It's a pattern of thinking (or a pattern of feeling, perhaps) that has popped up in several places throughout history but was at its height during the Romantic period. What I'm slowly starting to see is that it's an idea that's still prevalent now, and has a remarkable influence on the culture of this day and age, deeply guiding our estimation of what is valuable and what is not.
I guess this is most obvious in the insatiable celebrity-worship that I imagine may be one of the major factors keeping print media in operation in spite of the paper-eating internet machine. We have learnt to love people and care about their lives for no greater reason than that they are beautiful and wear fabulous clothes.
If anything, I think today's aestheticism might have reached an even greater shallowness than that of the Romantics. The Romantics idolised beauty not just in the physical form, but also in literature and music and art. Today, we let much sub-par creativity slip past the quality radar because it is delivered to us by someone who has glistening white teeth and flawless skin. Is there such a thing as a woman who is famous for her beautiful songwriting and yet looks rather ordinary? I haven't come across one yet -- and I've been looking -- but there is no shortage of incredibly famous women who have beautiful features and yet write very ordinary music. Why have we made physical beauty the chief virtue?
I suppose the challenge is that we are hard-wired to appreciate beauty, even to revel in it. When God made creation, He stepped back to take a look at it, and He enjoyed the glorious beauty of what He had made. It's part of our God-given human experience to catch our breath at things that are magnificently gorgeous. So obviously there is nothing wrong with beauty. It is neither moral or immoral, in and of itself. But that's the point: because it has no inherent moral goodness, it should not be the compass by which we measure worth.
I see this this beauty-worship rear its ugly head when I question why God chose to let me struggle with various flaws rather than provide me with an effortless natural beauty (not to mention grace; just call me SuperAwkward Girl!). Or a bunch of us girls will be sitting around discussing the future and hoping that the men who will sweep us off our feet will be tall, dark, and handsome. There is nothing wrong with feminine beauty, and tall, dark, and handsome men are quite lovely to look at. However, there is no virtue in being either.
The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 53, writes of the still-to-come Jesus that he had nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Yet the history of humanity has never known a more beautiful person.
Jesus' beauty was of an enduring kind. The most beautiful parts of him were not his form or his features, but his grace, his sacrifice, and his selfless love. It adds up to one beautiful celebrity we can all worship.
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Nan -- If only I could mail you some chocolate French toast! xx