Here’s a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Kimberly:
How come some people are blessed with beauty, while others aren’t as beautiful aesthetically?
I guess I feel it’s unfair, how God made some people incredibly beautiful, while others are just average.
Okay, so I have a question for you, Kimberly:
Are you trying to get me into trouble with all the women and girls in the world?!?
But seriously . . . it’s a great question! At least, all the women I’ve mentioned it to so far think it is. And there are probably a lot of men who think the same thing, whether or not they’ll admit it.
Which woman will be more successful?
Study after study shows that people who are beautiful are more successful financially, socially, intellectually, politically, and romantically than people who are not so beautiful. People who are beautiful also generally have a better self-image, and are more likely to approach everything they do with a belief that they will be successful. And though it certainly doesn’t guarantee success, the power of positive thinking does make people more likely to succeed.
So you may be surprised to hear that I agree with you. By almost any measure you care to make, it’s not fair that God made some people incredibly beautiful, and others just average.
Fairness comes only in the things that can’t be measured: spiritual things.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First, let’s just admit that this is a real problem for many, many people, both women and men. Especially if you are a young woman just starting out in life, it can feel like your whole life depends on whether you were born with beautiful genomes, or whether your genetic roll of the dice came out snake eyes. And no matter who you are, your looks can have a major impact on your life.
This world isn’t fair
News flash! In this world, fairness is more the exception than the rule.
- Some people are born rich, others are born poor.
- Some people are born healthy, others are born with genetic diseases.
- Some people have loving parents, others have abusive parents.
- Some people have high intelligence, others have low intelligence.
- Some are born with natural beauty, others are not so beautiful.
No matter how much we may attempt to bring fairness into human society, all around us we see unfairness, and even injustice. How is it fair that some people start out with all the advantages, while others have two strokes against them from the moment they’re born?
We can’t answer all of those questions right now. So let’s focus on the question at hand. To use Kimberly’s words, why are some people are blessed with beauty, while others aren’t as beautiful aesthetically?
There are many reasons given for this, such as:
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Everyone is beautiful in his or her own way.
Different societies have different standards of beauty. For example, present-day Western standards of beauty generally require women to be very slender. But Middle Eastern cultures are more likely to prize fleshy, full-bodied women. Given that standards of beauty vary, can we really say that one woman (or man) is beautiful, and another is not?
If everyone were beautiful, nobody would be beautiful.
The Women’s Bath, by Albrecht Durer, 1496
We see beauty more clearly in contrast to lesser beauty and to ugliness. In a crowd of not so beautiful people, those who are beautiful stand out, and we appreciate their beauty more. That’s why classic artwork sometimes shows a beautiful woman surrounded by women who are less beautiful and even ugly according to societal standards of beauty at the time. And in today’s popular movie industry, the leading female characters are likely to be the most beautiful women on the cast, and plain women are included in order to emphasize the beauty of the leading lady.
Beauty is skin deep. Inner beauty is what really counts.
You can’t judge a book by its cover. A person who is physically beautiful may be vain, selfish, egotistical, and generally ugly in character. The true measure of a woman (or man) is her character. In the end, people who are kind, loving, and thoughtful will be more loved and more fulfilled in life than those who are physically beautiful but spiritually repellent.
Yes, but what about fairness?
All of these are good and valid points. They offer perspectives that can help us to sort out issues of physical beauty, average looks, and ugliness in our minds.
But they still don’t address the issue of fairness.
How is it fair that beautiful people have so many advantages over those who are less beautiful, or are physically disfigured?
And even though societal standards of beauty may vary, the practical reality is that we live in particular societies that have particular standards of beauty. If we measure up to those standards of beauty, it gives us social, financial, political, and sexual advantages over those who don’t.
Besides, it’s a little too facile to say that beauty is just arbitrary. In fact, studies show that beauty is a general physical indicator of health, intelligence, and reproductive fitness. Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder. It is also linked to real physical and mental advantages. (And incidentally, faces that are an average of many faces are considered more beautiful than those that are very different from the norm.)
Finally, though people who have good character but not physical attractiveness certainly can and do achieve success, they have to be more determined and work harder to achieve it. Meanwhile, those who are both beautiful and have strong character still have the advantage.
How is this fair?
And to take up Kimberly’s question, why did God make some people incredibly beautiful, while others are just average?
Physical fairness vs. spiritual fairness
Fairness is a human concept and a human virtue.
Throughout nature, there is no such thing as fairness. In nature, the young and strong prevail, while the old and weak die. In nature, physical beauty and power also give great advantages. The male peacock with the most beautiful feathers will get the females. And the healthiest and strongest male lion will get all of the available female lions, while lesser males must live as loners with no reproductive and genetic future.
