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In late 2007, I stumbled across two unrelated articles that actually had a lot in common. In one, a sportswriter lamented revelations that 85 players (including pitching legend Roger Clemens) had used performance-enhancing drugs. The second was an exposé in Radar Online about plastic surgery among Hollywood's elite. An anonymous actress was quoted as saying, "Anyone who comes out to L.A. will eventually get something done. … At some point you succumb."

Various sports have been tarnished by allegations of steroid use. Runner Marion Jones had her Olympic records expunged and was sentenced to six months in prison for lying about juicing. Similarly, cyclist Floyd Landis had his Tour de France title stripped after testing positive for banned substances. And virtually everyone believes Barry Bonds had a little help besting Hank Aaron's home run record, despite the slugger's denials.

The denial game isn't much different in Hollywood. Actress Julie Bowen of Boston Legal said of Tinseltown's plastic surgery habit, "Everybody lies about it. The men I know are a bit more open, but the girls will lie and lie and lie, even though you're staring right at their scars."

We live in a culture that places supreme value on perfection, whether it's what someone looks like or their performance on the field of play. The 50-year-old celeb who looks 25 and the athlete with a superhero-like physique and accompanying stat sheet have this in common: Some will do almost anything, including taking drugs, submitting to risky procedures and lying about it with a Cheshire-cat smile, to achieve the illusive goal of beating the system and staying on top.

The implications of these trends for our children go beyond record books starred with asterisks, or gossip mags' breathless claims about so-and-so's latest operation. They include eating disorders, depression, drug abuse and more. Inspired to pursue superhuman exploits or unnatural beauty, young fans may head down paths that will hurt them or, at the very least, lead to moral compromise.

Society preaches that our worth comes from what others think of us—the immaculate public image so many stars strive to maintain. Of course, Scripture tells us that even Samuel doubted God's ordination of a shepherd named David because the boy's stat sheet and head shot didn't seem kingly enough. But God replied, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). Likewise, Jesus told His disciples, "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment" (John 7:24). In effect He warned them to get past superficial impressions of people—values that our culture exalts—and study the heart of the matter.

For many teens, however, the pressure to conform to the world's standards of beauty and performance is enormous. Some pay a high price when they strive to live up to the artificially enhanced standards set by their heroes.

What can we do to help the young people we love reject the shortcuts some role models take? I think it comes down to integrity. The root of the word integrity is integer, meaning something whole and undivided. Integrity means never having anything to hide. And although most teens aren't using steroids or considering plastic surgery, the same impulse that compels athletes and actors can tempt them. For them, cheating might not mean surgery or 'roids, but a little lie here, a little bending of the rules there—trying to appear better than they really are.

Bonds, Clemens and Landis continue to proclaim their innocence, though it's safe to say a shrinking number of supporters find their impassioned denials credible. Instead, their stories have become cautionary tales about the high cost of worshiping a warped ideal of perfection at the expense of everything else. Will we heed the lesson they've inadvertently illustrated and strive to help those we influence recognize the lie that lurks beneath our society's unrealistic, ever-shifting ideals? Doing so requires inviting God to search our innermost parts as we commit to living lives of integrity. Because ultimately what matters most is not how well we manage what others think of us, but who we are on the inside.

Published January 2008