I'm sure you've heard people speak of 'inner beauty' but what is it, and why is it so important? Are men really attracted to it, or are they only interested in good looks?
This is a companion article to "What is 'inner beauty'?"
Beauty and Goodness
Everyone knows that men are strongly attracted to the beauty of women. They can even be so affected they lose their sense of judgement and do stupid things. And it is not only boys who are affected like that - men can be as well. But why would a good looking woman have that effect on a man? Isn't it a bit out of proportion? Why would men invest so much importance in a prettier face or some more notable curves?
Can you think of any movies that deal with this issue?
In order to explore this question we need to make a distinction, between outer beauty and 'inner beauty'. Outer beauty is about good looks but inner beauty is about goodness. This points to two different kinds of attraction. We are attracted aesthetically to visual beauty, and we are attracted spiritually to goodness.
BEAUTY - AESTHETIC ATTRACTION (OUTER BEAUTY)
GOODNESS - SPIRITUAL ATTRACTION (INNER BEAUTY)
These are two sources of attractive power but they are different. The drama arises from the fact that the outer beauty of good looks is more obvious, and has a stronger immediate effect, while the inner beauty of goodness is more subtle, and often only becomes apparent over time.
Human nature being what it is we tend to get things out of balance. It's like food. A chocolate right in front of you has more immediate appeal than the prospect of staying trim and healthy. Indulgence pays off now. Restraint usually only pays off in the long run.
So, girls - would you rather be beautiful or good? "Hey, why can't I be beautiful now, and I'll work on the goodness thing as I go along?"
And guys - do you want to go out with a good girl or a beautiful girl? "Hey, why can't I start with the beautiful one and hope she turns out to be good as well?"
It's funny, but we know what the right answer is supposed to be, yet we prefer to live in hope. Is that so wrong?
A neat moral lesson ...
I'm sure everyone reading so far has quickly identified the lesson about 'beauty vs goodness'. I'm sure you could all draw a neat moral lesson from it such as: "Guys, don't ignore the plain looking girls because they might have hearts of gold." And "Girls, don't just try to look pretty or sexy, but value yourself for who you are inside". And that's not a bad lesson. It's true enough, as far as it goes.
But who gives up their hopes because of it? We note the lesson, and nod wisely, saying "So true, so true" but then ignore it. We still have high hopes for the most beauty we can have, or get.
Why is that? The fact is the lesson doesn't go deeply enough. It leaves an important reality unaddressed.
The Connection between Beauty and Goodness
Beauty and goodness are not opposites. Yet because of the imbalance mentioned above, we can sometimes end up with the impression that more of one means less of the other. As though beauty is the enemy of goodness. As if all we can do is trade one off against the other.
But beauty and goodness are not opposites. They are meant to complement and reinforce each other. Each is meant to add its power to the other.
How does that work? Beauty is the ordinary symbol of goodness. We have within us a desire that beauty would signify goodness. We want the most beautiful thing to also be the best thing. Even though that is often not the case there is a strong impulse within us to wish that it was.
Have you ever seen a movie about a beauty pageant? Everyone wishes that the most beautiful girl would also have a heart of gold. And if that isn't the case, everyone wishes that the girl with the heart of gold will win over the more obvious beauty who is rather nasty. We want beauty to signify goodness, and we want goodness to be beautiful and that desire is a good thing. It points towards a better world.
There is a very important consequence of this: we are very slow to give up on beauty.
If a girl realises that she is never going to be one of the great beauties, does she immediately give up, as if it was all or nothing? Usually not. Firstly, she enhances what she has. She presents herself nicely so as to be as beautiful as she can. Secondly, she realises that looks are not the most important thing in the world, and gets on with developing who she is on the inside.
If a guy realises he is never going to get the great beauty, does he immediately give up. Usually not. Firstly, he looks for what is beautiful in a girl, not what is not. He learns to appreciate what is there and not pine for what is not. Secondly, he develops more perceptive eyes, to see 'through' to the quality of the person she is.
None of this diminishes beauty. These attitudes increase both outer beauty and inner beauty. These attitudes increase happiness.
