Beauty by Syringe

The women are wandering about the living room, chatting, sipping drinks, and nibbling on nachos. It looks for the entire world like a home sales party, and it is. But these women are not here to buy makeup or Tupperware. They came to be injected with a deadly poison. One by one, the women disappear into another room, where a doctor awaits them. He injects each client with a syringe full of diluted botulinum toxin type A, better known as Botox. The drug temporarily paralyzes the muscles that cause wrinkles. Within days, a wrinkled forehead becomes as smooth as a young girl's-at least for a few months. Injections must be repeated. Close to a million people asked for Botox last year, and millions more will this year. That's in addition to the millions of healthy Americans who will undergo costly surgery simply to make themselves look better. Why are we willing to spend so much for results that are so temporary? In his book, When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image, philosopher Os Guinness says, with customary insight, that it has to do with "the modern world's obsession with physical appearance." This began to occur, Guinness writes, when Americans began moving from the country to cities, "from small, stable, face-to-face relationships to fast, superficial, largely anonymous acquaintances." The result, he says, was "an accompanying shift from an emphasis on internal character to one's external appearance. Thus the traditional ideal of 'the strong character' has given way to 'the striking personality' and 'the successful image.'" The dramatic increase in cosmetic procedures "is the mirror image of the decline of character," Guinness argues. Plastic surgery was once confined to those with disfiguring war injuries. Having it for purely aesthetic reasons was considered a mark of vanity, "because perfectibility was understood to lie within the spiritual, not the physical realm," Guinness writes. "Crooked noses . . . sagging breasts, and spreading wrinkles were realities of this earthly life, to be borne with dignity and humor" -- not anymore. Today, even teenagers are beating on the doors of plastic surgeons, anxious to remove that small bump on the nose or to enlarge their breasts. The dangers of valuing image over character becomes clear in the political arena. Michael Medved recently asked in the Wall Street Journal why ABC News would place freshman senator John Edwards ahead of veterans Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, and Joe Lieberman in the presidential sweepstakes. The answer: "His resemblance to a Hollywood star makes him an instantly credible presidential prospect." The same is true in other areas of life. How much wisdom and how many friendships do we miss out on because we look no further than someone's plain face or gray hair? We need to beware of the modern tendency to admire image and personality over character and conviction. One way to do this is to make an effort to get to know our neighbors in a deeper way -- one that helps us look beyond physical appearance to inward character. To paraphrase the Proverbs, true character proceeds from the heart -- not from a syringe of Botox. For further reading: Os Guinness, When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image (Navpress, 2000). Deborah Newman, Loving Your Body: Embracing Your True Beauty in Christ (Tyndale, 2002). BreakPoint commentary no. 020218, "Wrinkle and Emotion Free: Botox and the Boomers." Michael Medved, "Hegemony of the Handsome," Wall Street Journal, 20 March 2002. Liza Mundy, "Facing Facts," The Washington Post Magazine, 12 May 2002


Chuck Colson


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