tummy, or restore your boobs to their original location. Isn’t it wonderful?

The message is that we are not good enough, that appearance is who we are. But it is not. We are not good enough, but the real work that needs to be done is on the inside. These bodies are mere vessels to take us through this life. How tragic to tend to the vessel so carefully only to find that the treasure inside has been neglected. Your body is not you. You are more than that. As the late Rich Mullins once said, “In the end it won’t matter if you have a few scars, but it will matter if you didn’t live.”

Are we living, thriving, creating a life of true beauty through our love and joy and kindness? Are we in some way making the world a better place? What if we invested as much in character development, our inner beauty, as we do in outward beauty? That could change the world.

And this world could use some changing. It could use some assurance and acceptance, some hope and grace. It could use some help from people who care enough about others to risk themselves. People brave enough to look beyond the surface to the heart, the soul, the need.

Sometimes life is risky, and we can get hurt. But it’s not so important to stay safe and pretty and young-looking as it is to make a difference, to love, to embrace the moment we are in for all it’s worth. That is the way to live and to leave a legacy that outlasts an imperfect body.

 

* You may want to read the book of John in the Bible for further insight into love and grace and hope.

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