Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You're pretty and therefore you are excellent.

One of my subjects this semester is Ethics: Practice and Theory. Although I've only just started, I'm already finding it intriguing, especially because this week's lecture delved into something I've been pondering lately, albeit on a very surface level. It's the idea of aesthetic ethics, the ethical judgement which says that whatever is the most beautiful is the most good.

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.

* * * * *


Nan -- If only I could mail you some chocolate French toast! xx


  1. You must have been putting this up as I was trying to load on to yesterdays. Going all funny.
    Though I have fear of appearing very superficial, I will just call you S.A.G. from now on :-) sag, a nice ring to it.

  2. Thanks for that post Danielle! I think you have definitely hit the nail on the head. It reminded me of the song "Fingerprints of God' by Steven Curtis Chapman. Thanks for the reminder that it's the inside that matters!

    Lots and lots of love and really hoping to see you in October! :)

  3. Thank you so much! Excellent post! Another thing I have found is that there is so much beauty in so many people who aren't thought of as 'beautiful' or pleasing to look at. Smiles are often stunning and quirky. Eyes are usually beautiful and splendid. People are attractive! Everyone has something attractive. :)

    I love that song Caitlin!

    Oh, and yes, the Fosters and the Hardys :) I know both of them - I'm engaged to Philip :D

  4. 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.

    My first thought was actually the cottage industry sub-culture- Elsie Flannigan and hand crafted vintage-ness...So it can't be all bad, right? Maybe the beauty of these types of endeavours cancels out a little of the shallowness inherent to celebrity culture?
    well, I HOPE so!

  5. Ah Danielle, thank you so much for your wise insight. What a blessing.

  6. You are so right. Our culture is completely appearance-oriented. And girls especially, I believe, struggle a lot with the feeling that they are valued in direct proportion to their good looks - or lack thereof. Unfortunately, we often are. Even knowing that my value is based on more than my appearance, I still struggle! And at the same time, I have to watch that I, myself, do not judge on the basis of appearance. Such is the power of a culture...

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Nan here with - not a comment, but a favourite quote from my old friend and mentor, George MacDonald >>

    >" ... ...The idea of no countenance is yet carried out, and this kind will take more developing for the completion of its idea, and may result in a greater beauty. I would therefore advise any young man of aspiration in the matter of beauty, to choose a plain woman for wife -- *if through her plainness she is yet lovely in his eyes*; for the loveliness is herself, victorious over the plainness, and her face, so far from complete and yet serving her loveliness, has in it room for completion on a grander scale than possibly most handsome faces. In a handsome face one sees the lines of its coming perfection, and has a glimpse of what it must be when finished: few are prophets enough for a plain face.
    A keen surprise of beauty waits many a man, if he be pure enough to come near the transfiguration of the homely face he loved.'<

    George MacDonald - 'What's Mine's Mine'

  8. I loved Ethics when I took it this past Spring! I hope that your teacher will be every bit as amazing as the one I had. It sounds like you could be going through the same textbook...
    I love how you paired what you are learning with the scripture in Isaiah. It shows us the kind of beauty we need to pursue...

    Hope you have a lovely day. Thinking of you.
    Love Tegan


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