Sunday, May 23, 2010

The quest for beauty

Those arched, feminine eyebrows! A Victorian Angelina Jolie? Pavonia by Lord Frederic Leighton

What is beauty? How do you define it?

Since the beginning of mankind, womankind has been obsessed with the pursuit of superficial beauty. A rare few have had the wisdom to pursue inner beauty instead of or in addition to this. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the desperate pursuit of physical beauty is always vanity-related. Sure, it can often spring from a selfish, narcissistic character - but I don't think it's as simple as that.

Who doesn't love beautiful things? Who isn't a passionate admirer of beauty? It could be in a landscape, a ray of light, a painting, a flower, a strain of music, a pretty girl. Whether it's a stunning landscape or a stunning woman, the general reaction is to stare dumbstruck for a few moments. :-) There are echoes of the Creator in all of this - both in the existence of beautiful things, and in our ability to admire those aforesaid things. We are made in His image. Do you think a frog takes any particular joy in looking at a waterlily covered in dewdrops, or a delicate spray of ferns? Only humans have the ability to recognise and appreciate beauty.

Ancient Beauty: the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti

Does anyone remember this post I wrote a few months ago? The gist of it was that I sometimes get an odd, depressed feeling when I see the same old shabby houses in a shabby corner of town, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to "beautify" them! I think the same can be true of our attitude toward our bodies. We see some "flaw", some (in our opinion) ugly feature that needs to be fixed or covered up! We all tend to turn up our noses in disdain at the mere mention of plastic surgery, but I think I can partly understand why plastic surgery can be so addictive for some women (or men, in some cases!). The possibility of correcting something "wrong" with your appearance (bear in mind that showing any sign of ageing is seen as seriously "wrong" in our culture,) must be very tempting, and once you start, I can understand that it would be hard to stop - and hard to know when to stop.


Speaking as a woman, I can say that a major motivator for women in trying to keep up an attractive appearance is to bring pleasure to others, not just to feel good about yourself or puffing up your vanity. If you're married, you want to look good for your husband, and if you're single, you want to look pleasant and pretty - but hopefully without the intention of drawing inappropriate attention to your body. Modesty really is a heart issue. If you seek all your self-worth through the admiration of others, there's obviously a problem somewhere! But do you get what I'm trying to say? The desire to make yourself look pleasant is not necessarily vanity-related. I'm not sure if this is all making sense, so I'll move on. . . 

Victorian Beauty: Princess Albert de Broglie by Ingres

I don't think it's wrong to dress attractively (but modestly, please!), to style your hair, or wear makeup (though I don't wear it myself). By all means, make the most of what you've got. But don't ever forget about the beauty of the human spirit. Don't forget about cultivating inner peace and beautiful character traits. If you're stressed, angry, complaining, and discontented on the inside, it will show. Equally so, if you're contented, at peace, and happy on the inside, it will show. If you cherish a genuine love and concern for the people around you, that will make you more beautiful than anything else could: even if you feel you are UGLY (and personally I'm convinced that very, very few people are genuinely "ugly" - there's always some good feature or other!), by the time someone has known you for 30 seconds, in their eyes you will be one of the most beautiful people they know. Have you ever noticed that you practically never think about whether your parents or other close family members or friends are "ugly"? Your mum and dad have (I pray!) cared for you and loved you to the best of their ability, and to you, what they look like on the outside doesn't matter in the least.

This is all a major challenge for myself, too!! Oh well. . . over the course of my lifetime I can at least endeavour to live up to some of my fine words voiced in the above paragraph. . . 

21st century Beauty (in this instance, mimicking Renaissance beauty) - British model Lily Cole

I don't want to get legalistic about these things - each woman must act according to her own personal convictions - but what are your thoughts on cosmetic surgery? Botox injections? Colouring your hair? Are you okay with some or all of these things? Or do you perhaps even think it is morally questionable to alter your appearance in such a way - to tamper, as it were, with the way God has made you?



Lady Milisande Awnia Grim said...

I have proudly never coloured my hair, nor do i wear excess makeup (except in the case of Dance performances where i am asked too) at all. Women need to remember that their character should be remembered more than what they wore or how attractive they were.

