I posted a brief article yesterday that I read last week in Metro, one of the daily free news publications they hand out to commuters on the street here in the NYC area. You can read it here, it will give you a lot better idea of where I'm going now.
I grew up in California. The rumors are true, if you haven't been there - beauty abounds. Healthy and fit is in, lots of people have great tans and blond hair thanks to the climate, and plastic surgery is a thriving industry. I now live and work in the NYC area, and its no different here. This is a city dominated by a culture that tells us to find our salvation in our figure. Beauty is paramount.
They say money is the root of all evil, but they're wrong - its the inordinate love of money that is the root of evil. Much the same with beauty - its not a bad thing. Its a corrupted lust for beauty that ruins us. The Proverbs talked about it:
Beautiful women obtain wealth, and violent men get rich.
A woman who is beautiful but lacks discretion is like a golden ring in a pig's snout.
-- Proverbs 11:16, 22
The word "wealth" in verse 16 comes from the Hebrew word "kabowd" (pronounced more like kabowth) - its a Hebrew word for "glory" - a term which in the bible means "importance" or "significance" - essentially emotional wealth. This is how women chronically over-value their physical appearance - just as a violent man uses coercion to gain the wealth he wants, they use their looks to gain their gain their value as a person. This is the temptation we see every day in girls who have clearly spent more time on their hair and makeup, shopping for the trendiest clothes, or working out in the gym than they have on their character.
Now, not to excuse ladies who give into such temptations, but the fact remains that our society simply bombards women with images of what they should look like. Take it from a guy - we notice the bombardment just as much (if not more-so) than you gals do. Interesting facts: eating disorders are 3 to 5 times higher among women in industrialized nations than poorer nations, and they're twice as high among college-educated women than they are among the non-educated. And those are the women in this city - some of the highest-educated of the richest country in the world. Here in the heart of western culture, the bombardment isn't just on TVs and billboards - its walking around on the sidewalks and sitting next to you on the train.
There's a different kind of addiction to this beauty, however: the male way to over-value beauty. Verse 22 isn't the slam on women that it was when you first read it. You see the verse is actually speaking to the male reaction to the golden ring in the pig's nose. If a guy gets to the point where he can reach for the beauty of the ring but doesn't notice the filthiness of the pig that's attached to it (ie. a lack of discretion, or character), they have a problem. And that's what men today are doing - objectifying physical beauty to the point that they're evaluating women on that and nothing else. Character and inner beauty never even come into the realm of thought. Men of all sizes and colors, all creeds and beliefs, men everywhere are subject to dealing with this temptation.
And this leads us to a horrible downward spiral. Consider:
At a benefit the other night, I saw Andrea Dworkin, the anti-porn activist most famous in the eighties for her conviction that opening the floodgates of pornography would lead men to see real women in sexually debased ways. If we did not limit pornography, she argued - before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility - most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.(article here, another interesting one here)
The feminist warrior looked gentle and almost frail. The world she had, Cassandra-like, warned us about so passionately was truly here: Porn is, as David Amsden says, the "wallpaper" of our lives now. So was she right or wrong?
She was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training - and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.
But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as "porn-worthy." Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can't compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman - with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond "More, more, you big stud!") - possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer's least specification? - Naomi Wolf, The Porn Myth, New Yorker Magazine, Oct. 20th 2003
As men continue to indulge themselves more regularly and basely than ever before in the fantasy that porn provides, women find they have to compete not just with the pictures on the magazine covers in the grocery store or on the nightly sitcoms. They realize they have to go even further in building that perfect appearance to even get the notice of men who have reprogrammed their minds to look at women without bothering to look at their character. And the guys, building constructs of false intimacy - continue to look past 80% of perfectly dateable women for the most-appealing 20%, and everyone ends up lonely at the end of the day.
Psychologists say we're obsessed with either needing to be with beauty (if you're a guy) or being beautiful (if your a gal) because we have an inner shame that we need to cover - knowing that what's on the inside isn't all that pretty. Its simple when you put it that way, but it explains the obsession. Evolutionary biologists would take it even further to say that we lust for youth and beauty because we know we are going to die.
Its a bad state to be in, any way you look at it.
But then one comes with "no beauty in his appearance that we should desire Him." That's how Isaiah spoke of Christ. No Jim Caviezel. God come to man in a deliberately un-beautiful form, to die for our sins. To be rejected and killed by men. But to die for a purpose: to make us beautiful. Again from Isaiah: "The results of his suffering He will see and be satisfied." He came to cleanse us from our sins to make us beautiful to him.
But this is no mere beauty that we are losing day by day. This is the inner beauty that He came with, the inner beauty we know we truly need - one that will never fade. This is the answer to the pathologies, be they male or female, of beauty.
There's a reason men are addicted to pornography and women are addicted to shopping or cosmetics or even food disorders. There's a reason we keep going back to these things and yet they never seem to fill us - we never seem to fill the hole.
But thank God there's a solution to the problem.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. -- Ephesians 5:25-27