I was watching an episode of Smallville last night, “Facade,” which is from its fourth season. It’s about a girl with scabs all over her face, “Scabby Abby,” who tries to fit in at high school. She even plays the school’s mascot! But, in spite of her many attempts to win people over through her inner beauty, all she gets is teased. And so she goes to her mother, a homely-girl-turned-beauty-queen, who performs an operation on Abbie that makes her into a supermodel.
The problem is this: every time Abbie kisses someone, the person goes crazy, since the operation was done with kryptonite meteor rocks. And so Louis Lane conducts an investigative report for the school’s newspaper. She tells Abby’s mom that she wants to undergo the operation, which is not very believable, since Lois is hot herself. When Abby’s mom suspects that Lois is recording their conversation, she tries to force Lois to have the operation–only this time to make her ugly. Lois then says, “I’ve always been one to believe that true beauty is on the inside.” Abby’s mom responds, “The only people who say that are those who are already pretty on the outside.”
That reminded me of a scene from Liar, Liar–only it claimed the opposite. In it, Jim Carrey’s son, Max, remarked that his teacher said true beauty is on the inside. And Jim Carrey replied, “Oh, Max, only ugly people say that!”
Despite their contradiction, I think that both scenes are right, from a certain point of view. So many of us try to convince ourselves that we’re all right. The problem is that it’s hard to do so if the rest of the world believes the exact opposite. I can tell myself that I’m beautiful on the inside–that, even if I’m not physically attractive, I’m still a good person, and that’s all that really matters. But what if no one is attracted to my inner beauty, and chooses to judge me on the basis of superficial criteria? In that case, telling myself that I’m beautiful on the inside is not exactly going to help me. I have an image of how the world should work, but that’s not exactly how the world does work. In the real world, attractive people get the breaks in life. And that’s true in the church as well, believe it or not.
Incidentally, that’s one reason many women cannot stand Sarah Palin (see Why Some Women Hate Sara Palin): she’s too pretty. She reminds them of the pretty girl in high school, who’s friends with the other pretty girls. According to this article, a lot of women are plain-Janes, so they tend to resent Sarah the pretty girl.
Society seems to favor the attractive. I encountered this last night in my daily quiet time. I read the deutero-canonical Letter of Jeremiah, which states:
“And the women, with cords around them, sit along the passageways, burning bran for incense. When one of them is led off by one of the passers-by and is taken to bed by him, she derides the woman next to her, because she was not as attractive as herself and her cord was not broken” (1:42-43, NRSV).
The Letter is referring to a custom that Herodotus describes in History 1:199: In Babylonia, women had to “sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life” (BibleWorks translation) as part of a fertility ritual. If no one wanted them because they were unattractive, then they had to wait. They couldn’t go home! No wonder one of them was mad because her cord was not broken!
But we see the same sort of thing in the canonical portions of the Bible (canonical from a Jewish and Protestant perspective). Jacob loved Rachel over Leah, since Rachel was the curvaceous one (Genesis 29:17-18). Sarah and Rebekah were knock-outs (Genesis 12, 20, 26).
Some have suggested that the Bible itself supports that kind of discrimination. I once read an article that said the author of the David stories conveys that David is good by presenting him as handsome (I Samuel 16:12). Perhaps. But there are Bible passages that seem to oppose a focus on outer beauty:
Genesis 29:31: “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.”
I Samuel 16:7: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'”
Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
And the New Testament also prioritizes inner beauty over outward appearance:
I Peter 3:3-4: “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”
My problem is this: I can criticize the world and even the church for focusing so much on outward appearances. But the fact is that I do so as well. And I’m not sure if I can help myself on that.
When I lived in New York and attended Redeemer, Tim Keller was talking about dating. He asked us if we focus more on superficial things when we look for a mate–such as looks, body, wealth, success, etc.–or if we instead seek good character. He related that a frustrated young man told him that Redeemer is just like the world when it comes to the dating game: the women blow you off if you’re not successful.
I can sympathize with that young man, since I feel blown off a lot. But can Tim Keller tell us whom we should be attracted to? Can God even command us on this? We’re attracted to whom we’re attracted. Evolutionists say it’s evolutionary–women are drawn to the strong men who can protect them and give them lots of babies. Wasn’t that what Lucas said about Charlie Sheen in Lucas?
I hate the line “Let’s just be friends,” but maybe that’s the solution to my whole dilemma. We can’t help whom we’re attracted to. But we can treat everyone with respect and dignity. At the same time, hopefully what attracts us is more than skin deep, and we can look at character too.