The dangers of judging others based on physical attractiveness

UK apologist Calum Miller has a long post up at Dove Theology about people making judgments based on physical appearances.

Here’s the part that really struck me:

Quite obviously, most people put an emphasis on physical appearance. They decide who to date or be friends with at least partly on the basis of physical appearance, and by doing so they create an expectation of the opposite sex (or the same sex) looking good enough. They make comments about people looking good or looking bad. They make comments about people wearing nice or unimpressive clothes, or combinations of clothes. They spend obscene amounts on improving their appearance. They include physical criteria in their lists of what they look for in a partner. They reject people because they don’t match some physical criteria. They ogle at others, sometimes making comments to their friends while doing so.

Sometimes they do much of this non-verbally: they make faces to indicate disgust (or something less extreme, but of the same genus) if a suggestion of romantic or social interest is raised regarding someone who has an obvious deformity, or who is wearing something unsightly, or who is too short, or whatever else. Or they gesture to direct friends’ attention towards a good-looking person, it being incredibly important that such a person be noticed and lusted after.

Men and women both do this, and do so to enormous degrees. The fact that men have less resources to change how they look, or that some people go to further extremes in their shallowness, or that some people make these ratings and judgments quantitative, is not really the main problem. The main problem is these underlying attitudes and behaviours pervading society at a much deeper level. I know very few people of either sex who don’t make comments about others’ looks, height and clothes, and that includes champions of these recent campaigns which claim to challenge such shallowness.

The fact that this image seems so farcical is a testament to the fact that this shallowness is something propagated by both sides. The fact that many women will spend their time looking at topless men in magazines while men peruse infamous lads’ mags confirms this further. And really, I will controversially suggest, there is not much difference between the woman who fawns over the face and body of a male model with her friends, and the man who comments, “nice t*ts” to his. The latter may be more extreme, more sexually explicit, and more crude, but it is really the same kind of thing: an objectification of the other sex, and an instance of lust, which is an indulgence in sexual attraction and the use of another person’s body for self-gratification, without the context of a marital commitment and the promise of life-long self-sacrifice and mutual giving.

And the most hard-hitting part of all of this is that Christians do all of this too, in my experience to just as significant a degree. Christians reject people on their looks, they include stringent physical criteria when looking for partners, they lust regularly and verbalise their lust to their friends, and by doing all these things they create expectations which others feel obliged to fulfill, and which make others feel inadequate and excluded when they don’t fulfill them (either because they don’t spend extortionate amounts of time and money doing so, or because no realistic amount of time and money would suffice to fulfill them).

Read the rest. I am not sure if I go as far as he does in the rest of the post, but I definitely agreed with him on the paragraph in bold.

This is something that struck me very hard when I was a young man, and it was especially annoying when Christians did it. I always believed that the most important thing about a person was their character, and that this would especially be true for Christians. Imagine my surprise when I found that Christians in the church were just as likely to judge on appearances as anyone else. There isn’t much that people can do to improve their appearance, but we can do a lot to have good theology and sounds apologetics. But in the church, it seems to me that theology and apologetics are on no one’s list of priorities. If our job was to preach the gospel, then it seems to me that we should be valuing skills that help us show that the gospel is true.

But there’s more to say. Everyday, Christians have to decide who to evangelize, who to defend the faith to, who to disciple, and who to make friends with. It seems to me that we need to remember that every person was made to know God. So we can’t be picking and choosing who to do Christianity with based on appearances. Furthermore, if you are assembling a team of Christian friends to serve as resources, we shouldn’t be picking on the basis of appearance, we should be picking on the basis of interest and aptitude. If your job as a Christian is to focus on theology and apologetics, and the application of that in loving God and loving your neighbor, then you will pick a completely different set of friends than if your job is to be popular.

7 thoughts on “The dangers of judging others based on physical attractiveness”

  1. Interesting. I agree to some extent and I certainly wish people would focus less on physical appearance and more on developing some inner beauty.

    I wouldn’t completely dismiss physical attraction, however. Often we are reading signals and clues on a non verbal level. When I first met my husband there was definite attraction there, which actually turned out to be much wiser than my brain. If I had ignored attraction and rationalized or reasoned instead, I would not have won the husband lottery. ;)

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    1. Definitely agree. But I think the blogger’s point is not that physical attraction should be dismissed. Certainly, even the Old Testament, for example, points it out, on occasion, in relation to the wives of one or two of God’s people, e.g. Abraham’s wife, Isaac’s (I think), et al.

