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Beauty — A High Standard

woman-flower-web.jpgTo anyone who has suffered humiliation, ridicule or social rejection because of a physical health problem (acne, hair loss, excess weight, etc.) the idea that beauty could be a standard for judging anything will probably strike a sensitive spot. If we were talking about rejecting another human being by denying them our goodwill on such shallow grounds, I am in full agreement. I am personally very turned off by people who judge other people's character on criteria such as the clothes they wear, the car they drive, their physical handicaps or health problems, their wealth, or their social status.

Unfortunately, people do this all the time and it often causes others a great deal of heartache and pain. But, this does not mean that beauty doesn't mean something. Beauty is a standard we can look to, and I want to discuss its meaning on three different levels—physical health, character or personality, and our relationship to nature and the Divine.

Beauty as a Reflection of Health

woman-smiling-dress-web.jpgWhile I won't judge a person's character based on their physical appearance, I do think that beauty is at least partially a standard that can help us judge a person's level of physical health. I only arrived at the conclusion recently. The shift in perception came while I was watching a TV program on attraction. The program presented research that investigated physical factors people found attractive. One of these factors is waist/hip ratio. That is the ratio created when your waist measurement is divided by your hip measurement.

For example, if your waist measures 36 inches at the navel and your hips at their widest point also measure 36, then your waist/hip ratio would be 36/36 or 1.0. On the other hand, if your waist measured 28.8 and your hips 36, then your waist/hip ratio would be 28.8/36 or 0.8. Research shows that we instinctively perceive certain waist/hip ratios to be more attractive than others.

The TV program showed a researcher interviewing male natives in a remote South American tribe. The men were shown line drawings of female figures with different waist/hip ratios and asked to select the one that appealed to them the most. The figures with the waist/hip ratio of 0.66 were almost always chosen, and the tribesmen's explanation was that these women were more desirable because they were healthier. This confirms research that suggests that people from all cultures naturally perceive a waist/hip ratio of about 0.66 to be the most attractive (i.e., beautiful).

That particular waist/hip ratio means that the waist is about 1/3 the proportion of the hips, the same ratio found in the classic 36-24-36 figure. It also turns out that these tribesmen are correct when they say this is healthy. This waist/hip ratio is associated with having the optimal amount of body fat in proportion to muscle mass. By the way, the optimal waist/hip ratio that is healthiest for men, and instinctively attractive to most women, is about 0.9, meaning that a man's waist measurement is 90% of his hip measurement. In either case, possessing this waist/hip ratio is one sign of good health.

Obviously, there are other ways in which physical health manifests itself as a natural attractiveness or beauty. Healthy skin is naturally beautiful, for instance. Health also manifests as lustrous hair, sparkling eyes, and a striking physical presence or posture. Even though many movie stars are blessed with some nice natural features, most of them have to work at maintaining their health to maintain their attractiveness. That's why many popular figures utilize nutrition, exercise and alternative or complimentary medicine. Their health is part of their natural allure.

Physical Beauty Doesn't Reflect a Person's Worth

self-image-man.jpgSo, to reiterate, physical beauty isn't a reliable indicator of a person's character or worth as a human being, but it can be an indicator of health. We are intrinsically wired to recognize the state of health as a state of beauty.

In other words, a healthy human body is naturally beautiful or handsome. When we neglect our bodies they suffer, and we can tell they are suffering because we lose some of our natural beauty. Think of our body as a home for our personality. When our homes are clean and organized and decorated, they are beautiful too, and we feel pleased to be able to show them off. But, when we don't care for our physical surroundings, the resulting chaos and disorder creates a less than pleasing appearance. Our body is a much more intimate home that we live in, but sometimes we are more negligent in its care than we are in the care of our physical houses.

 

Beauty as a Reflection of Character

The TV program I alluded to earlier also presented research demonstrating that certain proportions of the face are more naturally attractive and pleasing to the eye. OK, so maybe we can't fix the way our features affix to our face; some people were just blessed with more beautifully proportioned features than others.

Julie Gold, the Grammy-award winning composer of the song “From A Distance” wrote a song about this entitled “Fun to Be Perfect” which I have always loved. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at the jealousy we sometimes feel towards people who are more naturally physically attractive than we are. One of the lines in the song is, “God must have had a good day when he painted on your face; setting you as the example for the human race.”

woman-on-car-web.jpgOK, so we may not have the perfect face, but to me that is only a small part of the equation that gives someone a beautiful face. I've seen a lot of people with nicely proportioned faces and figures that were very repulsive to me because the expressions they chose to express using those faces were far from beautiful. I don't care how beautiful a person's features are, when they bear a bitter or sour countenance, or their eyes are glazed and lifeless, or they scowl from an angry, unpleasant temperament, they simply aren't beautiful to me.

