I recently commented on the Scripturally Single blog regarding standards of beauty and want to write some on the subject here as well so that I don’t post an excessively long comment there. The author of the blog who has taken the pseudonym of Anakin Niceguy (I’ll use AN for short) has put forth the idea that what men find attractive is innate and has claimed that the basis for this is both scientific and scriptural. I find this idea problematic and more importantly I think it may create unnecessary controversy which I explained in a comment there.
I do want to make clear, however, exactly what I am NOT saying. I in no way believe that any man owes it to any woman (me included) to find her attractive (and vice versa). I also understand that men may feel insulted by church leaders who lecture them regarding these issues. I don’t think anyone should tell you who you should be attracted to. I have always said that people have a right to their preferences regarding who they are attracted to and I still believe that is true. I also think all believers should be open to what God has to say to them as an individual about their preferences, myself included (at some point I am going to write about how I have erred in this area myself ).
Back to the point: While I do agree that we know from research that men tend to be stimulated far more than women by what they see. It isn’t the fact that men are visually stimulated and that God made them that way that I would disagree with. It is the idea that what a man finds visually stimulating is biologically innate and God ordained rather than culturally defined that I disagree with. My contention is that generally speaking standards of beauty differ from culture to culture and over the course of time. So the subject of this blog entry as well as the next one will be to address this question: Are the current beauty ideals and standards biologically driven and God ordained or are they culturally determined?
I recommend you read what AN wrote on the subject both in the post I commented on and in the linked entries (1, 2 and 3) in his response to me to understand his perspective. I don’t disagree with some of what he has said, and I confess as well that I may not have quite understood all of what he said so I am open to having my mind changed in the presence of appropriate evidence. AN gives various reasons for holding the views he has about attractiveness and beauty including scripture and science so in this post I am going to discuss why I believe these reasons are weak, or at least that adequate “proof” has not been provided. First I will discuss some of the scriptures AN refers to.
AN refers to the Song of Solomon as proof that visual stimuli is important in attraction for many people and I believe that this is true. The Song of Solomon does express attraction based on how the beloved and the lover look, or as AN refers to it: their “body parts”. However, there are no specifics about what kinds of body parts are being found attractive or acceptable. For example the woman’s waist is referred to as “a mound of wheat encircled by lilies”….um, ok, that does not really tell me what body type is preferable though the term “mound” leads me to conjecture that her stomach wasn’t exactly flat and that, however it was, her lover liked it that way. The woman’s skin is also referred to as dark and lovely though it is clear that dark skin is not the cultural standard of beauty at the time as the passage refers to her being scorned because she is dark from working in the vineyard. So does scripture back up the idea that visual stimuli important? Yes, but it does not define what is beautiful in terms of appearance.
AN also argues that attractiveness is referred to in the Bible with certain persons being referred to as attractive or not and this is true. However the passages he refers to give no specifics about what makes a person attractive or not. Leah and Rachel are mentioned and the Bible does tell us that Leah was considered less attractive than her sister Rachel because she had “weak eyes” whatever that may mean. Interestingly Jacob’s marriage to both sisters produced no end of trouble for him and in the end it was Leah, the less attractive sister, who bore the child (Judah) whose descendants included King David and Jesus. What that means, I don’t know, but what I do know from this is that the Bible does not specify what features (blue, green or brown eyes?), shapes of body parts, or other physical features should be viewed as the ideal of beauty. If anyone knows of any please share that information.
I will address some of the science and research issues in my next entry.