Not that im saying you have to go around wearing things that do not complement your body!

so All in all i completely agree with you! haha

In Christ

Joanna said...

Amen. Few things in the Bible are called precious, and a "gentle and quiet spirit" is one of them. I just read a thought provoking formula for beauty...let go find it, and I'll comment later. :-)


Joanna said...

Here 'tis

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge you'll never walk alone."

-Audrey Hepburn

Anonymous said...

I understand completely what you mean: as a woman, I care about my appearance. For example, if I go out with my friends, I want to please them and look nice.

But as you said, if you feel good inside, it will show on the outside. When you are in a situation with new people, you are drawn to the smiley, happy, friendly, welcoming ones first.

It's more your body language and attitude towards life and people that affects others view and first impression of you. :)


Hydra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natasha Atkerson said...

Enhance, don't cover it up!
I personally don't makeup, I've never dyed my hair either. I don't think these things are "wrong' per-say, its when we become obssessed with them. Too much makeup actually isn't attractive, and can have the opposite affect! Plus, if you don't wear it for a day, you feel washed out! :)

I do think that botoxs are just plain weird! People should age at some point! ;)

Jane said...

I completely agree with you! Thankyou for this post.
I don't think there is anything wrong with hair dye or makeup, as long as you don't go overboard. I wear minimal makeup most of the time, and a little more for special occasions.
I've realized that when I think someone is good looking, it's usually because they were smiling and friendly looking. However, I also know that I feel more confident smiling and being friendly when I feel like I look nice.
I don't want to be stunning, just as pretty as I can be, so when I have a good hair day or wear a little makeup, I do feel more confident.
Poeple do judge based on first impressions, whether they want to or not, so it is important to look your best.
Sorry for such a lengthy comment!


Hydra said...

I pretty much totally agree with you. However, I would like to add one thought of my own. God is Beauty, right? Women who strive to be beautiful are trying (consciously or not) to imitate Him as best they can.

I have no problem with (a little) makeup or with hair dye. But I must admit I cringe at the thought of expensive things like cosmetic surgery and Botox injections. Spending a large amount of money on looking beautiful seems somewhat misguided to me. Many women would be better served to spend that money on something useful- or to give it to charity.


The Editrix said...

Thank you everyone for your comments, for taking the time to respond!

Lady Milisande - Women need to remember that their character should be remembered more than what they wore or how attractive they were. So true!

Joanna, I love that quote. :-)

Abby, I'm so glad you understood what I was trying to express!

Natasha - Too much makeup actually isn't attractive, and can have the opposite affect! I couldn't agree more. . . Plus, if you don't wear it for a day, you feel washed out! :) Probably very true! Another reason why I shouldn't wear makeup - I'd probably start to feel really blah on those days when I didn't wear it!

Jane - I've realized that when I think someone is good looking, it's usually because they were smiling and friendly looking. However, I also know that I feel more confident smiling and being friendly when I feel like I look nice. That's an important point, and another reason why, IMO, it's a good thing to take some care when it comes to your appearance.

Hydra - I would like to add one thought of my own. God is Beauty, right? Women who strive to be beautiful are trying (consciously or not) to imitate Him as best they can. Now that's an interesting thought. . . thanks for sharing!

Naomi said...


I have awarded you!!


Rebekah said...

I would agree with your post as well, as so many others have already posted.

I personally do not wear makeup but my mother and all the women that I admire do, to some extent. I don't believe it is wrong and at times it is even necessary. A woman who has terrible acne that covers and mars her features, may be less noticeable and even make people around her more comfortable by wearing a little makeup to cover it up. Often a woman with just a little makeup can improve her natural appearances greatly. There is certainly limits to how much you put on - I would say that a ton of makeup makes you look quite bold and stands out. We are told, in the Bible, to be modest - wearing an overdose of makeup can be very immodest - making a woman stand out and attract much more than her share of attention. All that said, I really don't think it is wrong - when used properly, it can enhance a woman's beauty, instead of retracting from it.

The same principles would apply to cosmetic surgery, dying your hair, etc... At times, they can be useful and beneficial. I don't really believe any of it is wrong but I think it often retracts, distracts and attracts too much. Retracts from the natural beauty of a woman. Distracts the woman from things of more value and makes her think too often about herself. Attracts more attention than a modest woman with a meek and quiet spirit would or ought too.

