Elizabeth Taylor and the blessing of beauty

Josh Larsen

Shiao Chong
March 25, 2011

Although I agree with the caution not to downgrade physical beauty too much, we should be careful not to equate "image" with any sort of natural human endowments, be it intellect or beauty or creativity, etc.

The reason for this is that it might create a sense of haves and have-nots. If human intellect is part of God's image - then what about people with cognitive impairments, e.g. autism, down's syndrome, etc. Are they lesser images of God? Similarly, if beauty is an image of God, where does that leave those who aren't "beautiful"?

To further complicate matters - beauty is in the eyes of the beholder - societal standards for beauty (especially female beauty) has changed and evolved over the centuries. As well, different cultures have different ideals of beauty. So, which ideal is closer to the image of God than others?

Maybe I'm missing your point? But I hope you understand my cautions.

Gail Hafar
March 25, 2011

This is interesting... one thing that comes to mind is how what is defined as physically beautiful is often so culturally and historically relative. What was considered stunning in one decade (in our own culture) would have been considered gaunt, fat, plain, or ugly in another. What is desirable in one culture can be considered a detriment in another.

I agree that there must be some way of appreciating beauty (however that is defined) without letting it slip into a fleshly thing... of course it begs the question of how, and I don't know the answer to that. It seems we would need to start with asking God to renew our minds as to how we actually define beauty so that it isn't bound or shaped at its core by the culture definitions around us... a feat in itself, to say the least.

And then there is the statement made above that being created in God's image demands an appreciation for physical beauty... in theory I agree completely, but does this specific statement that you made insinuate that only those who are "beautiful" by our human standards more accurately reflect the image of God? I don't think that is what is intended by that reference to the image of God, but it seems to require some consideration and wrestling with regard to appreciating beauty as God intended us to appreciate it...

meantime, I'm going to go work on my belly fat.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 25, 2011

Excellent point Shiao. Ranking God's children according to our looks would be terrible. By no means am I advocating some sort of beauty contest. Rather, I'm curious how we as Christians can appreciate those who are beautiful - by whatever the contemporary standards are - without letting that appreciation become twisted.

As for those not blessed with physical beauty or intellectual power, I would argue that is a separate issue. Surely they reflect his image in other, revelatory ways (I saw it every day when I worked at a residential dorm for kids with disabilities).

March 25, 2011

Gail makes an excellent point about how the physical features we consider attractive vary from society to society and change over time.The forms celebrated in classical Greek statues look like they need a few sessions with Jillian Michaels. "Your nose is as fine as the tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus" might have worked as a pickup line for Solomon but comparing a girl's nose to a building is pretty risky today.

I wonder what beauty in God's image would look like. Hands with broken nails scarred by years of service- beautiful. Eyes brimming with compassionate tears- beautiful. Faces with smile wrinkles- beautiful.

Shiao Chong
March 25, 2011

Thanks Josh. I think Christians can appreciate beauty and beautiful people without needing to resort to the image of God doctrine and the possible distortions that might entail.

We can appreciate beauty simply as a gift from God, just as intellect, truth, justice, play, freedom, etc. are good creational gifts from God, without having to suggest that any of them have to be part of the image of God in us in order for us to appreciate them.

There is an almost universal consensus among Old Testament scholars that image of God refers not to "mirror image" but to images as in statues that were commonly erected to represent the authority or dominion of an ancient king. Thus, it's not so much a metaphor of how we may be "like God" in some way but that we function as authoritative representatives, regardless of our natures.

Theologian Douglas John Hall called the conventional way of thinking about the image of God as being something in us, in our nature that reflects God's nature, as a substantialist view of the image. There is some substance in our human nature that makes us reflect God. The problem with this view is that throughout Christian history, the particular substance becomes a sort of "gold standard" and those seen as not possessing it are treated as second class humans, and this is used to justify unequal treatment. For instance, slavery of Africans have been justified by precisely such thinking - they were supposed to be less civilized and therefore fit the Aristotelian category of "natural slaves". Similarly with the treatment of women (the more emotional and less rational gender as they were categorized) in the past.

Recent theologians who write on disabilities have all wrestled with this substantialist view of the image of God and all that I have read thus far have rejected it, precisely because it has caused all sorts of problems for people with disabilities, esp. cognitive disabilities. They all propose alternative conceptions of God's image.

So, I'm not against appreciating beautiful people and I value your post because of that. But it's the substantialist sounding view of the image of God that you use to support your argument for that appreciation that makes me nervous.


March 29, 2011

The endearing and enduring beauty of a person's heart and life's work remains longer. The physical can't sustain itself, whether through athletic strength or through attractiveness. Taylor's beauty, terrible and terrifying in my opinion, was in her astounding acting ability, especially in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?", "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Butterfield 8." Listen to her spoken dialogue without the physical picture; she was a great interpretive actor.

Paul Sherratt
April 19, 2011

With the greatest respect JCarpenter, I would argue that through the medium of cinematography the physical does sustain itself. Elizabeth Taylor will always be remembered for her terrible beauty etched on screen.

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