Despite all the platitudes about how physical beauty doesn’t matter, the fact is that it does matter not only in the world of nature, but in the world of human culture, business, finance, and politics.
Which woman will be more successful?
So let’s just admit that when it comes to our place in the material world and in human society here on earth, beauty does matter, and it’s not fair that some people have great physical beauty while others do not.
If your focus is on success in the material world, there is no fairness. If you’re beautiful, you have a big advantage. If you’re not, you’re going to have to work a lot harder—and even if you do, you’ll probably be less successful than if you were beautiful.
Fairness is a human concept because fairness is a spiritual concept, and it exists only in spiritual things, not material things.
Yes, it’s true that God created a world in which people who are incredibly beautiful have an advantage over those who are just average. We call that world the material world.
But God also created a world in which not only physical beauty, but material, social, financial, and political success do not give any advantages. In that world, even a naturally good, pleasant, and sociable character doesn’t give any advantages. We call that world the spiritual world.
Physical beauty gives no spiritual advantages
Materially, there is no fairness except whatever fairness we humans manage to impose on an unfair world.
But spiritually, those who are beautiful have no advantage at all over those who are not.
In fact, spiritually, physical beauty can even be a negative.
Women who are very beautiful often depend on their beauty for their livelihood.
- Some use their beauty to catch a wealthy man who will support them.
- Some use their beauty to launch a career in modeling or acting.
- Some use their beauty to support themselves through stripping or pornography.
- And of course, some use their beauty to secure advancement in business or politics.
To the extent that a woman’s livelihood depends upon her physical beauty, she must spend a great deal of time and money cultivating and preserving her beauty. In fact, it commonly becomes the primary focus of her life. She will spend hours and hours each day grooming herself and tending to her physical health, and will spend thousands of dollars on beauty products, beauty salons, and cosmetic surgery.
Certainly it is a good idea to tend to the health and fitness of our physical body. But people who possess great beauty can become so focused on their physical beauty that it pulls them away from any kind of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual development.
How can a woman (or a man, for that matter) develop as a person if nearly every waking moment is spent focused on her physical body and her physical beauty? Where is the time for reading and contemplation, for thought and intellectual development, for focusing on the human relationships and spiritual growth that truly matter, and that make us truly human and not just a highly successful species of animal?
Yes, as much as physical beauty provides an unfair advantage in the material and social world, it can easily become a huge distraction and disadvantage spiritually.
Spiritually speaking, those who have physical beauty have no advantage at all over those who don’t. Spiritually, there is no unfairness. Because spiritually, what counts is developing a character that includes love, understanding, and a dedication to serving and caring for our fellow human beings.
Beauty is a God-given blessing. But only for those who are not focused on their beauty. People with great physical beauty can just as easily use it for selfish ends—to get money, power, sex, and success for themselves—as they can for selfless purposes, such as bringing enjoyment and happiness to others.
Spiritually speaking, beauty is a blessing for those who devote their lives to loving and serving their fellow human beings, but a curse for those who devote their lives—and their beauty—to their own wealth, power, and pleasure.
Spiritually speaking, people who are born with just average looks, or even with ugly and disfigured faces, are at no disadvantage compared to those who have great physical beauty. In fact, if those who suffer from physical disadvantages don’t become bitter and envious, their “average looks” can be a spiritual advantage to them. As they struggle to overcome their natural disadvantages, they can and commonly do develop a depth of character, love, and compassion for their fellow human beings that is often lacking in people who were born with all the material advantages of beauty, wealth, and power.
Spiritually speaking, God is 100% fair. Whatever our physical advantages and disadvantages may be, we can still choose to focus our life on love and understanding rather than on selfishness and bitterness.
This world is unfair. It favors the beautiful, the rich, and the powerful over the average, the poor, and the powerless.
But when we arrive at the doorstep of our eternal home in the spiritual world, none of that will matter.
God and the angels will not ask us how beautiful we were, how much money we made, how much power we had, or how good our sex was.
Instead, they will ask us what we did with our beauty or with our average looks. They will ask whether we developed the inner beauty that comes from love, compassion, understanding, concern, and practical service to our fellow human beings.
And you know what?
In the spiritual world, where we will live forever, our face and body will be beautiful, average, or ugly depending on whether we have become a beautiful, average, or ugly person in spirit through our life and our choices here on earth.
Which would you rather have:
- Physical beauty that lasts only a few decades? Or,
- Beauty in both body and spirit that lasts forever?
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
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