Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2012, 9:10 am

'Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face'

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The above words are from Bruce Springsteen's famous song, "Dancing in the dark.'' Those words have often resonated with me. As a teenager, and for years afterward, I was hardly satisfied with the way I looked.

Times don't change much, and today many people still feel that way.

In 2010, Americans had 14 million cosmetic procedures. Plastic surgery is big business in the U.S. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 160,000 children underwent cosmetic surgery in 2008. Procedures included breast augmentation, liposuction, Botox injections, hair removal, birthmark removal and "Asian eye surgery.''

According to a report on ABC's San Francisco affiliate, ABC 7, "The focus on looks and beauty is so pervasive; many young women want perfection at any cost, yet there can be serious risks including scarring, implant ruptures, infections and worse. And while some are willing to risk it, the price can be steep."

The desire to be satisfied with our appearance is one Dr. Oz has commented on. In an article for, Dr. Oz and Dr. Rolzen wrote, "…we often find ourselves at odds, balancing between two opposing forces. On one hand, we have a strong, hardwired drive for uniqueness and individuality.

"At the same time, we have this biological need and craving for social conformity and a sense of belonging. It can get frustrating to follow: be different, but the same. Stand out from the crowd, but fit in!"

Their answer to this dilemma was, "Loving yourself and your imperfections contributes to your overall life satisfaction."

Although I never considered plastic surgery, I remember a time many years ago when I tried to improve my appearance, and it taught me some good lessons. I'd lost quite a bit of weight and I found myself looking into the mirror a lot. Having a tan before Christmas was my greatest longing. My family would be together for the holidays, and I thought "wouldn't it be great if I was thin and tan?"

One night I held an old sun lamp over my face and chest for about 30 minutes – a foolish thing to do. In the morning I woke up burned, in a lot of pain, and with blisters forming on my face. "What have I done?" I wondered. Now, I am actually glad for that experience, because it taught me to quit putting so much emphasis on what I saw in the mirror.

I turned to the Bible to see if there was something that would help me deal with the pain, and the conceit. I found this passage of St. Paul, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather, to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5: 8).

It was clear that absent from the body meant not to focus on it and as I thought about it, being present with the Lord began to say to me, to quit being so obsessed with the way I looked, and watch instead who I am.

It was a good reminder to me to realize that I was more than just a body. In the presence of God I was really defined by the joy, love, kindness, patience, integrity, honesty, intelligence and courage I lived. Who I am was much more important than how I looked.

Immediately the pain left, the blisters soon disappeared, and in two days the burned skin washed away with no unsightly peeling. The mirror was not so important to me anymore. How I acted, and treated friends, family, and even strangers, defined who I was much more than my appearance.

Self-esteem is a tricky thing. When it makes us pursue procedures that put our health at risk, it can be a dangerous thing.

Many of us define ourselves by our looks, jobs, marital status, or number of children or grandchildren. A better way to gain high self-esteem is to ask, "If I defined myself by the qualities of God I express, what would they be?"
Tim Mitchinson, Christian Science Media and Legislative Liaison for Illinois, is among a group of guest columnists for Faith & Values.