What Is Beauty?

by Kathleen Glavich, SND on July 17, 2013

in Blogs

Three experiences this week prompted me to think about beauty. First, I watched a video in which Dustin Hoffman explained why the movie Tootsie wasn’t a comedy for him. After the makeup artist had finished transforming him into a woman, Dustin asked if he could be made more beautiful. The response was “That’s as good as it gets.” But I’m an interesting person, Dustin thought. Then he reflected on times he had bypassed women because they weren’t beautiful. He realized that he had missed meeting some interesting people. The actor comments that our culture had brainwashed him. On the video he begins to cry. Second, a friend told me how upset she was by a televised beauty contest for little girls who were barely out of their diapers. Third, I happened to see a “Dear Abby” kind of television program. The hostess read a letter from a woman which said that because of her disability, men she was interested in shied away from a relationship with her.

Adages warn us about treating people based on their appearances: “You can’t judge a book by its cover”; “All that glitters is not gold”; and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Yet, studies show that attractive people win better jobs, and experience shows that they are more popular. A woman in rollerskating competitions explained that she dyed her hair blond because blonds got more points! But what is beauty? Cultures have different standards, and a culture’s standards change.  Japanese women had their feet bound, and some African woman elongated their necks. In the United States it was fashionable for women to have an hourglass figure, and then a boy-like figure, and then Twiggy came along. Today girls have rings in their noses and eyebrows and tattoos on various body parts…trends abhorrent to the older generation.

We humans yearn for the good, the true, and the beautiful. God is ultimate beauty. St. Bonaventure said of Francis of Assisi, “In beautiful things Saint Francis saw Beauty itself.” And in Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.”

I wonder what Jesus really looked like. We have no images of him because of the Jewish ban on idols and images. Artists make him and his mother attractive by our standards. But based on what is known about first-century Jewish men, forensic anthropologists created an image of Jesus. It is quite different from our conception of him. (Search “forensic reconstruction of Jesus” on the Internet to see it.)

We try to conform to what is considered ideal beauty through plastic surgery, cosmetics, and clothing. Wouldn’t it be great if we would concentrate more on developing our inner beauty?

When has beauty or the lack of it influenced your attitude or the attitude of someone you know?




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Melannie July 17, 2013 at 9:04 am

Dear Kathleen, I enjoyed this post very much! Thank you for directing us to the forensic reconstruction of Jesus. Wow! I loved their depiction of Jesus even though it is very unlike the ones we are accustomed to. No matter what he looked like, Jesus was immensely approachable to have attracted such a wide range of people–men, women, young, old, Jew, Gentile, healthy, sick. Your reflection reminds me that the Incarnation (as well as beauty) is more than skin deep! Thank you! Melannie


Kathleen Glavich, SND July 17, 2013 at 9:23 am

I’m glad you liked this post, Melannie. Also it’s interesting to realize that Jesus must have looked like the men of his time or else he wouldn’t have been able to slip away, disappear in a crowd, or need to be pointed out.


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