We all recognize that there is an inner beauty to a genuine smile, sparkling eyes, and a bright countenance that radiates from an inner happiness and peace. This inner beauty of character can turn a face with fairly ordinary features into a countenance of stunning beauty that attracts not only the eye but it brings joy to the heart.

Age Etches our Character Into Our Face

A person with naturally beautiful physical features may be able to “cheat” in youth and attract people in spite of their personality or lack thereof, but as they age, they start writing the truth about themselves onto their body. The wrinkles of old age will be ugly or beautiful depending on the character of the personality that paints them. As we grow older, our habits of self-expression write wrinkles on our visage that tell the story of our inner life and character.

senior-beautiful-smile-web.jpgWhen we look into the faces of elderly people we see their emotional history carved into their physical features. An elderly person whose eyes and mouth are graced with wrinkles from a lifetime habit of smiling out of cheerfulness and goodwill towards others is far more attractive to me than a well-featured youth whose expression paints a picture of self-concern and ingratitude. The makeup and antiwrinkle creams, which many people are so anxious to use, are vain attempts to hide the truth about themselves that their faces are constantly seeking to reveal.

Recently I've been watching a reality TV show called True Beauty.  The contestents think they are being judged on outer beauty alone, but they are also being judged on inner beauty.  It's interesting to me, but the contestants who seem the most beautiful to me aren't just the ones with the best features, they really are the ones with the best personalities. 

A healthy personality, like a healthy body, is a thing of beauty, and adds to or detracts from whatever physical beauty with which we may or may not have been blessed. But here again, we are instinctively drawn to beauty on some deep level. Which brings me to my final point—the mystical meaning of beauty. To explain this, I'd like to talk about the beauty of nature.

Beauty is the Signature of the Divine

beautiful sunset-web.jpgI live in an area that is blessed with incredible scenery.  I'm very close to Zion National Park and  Bryce Canyon.  I'm also close to Cedar Breaks, the Valley of Fire and the Grand Canyon. I feel very blessed to live within a couple of hours of some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of this planet, because I feel such an incredible sense of awe when I experience the beauty of these natural wonders.

One of my father's favorite poets, a Californian named Robinson Jeffers, best expressed this feeling for me in his book, Not Man Apart. Here are my two favorite lines:

And we know that the enormous invulnerable beauty of things is the face of God!
Look how beautiful are all the things that He does. His signature is the beauty of things.

In his writings, Jeffers opens one's awareness to the fact that it isn't good enough for God just to make things functional. He has to make everything beautiful, too. He puts rainbows inside seashells on the ocean floor that no human eye will ever see. Even the weeds do not multiply without flowers.

When we contrast this with many human actions—the trash, graffiti and noise of a large city; the litter along our highways; the lifeless functionality of much of modern art and architecture, we see that human beings are often more obsessed with quantity than they are with quality, and that physical necessity has a much higher priority than the heartfelt need for beauty and inspiration.

Nature is not only filled with harmonious function and balance, it is filled also with beauty. It has the capacity not only to provide for our temporal (survival) and intellectual needs, but also for our higher spiritual and emotional needs. Maybe that is because harmonious function and balance is beauty—they are one and the same. Perhaps our Creator instilled in our souls the sense of beauty so that we would recognize when something was “just right.”

perspective-web.jpgSo, whenever I see beautiful things in the world I always find myself thinking, “here is God signing his name on his handiwork.” In the presence of such perfection I sit in awe, filled with a sweet sense of the Divine presence. I am reluctant to leave and wish that I could somehow dwell in that space forever. Others may rush in, take their flat photos and rush off in a whirlwind to their next destination, but I want to linger and savor.

Perhaps the face of the Divine is just too glorious for some to bear, but I want to let it nourish and inspire me. If Robinson Jeffers is right, and God's signature is beauty, then whenever we behold a radiant, healthy individual, we are also viewing his handiwork. Nothing gives me a greater sense of satisfaction than seeing a person become more whole, more balanced, and thus more healthy. Whenever our efforts as natural healers succeed in this quest, and we see the resulting increase of beauty in body and spirit, I'm certain we are seeing our Maker signing his approval, “well done.”