BEAUTY, JUDGMENT and the BIBLE
(Investigator 187, 2019 July)
"Charm is deceptive and beauty disappears, but a woman who honours the LORD should be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
Blum (2003) says we are in "a culture that bombards women on all sides
with beauty regimes, beauty solutions, beautiful images":
As we are increasingly influenced by the ubiquity of beautiful female
bodies on television, in movies, on the cover of virtually every
magazine in the supermarket, it is no wonder that the identification
with the image of beauty itself is so compelling.
People who are physically beautiful by the standards of their society
or culture are regarded more positively than people of average
features! They may be considered smarter, more dependable, more
law-abiding, nicer and more honest. People's attractiveness affects
their job prospects and the leniency of sentences imposed on
them in courts.
The Bible names about 3000 people but never makes anyone's attractiveness or ugliness the basis for judging their character.
NOTIONS OF BEAUTY
The nature of beauty, what "beauty" actually is, cannot be fully
defined, but some components can be identified. Julie Smart (2001) writes:
We have seen that one
component of beauty is symmetry. Other elements of beauty are health,
sexuality, and physical fitness. Many people with disabilities are not
viewed as being symmetrical, healthy, sexy, or physically fit… Indeed,
many prospective employers have told qualified job candidates with
disabilities that they cannot hire them because their appearance would
be distressing to customers, coworkers, or supervisors. (p.
There are countless ways to stand out as attractive. Ross (2010) writes:
Botox is now the
biggest cosmetic procedure undertaken in the world. Botox involves
getting botulinum toxin injected into facial muscles to smooth out
frown lines and wrinkles. Other people body-build, get tattooed, split
their tongue, or wear nose rings. Many, especially females, get breast
implants, face-lifts, attachable finger nails, "nose jobs" and
liposuction. Some buy blow-up bras and padded bras and get waxed,
shaved or lasered.
Some societies see deliberate disfigurement as beautiful. Time magazine reported:
For a thousand years
Chinese women bound their feet so tightly that a natural "high heel"
was formed, and toes were twisted irreversibly under the arch; African
women used discs to form platypus lips; in Burma, tribeswomen encircled
their necks with so many heavy metal rings that the vertebrae would
separate. In the early 19th century, English fashion in female bodies
was ethereal, emaciated; a tubercular fragility was considered
attractive… The crowning, confining glory of Victoriana was the
whalebone corset…which sometimes displaced internal organs. (Time,
August 30, 1982, p. 77)
Men of the Surma and Mursi peple in SW Ethiopia have elongated ear
lobes and the women wear lip plates. A plate fashioned from baked clay
and wood is inserted in the lower lip via an incision and the lip
stretched over it. Often some front teeth are removed to better
accommodate it. Bigger lip plates mean more goats as bride price.
A product that might make people radioactive would today not pass
consumer protection laws. Radior Co. Ltd. of London sold "Radior Toilet
Requisites" after World War I. A full page ad in 1919 said:
Radium and Beauty
Science has discovered in Radium a revolutionary Beauty Secret…
The tiniest particle of Radium throws off a continuous stream of Energy
Rays, from one year’s end to the next, never stopping—never
diminishing. Celebrated physicians have proved what this amazing Energy
will do for the human skin. Radium Rays, in fact, are accepted by the
human system as harmoniously as is sunlight by the plant. They are a
Power for Betterment.
"Radior" Toilet Requisites are the first and only toilet preparations
to contain a definite quantity of Actual Radium. (See "Radior" $5,000
With the unique power of Radium added, "Radior" Preparations stand unrivalled as aids to Beauty.
Another dangerous notion makes beauty synonymous with skinniness.
DiBattista (2002) writes: "Television, film, posters and print ads are
also filled with images of women who are very thin, with flawless skin,
perfect hair, and great clothes..."
The Sunday Mail reported, "Images of stick-thin waifs … are fostering a
youth culture obsessed with unattainable body images." (October 5,
2008, p. 39) Marano (2008) says that equating skinniness with
perfection locked girls into competitive dieting that led to bulimia
and even suicide.
Body-shape preference has varied with time and place. Judging by
pre-civilization stone statues, stone-age people liked plump females
with huge breasts. The ancient Greeks liked athletic, muscular types.
