Cosmetic Surgery and Lie-Based Thinking

June 6, 2006

The other night, while on the road and hideously bored, I flipped through the channels and caught an episode of “Dr. 90210”. These are the chronicles of several Beverly Hills’ Cosmetic Surgeons caught on film for the entertainment of all the rest of us. As I watched several procedures being discussed and performed, it occured to me to ask several questions of no one in particular.

1. Why do people carve themselves up like this?
2. What do they hope to achieve?
3. Do they really achieve it?
4. Where does lie-based thinking fit into all of this?

In the decades of delivering mental health care and teaching on the human condition, I have interviewed many people who either had received cosmetic surgery or were contemplating it. My most extensive experience comes from those who have had stomach staples and breast augmentation surgery. So I will limit my comments to these. I believe the other procedures that are most common (eyebrow lifts, chin carving, ear straightening, jowl removal etc.) all follow the same lines of observation and conclusion.

Before I post my comments, here are two pithy things that others have said. First, in Psychology Today, we read this depressing news:

Women with breast implants are more likely to commit suicide than non-augmented women, according to a Finnish study. The results mirror similar findings from studies conducted in Sweden and the United States.

Implants and the medical procedure of breast augmentation are generally considered to be safe: the procedure did not put women at a significant risk of death. But women who have had their breasts surgically enlarged are three times as likely to kill themselves.

Researchers are at a loss to explain the suicides. Are suicidal women more likely to get breast implants, or does plastic surgery itself lead toward suicide?

Then, from the Mayo Clinic, these observations:

Body image dissatisfaction is often associated with decreased self-esteem, self-confidence and psychological well-being. These emotional and psychological issues cause some women to turn to cosmetic surgery. If women feel they need a new face, a thinner waistline or bigger breasts to be likable and to feel good about themselves, cosmetic surgery may not be the answer. In fact, some studies show that extensive cosmetic surgery may make psychological issues worse.

Neither of these articles paints a rosy picture of the results of cosmetic surgery. I could have quoted a half dozen books just on my shelf alone that reiterate this finding: Cosmetic surgery does not improve the emotional well-being of the one who receives it. Why is this?

Well, first of all, those of us who believe that many emotional problems are caused by lies we believe as children that have never been discarded, recognize that nothing changes inside if you lose 100 pounds on the outside or go from an “A” cup to a “DD”. If a woman believes she is ugly, no amount of physical changing and rearranging and augmenting is going to dislodge that lie. But, you might say, what if it’s not a lie? After all, being 100 pounds overweight is not attractive in our culture to all but a small minority of people. I can hear someone saying “the mirror tells the truth.”

But that doesn’t deal with the core lie. The lie “I am ugly” is not a core lie, but a derivative lie. It is more of a conclusion drawn from the core lie. The core lie is “Something is wrong with me.” That begs the question, “What then is wrong with me?”. One answer might be “I am ugly”. Another: “I am stupid”. Still another: “I am a social misfit” and so on. The derivative lie, “I am ugly” very well might focus on the small breasts or large shape.

I have known a dozen men and women who have had stomach staples, thereby making it impossible for them to eat large meals. All of them have lost significant amounts of weight. Yet, every one of them also has gone through at least two significant periods of depression. Several of them have gained most of the weight back, by the most gruesome way possible…they stretch the stomach by eating more than they can stand. In the end, most of them are not feeling all that good about themselves.

Recently, a friend of mine had her breast augmentation reversed. She did this after going through the Theophostic program. She realized afterwards that her madlong dash to be beautiful did not work at all. After getting rid of the lie inside, she no longer wanted to be saddled with the reminder of that lie. She is now so content in who she is in Jesus.

You see, even if someone who got larger breasts or a smaller waistline could conceivably say they weren’t ugly after all, they would still have to answer the question, “Then, what is really wrong with me?”. Cosmetic surgery just sends them to the next conclusion. Perhaps it will be that they are a misfit, or a stupid person, or a failure. In short, the cosmetic surgery only sends them on another wild-goose chase while the original lie continues to pull the strings.


  1. Good post — this makes perfect sense to me. My closest brush with this came, I believe, from the first few months that I took antidepressants. The first few days/weeks on effexor, I experienced a euphoria sparked by utter relief to feel like myself again. As time progressed, the meds no longer succeeded at keeping the negative feelings about myself away — and I felt more broken than ever. After all, if even antidepressants couldn’t help, there really *must* have been something wrong with me.

    I can imagine the same sort of lie-based thinking plays into most fixations on the new-and-shiny. Somehow, if we can just get bigger boobs/a smaller waist/a new SUV/that bigger house/the new iPod, our world is supposed to be better. Then, when nothing’s changed, we’re set up for a big fall.

  2. Wow… I know that it’s been a while since this was posted, but I stumbled on it at the right time. I have been struggling with my looks for some time. I get told often that I am pretty, but I rarely, if ever, believe them. I usually think, ‘What do they want?’. I had thought about getting cosmetic surgery, thinking it would maybe make me feel better about myself, though surgery scares me to death, it was almost worth it. I think that my beauty comes from Jesus & to get cosmetic surgery, to me, would mean that God made a mistake when He created me. I don’t believe that, so therefore, I must conclude that I am okay, though that is hard to believe & harder to write. Going through the divorce & being single now, people look right at you & I get very nervous about that. When I was married, he saw me at my worst & still loved me, (though I know now that was not the case, I certainly thought so then.) Guess I just need to focus on what God says about me, and not what others say about me..

  3. These people that we see receiving cosmetic procedures are always as shallow as they appear to be. Often the need for facial changes comes from long stemming self esteem issues that could have been a result of bad parenting.

    Although a lot of procedures completed are on playboy bunny wannabes. There is a lot of good these procedures do.

  4. Plastic surgery…I don’t disagree that there are good reasons to get cosmetic surgery. Sometimes the reasons are medical and sometimes the reason relates to correcting a genetic or physical accident. These are legitimate and helpful. But the cosmetic changes that are related to lie-based thinking do not help.

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