I’m not fat, frankly, and I’m not unhealthy either. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I catch myself thinking about eating less at the table and restarting a weekly jogging routine, all because I want to shed some pounds and look ‘good.’ Whatever looking good entails. So I realize even I am captive to the constant bombardment of beauty archetypes in the media.
And then I ran across this article in the Korean American Journal, The Obsession with Being Thin:
When was the last time you saw a plus-size Asian woman in a movie?
A magazine? A TV show? Chances are you probably haven’t. What we’re used to seeing are the petite ones, a sign that our culture has an obsession with being thin. While the Western world has Weight Watchers, some Asian women turn to extreme diet fads— strong Chinese herbal drinks, ultrasonic liposuction and even swallowing parasites. It’s important to keep our weight in check, but has our fixation on thinness gotten out of control?
I have a feeling some of you are already considering “swallowing parasites”! Ouchhh! I gotta admit, we Asians are particularly susceptible to the Western media’s standards of beauty, which contributes to a very unhealthy self-esteem among a great many of us, particularly our teenagers.
Media plays a significant role not only in how we view ourselves, but also in how we view others. And this is very troubling to me because it seems we are beginning to associate moral/ethical qualities such as truthfulness, goodness, honesty with outward appearance. A person is good and upright if they are beautiful. A person will succeed in business when they are handsome and pleasant to the eye.
Therefore, ugly means evil.
This obscures the fact that beautiful people sometimes are the most evil people in the world. Yet they can get away with things because they ‘look’ innocent. Because we have made a false connection between physical appearance and moral uprightness. Between what is acceptable and what is not. Between whom we choose to associate with, and whom we don’t. Between whom we hire and whom we don’t.
The list goes on and on…
It’s the Israelites choosing Saul from the tribe of Benjamin, tall and handsome, to be their first king. But God’s standards are very different:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Conflating morality with aesthetics!
Consider the traditional European version of Jesus: blond, blue eyed, docile, long goldish hair, and somewhat effeminate. Obviously we don’t have a first century ‘media’ photograph of Jesus. But paintings were the form of media for centuries. Right? Still, I’m definitely sure a first Century Mediterranean Jewish peasant, and a carpenter at that, would not look remotely close to that. I’m not even sure a medieval European male would look something like that. Where does this aesthetic iconography come from?
Or consider Isaiah’s messianic description: no beauty or majesty, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… (Isaiah 53ff). Perhaps, we too would despise and reject him simply based on looks. And many church-going folk would most probably not recognize Jesus if he came sauntering through the doors of their church.
How do we recognize what is truly good? truly beautiful? Or to put it another way, how do I recognize if a person is good or evil? And what standards of measurement am I using to judge this? Because if my measuring stick is very different from God’s, then I will do harm to a great many people I come across in this world. It cannot be avoided. My aesthetic judgment clouds everything.
There is something deeply significant about the 2nd commandment to not make an “idol” — an image we then worship and adore. And I fear we do something of the sort when conflating morality and aesthetics.
But back to the original question.