I happen to think I’m rather gorgeous.
Lest my vanity offend you, can I emphasize I am not expressing a subjective opinion based on superficial physical appearance, I am holding to a particular theological stance. The book of Genesis describes God’s reaction to all the things He created. The earth, the sky, the sun and the oceans Good looked on with great pleasure, but His creation of humanity He considered ‘very good’ indeed1.
Apparently, few of us share God’s high opinion. A recent survey revealed that only 2% of women consider themselves beautiful2. Not that we need statistics to tell us this. As the father of a stunningly beautiful teenage daughter, it has been a source of considerable distress that she has for many years required constant reassurance of the fact (and if the truth be known, I suspect she remains wholly unpersuaded). Her recent experience of prolonged illness requiring two pieces of surgery was greeted with a degree of pleasure because it led to nearly a stone in weight loss. It may be me, but doesn’t that strike you as distorted thinking.
My daughter is not alone: a recent piece of research by Harvard University and the London School of Economics suggests that 90% of us want to change our physical appearance3. It fuelled a massive world-wide cosmetics industry, and we are increasingly looking to surgical solutions to minor physical deviations from our strange and distorted standards of ‘beauty’. How refreshing and affirming it would be, then, if we could see ourselves as God sees us. God looks upon you with great pleasure, perhaps in the same way that I look on my daughter.
This is not merely the problem of a beauty- and perfection-obsessed age where we are bombarded by advertising images of stick-thin models and cinema portrayals of steroid-enhanced macho heroes. I should like to congratulate Dove for their ‘campaign for real beauty’ and for their use of ‘proper’ women in recent adverts, bulges, freckles, grey hair and all (though I doubt the firming lotion they are marketing does very much!)
The problem is much older, all-pervading and influential than just affecting the way we look in the mirror. The early Church battled with the influence of Manichaeism4, a religious movement that divided the world into darkness and light. It was a dualistic view where only the spiritual was portrayed as good, and the material and physical world of the body was evil. It led to distorted thinking and distorted actions as it brought into Christian thinking a very negative view of the human body and the self. For some it still does. In my own opinion, it is this distorted way of thinking that is affecting some who would perceive their values as belonging to traditional Christianity. They have exalted matters of gender and sexuality from being issues of secondary importance into issues of primary importance, touchstones of a so called orthodoxy, and would happily see the Church divided over the issues of gay priests and women bishops - a division that I believe would be unholy, unnecessary and unchristian.
So on a more positive note, do some theology. See yourself (and others) as God sees you. Take a good long look in the mirror. Look beyond the blemishes and the things that have gone baggy over the years. Goodness knows you won’t be perfect, and you may not always like what you see - but the truth is you are beautiful. You are made in the image and likeness of God, so how could you be anything less?
1 Compare Genesis ch 1, vv 10, 12 & 25 ‘and God saw that it was good’, with v 31 ‘and it was very good’ (my italics)
2 The Beauty Backlash, http://news.bbc.co.uk/l/hi/business/5074642.stm
3 Beyond stereotypes: rebuilding the foundation of beauty beliefs - a global survey http://wwwcampaignfrrealbeauty.com/Dove Beyond Stereotypes WhitePaper.pdf
4 Founded in the third century by the Babylonian teacher Mani (c 210-276). The influential writer St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a disciple of this teaching in his early life before his conversion to Christianity.
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