Eyes To See
So why are men so affected by the outer beauty of women? Why do they go ga-ga over an exceptional beauty? It is because they hope so strongly that beauty will signify goodness. They dream that the most beautiful looking girl will also turn out to be very kind, gentle, caring, selfless and understanding. They might not have clearly articulated this, but they feel it.
This is a different quality of feeling to simply appreciating good looks. Men are quite capable of being strongly attracted physically to a woman whom they know to be not such a good person. But they don't confuse these two different feelings.
Sometimes you will hear the expression "she's a keeper". It means the kind of woman who is a genuinely good person and a good prospect for marriage. Men usually feel this difference quite clearly, but sometimes the strength of their desire that beauty would equal goodness blinds them to a woman's faults. Men are very slow to give up on beauty, even very unwisely at times.
So although at times men put too much emphasis on a woman's looks, underneath it is the persistence of the sense that beauty and goodness should go together. The world should be that way, and we can be reluctant to accept emotionally that it is not.
In the meantime, men interpret women's efforts to look good as signs of hope. They appreciate women's gesture towards men's sensibilities and it has some 'crossover' effect. So a woman who clearly makes an effort to present herself in a pleasing way is instinctively seen more favourably.
So it makes sense for a girl to present herself in a beautiful feminine way rather than trying to be too sexy. Guys perceive 'sexy' and 'beautiful' differently, and if you want to be seen for the person you are inside think of sexiness as being like spice - a small dash is plenty.
Living in Hope
And no, it's not wrong to live in hope. Hope orients us towards the future, to possibilities, to growth. It is hope that gives us energy and direction. If you had no hope, why would you even get out of bed in the morning? Without hope nothing would improve. Hope gives vision. Hope points us towards a goal.
Is it wrong for a girl to want to be beautiful? No. Is it wrong for a guy to be attracted to beauty in a girl? No. In fact, to hope for these things is to point us in an important direction - towards growth. And by doing so we discover something very important - beauty is not some fixed quality. It is something that can increase. It does not stop at the boundary of physical beauty.
Sometimes we identify what looks like a moral issue and quickly jump to a conclusion. Above we raised the possibility that guys would be superficial in only wanting the beautiful girl, or that girls would be superficial in only seeking outer beauty. This could leave us with a simplistic moral lesson that prevents us from looking deeper.
We would understand the moral lesson clearly enough, but not change. And here's the important thing - a moral lesson on its own doesn't go deeply enough. We don't only need to locate the point of fault, we also need to identify the deeper reality that points towards growth.
The Importance of Attraction
So far we've looked at beauty under two of its aspects, the aesthetic and the spiritual. And we discovered that we have hopes for both beauty and goodness. And speaking of hope, both inner beauty and outer beauty are 'fields of potential' that can be developed. We can work on becoming more beautiful in both senses. How does this work?
Both beauty and goodness are forces of attraction. And here we are exploring attraction as this space in between beauty and goodness. We are not primarily looking at how they conflict with each other - although we do look at that - but at how goodness can permeate the aesthetic realm with spiritual presence.
Attraction is the arena in which we are meant to grow in our sexuality.
Women's beauty has a powerful effect on men. The solution is not how to ignore or minimise that beauty but to learn how to shift one's focus from self to the other. For a woman, it is not about how your beauty is your own possession to be used as you see fit. It is about how your beauty can be a gift to others.
For a man, it is not about how you can possess the beauty of a woman but about how that beauty can refine your sensibilities so that your eye learns how to shift from outer beauty to inner beauty. You have to learn how not to get 'stuck on beauty' but to allow its power to draw you from being attentive to the signs of outer beauty to being attentive to the signs of inner beauty.
If we do not enter this arena of attraction in order to grow in the sexual dimension of our persons we will be left only with the tactics of avoidance. For a man, getting somewhat fixated on the sexual beauty of women is an occupational hazard. Men need to learn how to grow through that so as to develop more ease in their interior lives so that women's beauty is no longer felt as something problematic but as something which calls them deeper into what it is to be a true man.