In all these cases, I would suggest prayer and that the girl/woman seek the advice of her father or husband and find out what he would prefer and believes to be modest.

Just my thoughts... I hope they aren't too long. A good post Elise! (by the way, did I ever tell you that I love your name? :D)

To the KING be all the glory!


"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

FelicityKing said...

"Since the beginning of mankind, womankind has been obsessed with the pursuit of superficial beauty."

I find this statement to be very offensive to womankind in specifically and in general. You don't know the history of every woman who has ever existed to be able to make such an overly broad statement. I've taken plenty of history classes and if there is anything consistant in them, the majority of the world's women were just too busy trying to SURVIVE on a day to day basis to care about their looks.

Up until the Industrial Revolution, where most women were concerned, it was only the priveleged ones who had time to care about their looks. Women in lower and working classes were too busy just trying to stay alive to care about make-up and looking pretty.

And, for that matter, there are plenty of men out there--historically and in the present day, both gay and straight-- who are body-imaged obsessed too.

FelicityKing said...

On a lighter sidenote, I have the opposite reaction that you do to decay. I think the shoddy houses that are falling apart, with all the wild flowers and vines growing up around the walls, are just beautiful. I love that the earth is reclaiming the land and returning it to its natural state.

The Editrix said...

FelicityKing: perhaps I was making too broad a statement there. Forgive me for over-generalising. I only meant that I believe women have always been concerned about their appearance in a way that men never have - of course their will be thousands of exceptions to this. You don't have to agree with me. :-)

And I think you mistook what I said about the houses - I too love old, run-down houses, covered with vines and sheltered by trees. It's the bare, ugly, characterless houses I find so depressing!

FelicityKing said...

Thanks for clarifying.

I would like to note that while I agree with you in general about women being concerned with looks in a way that men never have--it is something is culturally taught to us. I know you're an anti-feminist, but quite a few anti-feminists have done studies about the magazine industry make their money by controlling the way gender is perceived--and how they want people to understand gender. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem have both written books and articles on this. The publishing industry KNOWS that women aren't the shallow creatures that the magazines they sell portray to be..however, the magazines rely on ad revenue to meet their goals and the advertisers want their products sold, so the advertisers tell the magazines to push shampoo, clothing, cookery, etc in their articles for woman.

"Ms." magazine has been in a war with advertisers for their whole existance because "Ms." doesn't buy into the shady business of how other magazines run. They believe women buy magazines for articles about things that matter (politics, world news, cultural events) and not articles about what shampoo is best for your hair (which is only being published in x mag because Herbal Essences said
'we won't give you ads for your magazine unless you promote us in one of your articles').

There is a cultural context for nearly everything. Unfortunately, we're not taught the cultural context, we're just told "women are more concerned about their looks than men" and discouraged to look into the why.

The Editrix said...

That's interesting, FelicityKing. I think there's a lot of truth to that. I'm convinced there are few things that do a better job of making women feel inadequate and dissatisfied (with themselves, and what they have or have not) than women's magazines. They do this through: advertisements and product promotions (what you were describing above), telling women what they should or should not look like (thus making them dissatisfied with their bodies), and through the countless pages dedicated to celebrity culture (making women dissatisfied with their lives and their circumstances).

So I agree in that a massive portion of the things women do to themselves in the pursuit of beauty is as a result of cultural conditioning. But I'm not convinced that the desire to be beautiful that seems to implanted in most women is *all* cultural conditioning, and not, to some extent, wired into us.

Would you be able to give me any links related to those studies done by anti-feminists on the magazine industry?

And sorry for my typo in my comment above - "there", not "their"!!


Aaron and Naomi said...

Hey, I enjoyed your article - I remember thinking a couple years ago something along the lines of - a young lady is able to give joy to people, by being and acting pretty...You had the same point.

Since everyone's commenting on it, I do wear makeup - for the main purpose of covering up my not-so-smooth sking, but I try not to be dependent on it. A lot of the issue is just plain common sense - if the "beauty look" gets in the way of working and takes too much time - it isn't worth it!