The Romans preferred slender shapes as did Medieval Europeans. After
that from 1400 onwards plumpness became a status symbol. In the 19th
century Western women had waists compressed with corsets. The "flapper"
era in the 1920s preferred women with short hair, slim waists and flat
The more-curvaceous Marilyn Monroe look came in the 1950s, followed by
extreme slimness in models and film stars. After AIDS arrived in Africa
plump women were preferred in some African countries since plumpness
was evidence of being AIDs-free.
Attractive people reap greater social and economic rewards than the unattractive. Julie Smart (2001) sums up:
It is well accepted that attractive people earn more over their
lifetimes, receive more social benefits, and experience less rejection
and isolation than those who are not good looking… (p. 112)
Mothers give more attention and care to (and are less likely to neglect
or abuse) their beautiful babies. Beautiful people do not experience as
much punishment and discipline throughout their lives as do
unattractive people. Indeed, police, judges, and juries are more
lenient toward attractive adults of both sexes. As children, beautiful
people were the teacher’s pet and the parents’ favorite child…
Beautiful people know that job interviews will be fairly easy to
obtain, and when they get a job, they will be paid higher starting
salaries, and they will be promoted faster…
Beautiful people know that people enjoy talking to them, prolonging the
conversation, laughing, joking, and occasionally touching them… For a
beautiful person, belonging to a group is effortless and automatic… (p.
In summary, unattractive people, with or without disabilities, are often viewed as inferior. (p. 114)
Here are a few investigations among hundreds:
Hamermesh (2011) shows that "Beauty Pays" because attractive people are
more likely to be employed, work more productively, receive higher pay,
negotiate better terms on loans, and have more-attractive spouses.
Dion, Berscheid & Walster (1972) showed that physically attractive
people are advantaged as students, and in the marriage market and
workplace. They are rated as more sensitive, kind, interesting, and
Clifford & Walster (1973) found that fifth-grade teachers rated
attractive children as more intelligent, confident and competent, and
expected them to reach higher levels of education. Such evaluation can
lead to preferential treatment and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Other researchers have found that physically attractive women and men
are more self-confident, fluent and persuasive, and get employment more
easily. (e.g. Chaiken, 1979)
Stockemer, Praino & Moscardelli (2016) studied data on U.S. House of Representatives elections 1972-2012, and found that:
...attractive politicians involved in scandals will suffer smaller
declines in their re-election margins than less attractive politicians.
In other words, we posit that the positive feelings associated with
trust, integrity and sympathy that attractiveness triggers in voters
mediate or counteract the negative feelings associated with scandals
that typically culminate in diminished electoral returns.
Smith (2018) reported in Australia:
Flinders University senior lecturer in politics and public policy
Rodrigo Praino said his research showed the attractiveness of
politicians could not only attract votes but also swing election
JUSTICE and ATTRACTIVENESS
Lowery (2010) reports: "…a new Cornell study has found that
unattractive defendants tend to get hit with longer, harsher sentences
— on average 22 months longer in prison."
Hollier (2017) examined 27 studies and found:
had a significant influence on judges sentencing. The more unattractive
the criminal, the higher the sentence. Or conversely, the more
attractive the criminal, the lower the sentence. The results of three
studies show a minimum increase of 119.25% and a maximum increase of
Attractiveness had little to no effect on a judge’s
verdict of guilt. Attractive and unattractive criminals were convicted
It's probable that attractiveness had bigger impacts on sentencing in
previous centuries, before modern research (since the 1960s) exposed
"They look on the outward appearance" (I Samuel 16:7)
The Bible acknowledges romantic attraction along with beauty and the positive evaluations that these motivate:
How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
(Song of Solomon 7:1-4)
Romance aside the Bible tells people to judge others impartially.
Dealings with others should be guided by consistent rules and standards
that apply without beauty-based prejudice.
When the prophet Samuel selected a king for Israel he chose:
…Saul, a handsome young
man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than
he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. (I Samuel 9:2)
But Saul was a failure at kingship. Handsomeness and tallness did not
guarantee peace, stability and a king who judges impartially.