      His point is how we respond to it around others, and the way we talk about it, the worth we put on people in an inappropriate way or degree.

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  2. A million times, yes. Definitely want to read his whole post. I’d go a step further, on at least one point, and say that it annoys me that not only Christians do this, but *married* Christians (*any* married persons, really, but non-Christians hold themselves to a different moral system). Or they talk about “having a crush” on a particular celebrity or person, whoever.

    Parents/adults think this is harmless, but this value-system, mentality is unavoidably programmed into their children. We know that intuitively, but I can confirm it by testimony. Neither of my parents ever said, hinted, implied, or in any way or the slightest degree alluded to comments or attitudes like this around me and my brothers. Consequently, this attitude of *not* talking or thinking like this is second-nature to us, we think of it as “obviously” the way you treat others/the opposite sex/people in general.

    That’s why we see so many articles and blogs telling parents to have the rape-talk/how-to-treat-a-woman talk with their sons. Because they *have to*. My parents did NOT have to. They lived the example. They never had to tell us. We knew how to treat the opposite sex and people in general.

    There’s nothing you can do about finding something shallow attractive or having certain thoughts. That’s being human (i.e. your “carnal self/nature”). But, like *any* sin or temptation, *you* control your response, your reaction, your choice on whether to submit to it or not.

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    1. Hmm, I think our culture has taken on a very pornographic tone that may look different in men and women but is really the same thing. We dismiss and disrespect each other, treat each other as two dimensional objects. In women this looks more like perpetual contempt of men, TV sitcoms always mocking and ridiculing men, dehumanizing men as if they were not real people.

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  3. I don’t think physical attraction can be dismissed entirely, but it certainly should be less of a concern than it is in our culture. Christians, especially, should be valuing things that are more important like shared faith and doctrine and good character in their prospective spouses.

    However, there are some traits that make it harder for people to be found attractive by the opposite sex. It is a good idea for people who find it hard to attract the opposite sex to ask honest friends if there might be some ways they could improve in order to be more attractive.

    Being overweight, for example, often makes it harder to find a spouse. And while a person might be a great person overall, with a solid character, if they constantly pick their nose in public or wear clothes that look like hand-me-downs from their great-grandmother, they might have a hard time finding someone who sees them as marriage material.

    Not everyone we meet is considered a potential spouse, and that’s perfectly normal. What gets most people thinking about the possibility of a marriage is attraction. If you don’t attract someone of the opposite sex, they may see you as a great person, a friend, or a mentor, but they won’t be interested in a marriage to you.

    Of course, attraction is complex and hinges on a number of factors. Physical appearance is one of them, but not the only one. Intelligence, social skills, shared interests, character, and several other factors play a role. Because of this, attraction to a particular person can change over time. Someone with good looks can become less attractive if they have poor character. Someone who is a little socially awkward may become more attractive when their intelligence is noted. Someone who wasn’t noted as being attractive might become more attractive as the other person gets to know them and finds common ground. It is also possible for someone to train themselves to be attracted to good character or intelligence or some mix of positive traits over other factors.

    I think attraction is an important part of marriage. Marriage isn’t merely a partnership or an economic undertaking, although it can certainly have elements of those. Marriage is a comprehensive union, which includes sexual/physical connection, which is made far more palatable and enjoyable by attraction.

    In short, there should be a much greater emphasis on good character than there currently is, but without discounting attraction all together.

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  4. “There isn’t much that people can do to improve their appearance,”

    I disagree here. A person who stays in great shape is often considered attractive despite their face – just look at Jennifer Aniston, Elizabeth Banks, Kaley Cuoco, Amanda Seyfried, Anna Paquin – the list goes on.

    And avoiding habits that destroy looks – like smoking and overeating – goes a long way.

    I think the physical standard should be (if you’re interested in attracting a mate), to look as good as you can and avoid the things that will make you age prematurely. Same should apply once you’re married too.

    But, I do get the point being made. I have 2 friends who married LA 9s – that’s about a 15 (out of 10) anywhere else in the world – both women had children and proceeded to get obese. Now, they are both left with trite, vapid, uneducated women who aren’t even fun to look at anymore.

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