What Is 'Inner Beauty'?

We use the term 'inner beauty' because we know that beauty is not only 'skin deep'. This article aims to throw some more light on the notion of inner beauty. Although this applies to both men and women we focus here on women's beauty.

Beauty, Goodness and Attraction

It is common to contrast the outer beauty of good looks with the inner beauty of goodness. This points to two different kinds of attraction. We are attracted aesthetically to visual beauty, and we are attracted spiritually to goodness. We could picture the realm of attraction as being 'between' beauty and goodness. Beauty and goodness have this in common - they are both attractive.

So instead of having two elements, outer beauty and inner beauty, we have three. In this way we can identify attraction as the common element between them. This is significant because it helps us identify more of what is going on. We could represent it like this:

BEAUTY - AESTHETIC (OUTER BEAUTY)

ATTRACTION - EMOTIONAL ('INNER-OUTER' BEAUTY)

GOODNESS - SPIRITUAL (INNER BEAUTY)

The realm of attraction stands in between outer and inner, participating in both, and mediating between them. Why is this important?

Another Kind of 'Inner Beauty'

In a way you could say that the attraction-emotion dimension is another kind of 'inner beauty'. We usually think of it in terms of personality, such as when someone says, "Doesn't she have a lovely personality?" This is usually referring to some blend of goodness and 'pleasingness'. So if a woman is gentle in manner, considerate of others' feelings, more concerned to allow others to shine than herself, and pleasant and happy in her demeanour we would say she has a lovely personality.

Another woman might be just as good a person, or even more so, yet not convey this outwardly. She might speak and relate to others somewhat awkwardly, be preoccupied so as not to seem as alert to others' sensibilities, and have an unintentionally dour manner. None of this tells you whether she is a good person or not, but neither does the more refined manner of the other woman.

When it comes to the bottom line, to the quality of a person's moral character, appearances are not relevant. What matters is a person's intention to do good for others.

But we don't live our whole lives on the 'bottom line'.

Most of life is somewhere in between. Yes, we need to have good intentions and act according to them, but it is also important to relate to others in such a way that what is inside us is effectively communicated.

Someone with a good heart who nevertheless keeps putting people off with her manner puts too much of the work of relating onto others. They have to keep reminding themselves that she is a good person to help them deal with her manner. While recognising her goodness they wonder why she couldn't work a bit harder on being more pleasant and personable. We expect a certain amount of give and take in our manner of relating.

A Lesson from Seduction

Once we clarify the nature of attraction we discover that we could become more attractive. Although the most important constituent of attraction is goodness, here we are assuming good intentions so as to focus on the combination of outer beauty and the 'inner beauty' of attraction. However, before we leave the question of moral character aside it is worth using it to clarify something about attraction.

Bad intentions can use the emotional forms of attraction for the purpose of seduction.

Seduction works by simulating goodness. A seducer mimics goodness by developing refinement in the means of expressing those things that the other sex finds attractive. If 'flattery is the homage that vice pays to virtue' then 'emotional refinement is the homage that seduction pays to goodness'. Bad intentions can be disguised by outer refinement. What can we learn from this?

We want to find that beauty is synonymous with goodness.

There is something in us that spontaneously equates beauty with goodness, even though experience tells us that the two are not the same. But they should be. The world should make sense, and people should always have good intentions. Unfortunately they don't. Nevertheless there is something deep in us that wishes that there was perfect harmony and that beauty would always signify goodness.

We tend to give the benefit of the doubt to beauty. Or we go to the other extreme and become highly suspicious of beauty. Both these reactions point to the power that beauty has. There is nothing wrong with this power in itself. It arises from the fact that the physical world and the spiritual world are meant to be in perfect harmony. And the mediation between the physical and the spiritual is the symbolic. Beauty is the general symbol of goodness, and by accentuating the signs of beauty we 'co-opt' some of the force of attraction inherent in goodness.

All kinds of seduction work like this. They take something good, that should be unproblematic, and use our spontaneous attraction to the beautiful to deceive us.

However, the fact that seduction is possible does not make it the norm.