The next king selected by Samuel was David who was "ruddy, and had
beautiful eyes, and was handsome" (I Samuel 16:12). But David's looks
are not what qualified him as king; nor did the looks of his older
brother Eliab qualify him:
But the LORD said to
Samuel, "Do not look on his [Eliab's] appearance or on the height of
his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7)
Absalom (a son of King David) also looked good, and this contributed to
his popularity and successful usurping of the throne: "Now in all
Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as
Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was
no blemish in him." (II Samuel 14:25-26) Being good-looking did not
make Absalom a loyal son, or wise, or a good king.
Sometimes a person may evaluate himself as special because of good
looks or popularity but actually lacks moral merit: "Your heart was
proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of
your splendour." (Ezekiel 28:17)
Many people make idols of singers, actors, evangelists and other great
communicators and regard them as perfect people. God, in the Bible,
judged differently when he picked 80-year-old Moses to lead Israel:
But Moses said to the
LORD, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor
even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech
and slow of tongue." (Exodus 4:10)
Throughout the Bible God is said to judge impartially. He judges people
in this life and in the final judgment by what they did, never by how
beautiful they looked:
For all of us must
appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive
recompense for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (II
For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:25)
For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy. (James 2:13, 24)
People are enjoined to imitate God. (Ephesians 5:1) One way to do this
is to recognize the fallibility of judging character from looks, and
instead try to judge impartially based on conduct:
You shall not render an
unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the
great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15)
It is not right to be partial to the guilty, or to subvert the innocent in judgment. (Proverbs 18:5)
Partiality in judging is not good. (Proverbs 24:23)
The modern world is bombarded with beautiful images and beauty regimes as if beauty is the ultimate measure of people's worth.
The Bible in contrast emphasizes, "the lasting beauty of a gentle and
quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight." (I Peter 3:4)
Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the "capable wife". She is not necessarily
beautiful, although this is not ruled out, but is trustworthy,
industrious, wise, kind, considerate, generous, happy, and caring of
Consistent with biblical values is a paragraph in On Dit (the University of Adelaide newspaper):
This ideal is forced on
us…when we turn on TV, enter cinema, open a magazine, walk past
billboards or talk with peers… These abundant images tell us first of
all that what we look like is the most important thing about us. This
devalues us as human beings, because being human is about living,
thinking, feeling, acting and so many more things than fitting a
certain image and looking "good". There are far, far more images
presented to us in which women are doing nothing but being decorative
than there are of men in the same situation. This enforces and
perpetuates an archaic and unacceptable idea that women should be
valued for how we look… (31 May, 1993, p. 16)
Attractive people have social, financial and legal
advantages over the less attractive. Across the
centuries this bias produced countless discriminatory judgments. Courts
probably now take more care, but that's still thousands of years later
than necessary had the Bible which teaches impartiality been taken
Blum, V.L. 2003 Flesh Wounds The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery, University of California Press, p. 19
Chaiken, S. Communication, Physical Attractiveness and Persuasion. Journal of Personality and Persuasion, Volume 37, No. 8, 1979, 1387-1397
Clifford, M. & Walster, E. The effect of physical attractiveness on teacher expectations, Sociology of Education, Volume 46, No. 2, Spring 1973, 248-258
DiBattista, R.G. 2002 Female Body Image A Hot Issue, Enslow
Dion, K., Berscheid, E. & Walster, E. What Is Beautiful Is Good, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 24, No. 3, 1972, 285-290
Freedman, R. 1988 Beauty Bound Why women strive for physical perfection, Columbus Books
Hamermesh, D.S. 2011 Beauty Pays Why Attractive People Are More Successful, Princeton University Press
Hollier, R. March 14, 2017 Physical Attractiveness Bias: 27 Studies on Why Attractive People Win in the Legal System
Lowery, G. May 11, 2010 Study uncovers why jurors reward the good-looking, penalize the unbeautiful
Marano, H.E. The Skinny Sweepstakes, Psychology Today, February 2008, pp 88-95
Ross, D. End of The Line, The Weekend Australian Magazine, July 17-18, 2010, pp 28-31
Smart, J. 2001 Disability, Society, and the Individual, Aspen Publishers
Smith, M. Sunday Mail, June 3, 2018, p. 20; November 4, 2018, pp 8-9
Stockemer, D., Praino, R. & Moscardelli, V. (2016) The Good, the
Bad and the Ugly: Do Attractive Politicians Get a 'Break' When They Are
Involved in Scandals?