Monday, June 21, 2010

Where is the Value?

I've been thinking a lot about the implications of beauty in our society. My new Bible study was not the first tapping on my brain concerning this subject.  I'm also reading a book called Adventure Divas.  While I despise the name, it's made me think a lot about what I find to be of value in others.  I'll probably want to talk about it a bit more when I complete the book.  For now I just wanted to take a bit of space to explore my feelings and thoughts about beauty and virtue and how the two might meet.

The first section of my Bible study suggested redefining beauty and gave Proverbs 31 as a good definition of beauty for Christian women.  As I wrote yesterday, I'm not sure that really lowers the bar as much as it relocates it and perhaps even raises it.  I find it confusing and frustrating that beauty and virtue are in opposition with each other.  So often, beauty seems to be something you can have physically or spiritually but never both.  It's either presented as inner or outer but not a mixture of the two.  A woman who is truly virtuous can never be physically beautiful because that would mean that she wasn't concentrating enough effort on the spiritual but had fallen over into the sin and degradation of the physical.  It sounds so Victorian/Puritan/stuffy/antiquated yet doesn't it hold true today?

What is it about being physically pleasing that requires a judgement?  And how does the way a woman fixes her hair or what dress she puts on take away from her strength, courage, valor, merit, potency or chastity.  Now there are two contradictory ideas, potency and chastity.  How did those traits even end up in the same definition?  Perhaps virtue is not the same for men and women.  That seems to be the case in this definition.   However, I would argue that the right dress and a great haircut adds to a woman's strength, courage and potency in a physical and spiritual way. 

Looking at the other words in the definition of virtue, it's hard to understand why chastity made the list.  It seems like an afterthought, a word tacked on because the previous part of the definition was too frightening to transfer freely between men and women.  Men can be virtuous in this way: manly strength, courage, valor, merit, potency.  Those traits can't be counted as good in a woman yet she must be allowed to be virtuous somehow so a woman can be virtuous if she is chaste.  That really sets men and women at odds, don't you think?  A man is virtuous if he's potent and a woman is virtuous if she's chaste.  That poses a real problem.

I thought perhaps my difficulty with the idea of chastity might stem from a lack of understanding so I took a moment to find the definition of chastity and it was much as I thought until the second definition.  1 : the quality or state of being chaste: as a : abstention from unlawful sexual intercourse b : abstention from all sexual intercourse c : purity in conduct and intention d : restraint and simplicity in design or expression

2 : personal integrity
Personal integrity.   Now that's strong, courageous, brimming with valor, merit and potency.  Personal integrity is something worth getting excited about.  It's a place to camp and explore and live.  I'm not sure the people that tacked chastity onto the definition of virtue to give women something to which they can aspire would appreciate my excitement over personal integrity.  Really, personal integrity is much more inspiring than sexual abstinence.

I believe that personal integrity helps us choose what is beautiful.  Without personal integrity all beauty must be selected and approved by another.  With personal integrity we choose our own beauty.  Beauty gives pleasure to the senses or mind or spirit.  Don't courage, valor, merit and potency do the same?  Aren't those beautiful?  Again, chastity just doesn't fit the list.  It comes in and squelches all that is beautiful as effectively as a bucket of water.  It says no where all the others say yes and rush to action.  Personal integrity, on the other hand, becomes a complement to beauty requiring that one become sound, complete and honest in order to be virtuous and not just sexless. 

As a woman, the idea of virtue in the form of personal integrity brings beauty and virtue into perspective.  The dichotomy is erased and I am able to find beauty in virtue and virtue in beauty.  The two are reconciled and each is allowed to have value. Beauty and virtue as a dynamic duo embody all aspects of an individual by setting an internal standard rather than an external measure.  Individuals are free to decide what gives pleasure to the senses, mind and spirit and also is honest, complete and incorruptible.  Virtue and beauty together become something to live in rather than something to which one must aspire.  Value is not determined by another.  Value comes from what is sound, complete and honest and from what gives pleasure to the senses, mind and spirit. The bar is set.  It's a rigorous standard but clear and most certainly valuable.

All definitions were sited from:
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

     Retrieved June 20, 2010, from

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