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“LOOKISM”

 

 

A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, April 3, 2011

Text:  1 Samuel 16:1-13 – “…the Lord does not see as mortals see….”

 

 

     Eliab definitely filled the height square:  six feet three inches.  Next comes Abinadab, now there’s a hunk:  nice mesomorph, v-shaped build.  Third down the chute is Shammah, who sported an outstanding waist-to-shoulder ratio of 0.6.  These three – and the four other brothers – were the cream of the evolutionary crop.  And all of them were sons of Jesse, so their potential to accrue resources and protect their wives and children was sky-high.  Set all the little Hebrew pubescent girls’ hearts all aflutter.  Smokin’ hot.

 

     We’re having this little beauty contest because Saul, the on-again, off-again king of Israel is on God’s brown list.  So God has his prophet, Samuel, go to Jesse’s house.  Apparently, God has pre-selected one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king.  Samuel, of course, is not too happy about this because Saul, inconveniently, is still alive and still the king.  Samuel is afraid the king will have him executed. 

 

     But God thinks He can massage the system to keep Samuel out of harm’s way.  “Take a heifer to Jesse’s house and just tell them that you’re going to offer a sacrifice to me.  That way Jesse’s whole family is pretty much obligated to show up.  When they do, I’ll show you which of his sons I’ve chosen to be the new king.”

 

     This is how we end up at the beauty contest.  Samuel is pretty impressed by the physical attractiveness of Jesse’s sons.  Eliab catches his immediate attention and he says, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”  I mean, he just looks like a king – tall and all regal-like.  But God responds, “Do not look on his 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.”

 

     Did you know that Fyodor Dostoevsky labored for decades, in and out of debt and prison, before people woke up to the fact that he was the greatest writer in the world?  Or that, while still in high school, Claudia Schiffer stepped onto the dance floor in a Dusseldorf nightclub, where she was spotted by a modeling agent, and within two years had become one of the most admired and famous women in the world?

     They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  While that may be true from culture to culture, there do seem to be a few universal standards that are cross-cultural.  Heterosexual women, for example, seem to prefer male faces with masculine traits associated with increased testosterone (like heavy brows, prominent chins, and broad cheekbones). 

 

     They also seem to prefer mesomorphic physiques, which consist of a slim waist, broad shoulders and a muscular chest.  Consistently men with waist-to-shoulder ratios of 0.75 or lower are viewed as considerably more attractive than men with more even waists and shoulders. 

 

     Beauty and height are the two human qualities immediately apparent at first glance.  Only an IQ test can tell if you belong in Murray and Herrnstein’s “cognitive elite,” but if you’re beautiful, a mirror tells you all you need to know about your chances in life.  [Jerry Adler]  And, if Murray doubts this, let him show up at a trendy restaurant like Indochine at 9:30 on a Friday night and try to get a table on the strength of his IQ.  For you number crunchers out there, women generally are most attracted to men who are 1.1 times their own height.  Do the math. 

 

     In 1991 a new word hit our politically correct streets.  It was coined by Mary Dunn, President of Smith College.  She distributed an official document to her student body, outlining proscribed attitudes among students and faculty.  Of the

“-isms” that were officially verboten was a new one – “lookism.”  She defined this scurrilous attitude as “the construction of a standard for beauty and attractiveness.”

 

     Less than a year later, the Journal of Business Ethics published an article entitled, “Affirmative Action for a Face Only a Mother Could Love?”  Its author suggested that attractiveness is an employment-related issue that could, some day, become a legal issue.  Angela Stalcup followed this up with her essay, “The Plainness Penalty:  Lookism in Western Culture.” 

 

     Angela Stalcup wasn’t sure that plainness was on the same par as a disability, let’s say.  But there appeared to be at least some discrimination happening in the workplace based on attractiveness.  Studies have been conducted in mock trial settings, for example, with juries giving attractive defendants lighter sentences than less attractive defendants charged with the exact same crime.

 

     These studies also suggest that attractive speakers were held to be more persuasive than less attractive speakers and that attractive people were more likely to receive help in emergency situations.  Worse, physically attractive people of both sexes were perceived as mentally healthy and socially skilled.

 

     In 1994 Hamermesh and Biddle conducted a first-of-its-kind research study into the dollars and cents impact of physical appearance on men and women.  The results revealed a nine per cent wage penalty for the homely, while those who were considered “strikingly beautiful or handsome” received a five per cent bonus.

 

     But the joint study between the London School of Economics and Carnegie Mellon University, spearheaded by London School’s Matthew Mulford, pulled a big surprise.  In the Mulford study, women who perceived themselves as more attractive were the most successful in the test, regardless of how others saw them. 

 

     Apparently, self-perception has an effect on success.   So Angela Stalcup concludes that, rather than adding to the growing list of disabilities on the Americans With Disabilities Act, perhaps it would be more economically feasible to teach people to value their own attractiveness, regardless of how others see them.”

 

     In the kingdom of God, there are new standards for attractiveness:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Remember what God was saying to Samuel at the beauty contest:  “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  So, see, the heart’s the thing.  Not a 0.6 waist-to-shoulder ratio with a mesomorph physique.  The heart’s the thing.

 

     The Kingdom of God is inhabited by people who have the awareness of things that are not readily apparent to many.  Bernard and Teresa of Avila and Brother Lawrence testify to this.  Bernard of Clairvaux, in particular, spent a lot of time trying to “find” God.  He was frustrated by his inability to explain adequately how and why God seemed to come and go.

 

     Bernard could not perceive God using his five senses.  How, then, did God enter into him?  Or did God not come in, perhaps, because He never was outside?  Looking for God in all the wrong places.  Seeing that God is not something “out there.”  Discovering that, no matter how high his spirit soared, God towered above it.  That, in exploring his lowest depths, finding that God goes deeper still.  Mired in shame, in guilt, in pettiness, in bickering and cruelty, that soul found himself, in the eyes of his God…

 

…beautiful.