Most people who are trying to be more attractive to the other sex are not trying to deceive them. Indeed, the ordinary way of countering the temptation to seduction is to realise the superior attractiveness of beauty combined with goodness. Seduction only works in the short term because soon its underlying selfishness becomes visible, and the shine of outer beauty is dimmed by the perception of inner ugliness. Goodness wins hands down over the longer term.

Ambiguity in the Signs of Goodness

It is crucial to recognise that there is no intrinsic opposition between beauty and goodness. They were made to reinforce each other, not oppose each other. And when goodness is reinforced with beauty it becomes all the more powerful. Although we always need to retain a certain mindfulness of the propensity for beauty and goodness to fall out of balance, this is not sufficient reason to avoid any accentuation of beauty.

In this context it is important to remember what has been said here about the nature of the 'inner-outer' beauty of emotion-attraction.

We could inadvertently make the mistake of elevating the beauty of personality over the beauty of outer appearance.

We can lose sight of the distinction between the attraction of goodness and the attraction of interior development, equating it too simply with 'inner beauty'. You see this at times when people react to the favoured attention given to those with good looks. By way of reaction people can say things like, 'She's just a dumb blonde'. Some good looking woman might indeed have below average intelligence, but does this reflect on her goodness? Do you have to be clever to be good?

In a beauty pageant people might become critical of one who looks very beautiful but who is awkward in manner, preferring the one who has the more refined personality. But again, is a nice personality a sign of goodness?

What we call 'personality' is partly a gift but also an achievement, and can be developed by good and bad alike.

If there is danger, it probably lies more in the cultivation of the emotional forms of attraction than the outward forms. This is because it is easier for people to recognise that outer appearances are not the same thing as goodness than it is to recognise that a pleasing manner might also be deceptive. This is reinforced by the fact that outer beauty fades fairly quickly with time, but 'emotional beauty' can become stronger over time.

However, just as most women who are trying to enhance their outer beauty are motivated by good intentions, so too are those who are trying to enhance the attractiveness of their personalities. This makes a lot of sense, especially when we keep in mind what was just said about the transience of outer beauty and the timelessness of emotional beauty. Best not to have only one string to your bow.

The Accentuation of Attraction

Now that we have cleared the decks about the dangers of beauty, we can turn our attention to what is involved in the quest for accentuated attraction. By identifying three different kinds of beauty, we can see three different ways of enhancing attractiveness. Notwithstanding the cautions given above, it is a good rule of thumb to put them in this order of priority:

1. GOODNESS - SPIRITUAL

2. ATTRACTION - EMOTIONAL

3. BEAUTY - AESTHETIC

Firstly, if you want to be a more attractive woman start with being a good woman. Don't just try and appear to be good, but take seriously the life challenge of becoming a genuinely selfless person, concerned first for the good of others.

Secondly, although 'emotional beauty' is sometimes described in terms of 'personality' it is probably better to think in terms of refining your manner of presence to others. To speak of 'personality' has connotations of something fairly fixed and perhaps impossible to change. So it is not really about changing your personality but developing more refinement in how to make visible the person you are inside.

Thirdly, I'm sure I don't have to say much about enhancing outer beauty given the enormous attention already given to it in our society. I'd just make one suggestion. Think more broadly than 'static' beauty and think of enhancing your 'dynamic' beauty. What does that mean? Static beauty is what you can see in a photograph. It is thinking of beauty in terms of a pose. But of course you will almost always be in motion, even if these are subtle. For example, do you have a beautiful way of walking? What about how you sit down and stand up and move around a room? Are your movements graceful and smooth or careless and clunky? The upside of shifting more attention to dynamic beauty is that it makes more difference than you might think, and you don't have to be stereotypically 'beautiful' in the static sense to do it successfully. It is more achievable for most women and longer lasting. (And less expensive to attain!)

From this we can also see why we tend to put our emphasis on these three aspects of beauty in reverse order. It's a lot easier to get a new dress or hairdo than to develop a more pleasing manner. And it is a lot easier to appear to be good than to actually be so.

Seriously, why is life like that? If you could commercialise goodness you'd have it made!