The commedienne Ruby Wax has had plastic surgery. I heard this, when she admitted it, in an interview with her on the wireless. So there’s nothing really new there. Except the reason that she gave I found particularly interesting. She said ‘I had the ‘work’ done, so that my ‘insides’ would match my outsides’. How about that. It opens up a whole world of thought.
The first thing that comes to me is that this is a feeling that all of us have at some stage or other as we get older. Sometimes it comes when one sees a photo of one’s self and thinks ‘Who is that old man in the picture? I feel the same as I always have, but that person in the picture looks like an ‘old man’. That doesn’t ‘feel’ like me. I’m thinking this is what Ruby Wax is trying to say.
Mostly the change in outward appearance happens slowly, so that we have time to integrate the new outside into the internal image that we carry around of ourselves, and make the necessary psychic adjustments to he new ‘look’. As a colleague of mine once said ‘Learn to love the flab.’ That is one thing. But the other thing is how ‘old’ we feel. As I get older, I certainly don’t feel any ‘less-me’ but I have acquired a bit of wisdom, and fewer things ‘throw’ me now than before. So I am glad that I am not the bundle of anxieties and defences that I was when I was 20. But the question that I am coming to is the one that says ‘Can I accept that whatever my outsides look like, and my ‘insides’ feel like, all of that is ‘me’? Who ‘I am’ changes but none the less it is acknowledgeable by me and others as ‘me’.
I think of people who have had amputations. At some point they must integrate the loss of a limb, and the acquisition of a prosthesis as part of ‘them’. But on the other hand, I have heard of people who are continually distressed by a part of their body that they were born with and actually try to have an amputation of that part.
Both cases are concerned with the difference between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Which brings us back to ruby Wax. For her, it seems, instead of integrating the ‘new and older’ self into her picture of ‘me’ she has rejected it, and so had some surgery to make her appearance match the, presumably, younger image she has of herself, ‘inside’.
The problem is that for the people observing, it does not work. I look at the TV and I say “Oh, there’s Joan Rivers, and she’s had some ‘work’ done. So the image is not of a ‘young’ Joan Rivers, but of an ageing Joan Rivers who has had some ‘work’! The same is true with ‘Botox’. I look at Donatella Versachi and say ‘Botox!’ So for observers, the new ‘look’ is not a signal that a person is younger, but just a signal that a person has enough money to be able to pay for ‘work’.
But at the level of personality, the question of the integrity of ‘inside and outside’ is an important one I think. My thoughts go to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Before the state of mistrust between Humanity and God enters the scene, Adam has no need to feel ashamed that his ‘outside’ is laid bare and naked before God or anyone else. This matches his inner state of being completely at ease with the Creator. But we all know that our state is not this perfect. Like humanity in the Garden of Eden, we turn away from God: a difference between our inner state (of wanting to hide before God) and our outer state (of being naked) arises. We notice the difference, and are ashamed. It could be argued that the need to hide our inner selves from the world and from God represents a ‘sin’. Is it so, for example, that happily married couples, when they are most content with one another, are not ashamed to see each other naked, what ever that looks like? Is that why marriage s ‘an holy estate’, because it gives people the opportunity to be so at home with their inner availability for one another that the outer availability to one another in nakedness matches? Is that why we hedge love making around with such decoration? Because it represents a physical nakedness that needs to be matched with an inner nakedness in order for there not to be a sense of dissonance?
So although this reflection on sin and the difference between inside and outside does not touch directly on Ruby Wax’s situation, I appreciate the fact that she has raised the question of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and the possibility that there could exist a difference.
Now I can’t speak for ruby Wax about her image of her body not matching her sense of ‘inner self’. Everyone must make their own way. But I think that as a Christian I have some advantages in thought that prevent me from thinking about the idea of ‘having ‘work’ done.’
Two hymns come to mind to help me understand this. The first is ‘Lo He Comes’. One verse begins ‘Those dear tokens of his passion, still his dazzling body bears.’ Christ’s body is dazzling, but it still bears the marks of his passion. Our own bodies, though destined to be dazzling like his at the resurrection, also bear the ‘stigmata’ of our suffering: be it a suffering for others, or a suffering because of Christ, or a suffering because of sin. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, all that we are and have done is written on our bodies. They are the ‘outward’ element of our ‘self’. Just as Christ, transformed, bears the history of his life, so we, transformed, will continue to display our history with God. Like the soldiers of Agincourt who come ‘safe home’ we can be proud of our scars. We say ‘These wounds I received in the service of Christ.’ What we show in our bodies as a result of our Christian life ought to be a mark of pride. This is the meaning of the blessing of receiving the ‘stigmata’. People nowadays think it is a kind of psychosomatic illness, but as a metaphor, the stigmata stand for our not being afraid to show the scars that we have received as Christians. Like Tony Blair’s sudden greying hair as a result of ten year’s of being Prime minister, we too carry the bodily signs of our life in Christ.
But second, the question is ‘Who is looking at us, and with what eyes such that we should be ashamed of what we ‘look like?’ The second hymn goes ‘Look Father, look on his anointed face, and only look on us as found in Him. Look not on our misusing of thy grace, our prayer so languid and our faith so dim.’ For all of us who are baptized, and have put on our baptismal gown, that is ‘put on’ Christ, we are no longer seen by God as ‘beings toward death’ who are gradually getting older. Getting older is no fun, as many of our congregation can bear witness to, but the actual getting older of our bodies is not an issue, because the one who matters, who is really ‘looking’ at us is the Father of Christ. God the Father sees us as having ‘put on’ Christ. As far as God is concerned, we are ‘dazzling’. There is no need to have any ‘work’ done, because our lives are hid with Christ in God. What a wonder if that were the way I could live most of my life! I know it to be true, but often I can say with ruby Wax ‘I am aware of the difference between my insides and my outsides, and I don’t like it.’ Your