In my High School days there were phrases and ideas popular with my friends. We passed them around like little diamonds, turning them over and enjoying their sparkle and the way the light played through them. They were a wealth we treasured and hoped would paint our lives. Of course, most of them turned out to be low grade cubic zirconium, but hey, who can afford real diamonds these days?
One such saying was “You don’t love a woman because she’s beautiful, she’s beautiful because you love her.” It was short, pithy, built around an antithesis; what more could a quote desire? Besides, well, being right.
I remember this one being bantered around mostly in moments when someone did not feel particularly beautiful; sort of a linguistic-medication: “Hey, you feel ugly. Don’t worry, your always beautiful because someone loves you!” Thus triggering the rather confusing question: “Well, am I really ugly, but appearing beautiful because of that love? That helps a lot.” We also used in the counter point, that a man in love is no judge of a woman’s beauty.
This quote espouses a rather uncertain sentiment: namely, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A man looks at his wife and sees her beautiful because he loves her, even if she is as ugly as the underside of a poorly-maintained John Deer lawn mower.
But we do know there is beauty outside of the eye, particularly emphasized by culture. Each culture has standards of ‘young beauty,’ the attributes it expects a woman to have to be most beautiful (large breasts, small breasts, short, tall, slender, chubby). Yet beyond this is a certain universal standard of beauty, particularly found in faces. A beautiful face is beautiful across the world.
So there are woman who are beautiful even if we don’t love them. Here the sentiment of the saying is wise: do not choose to love a woman because she is beautiful. Love should not, cannot, be founded on externals. The sensual encounters (that is, of all the senses) between a man and a woman is, of course, the first way they encounter each other (seeing and hearing primarily, unless we’re in a Hollywood production. Then it’s probably physically bumping into each other accidentally). It must grow from there to include the sentimental (that is, emotional) and finally the full person. It is only in loving a person that love endures, for the physical and emotional elements will change.
But what of the flip side? Is it the idea that a woman is more beautiful if you love her, or that she is, independent of anything, beautiful because you love her?
I subscribe to a ontological understanding of beauty that says simply: to be is to be beautiful. A woman is beautiful because she is. More particularly, she is beautiful because she is a woman, because she has those attributes that make her a person of the female sex. It is a similar, though divergent, beauty to that which a man has as a person of the male sex. All woman are beautiful, always. The woman spending her life shrouded behind a burqa is still as physically beautiful as the lingerie model. The beholder is unnecessary.
All people are beautiful by their very being, in their very being. The woman who feels ugly is beautiful. It is not simply a case of being “beautiful in the eyes of God”; the woman is beautiful. Period. It is a fault of others if they do not see it; only by the fall is it possible not to see the beauty of every creature and the unique and unrepeatable beauty found in those made in the very imago dei. Despite the fall we are still given the chance to see this beauty, to embrace it, and love it. Let us not fail every day to reawaken our awareness of this beauty and our appreciation of it.
“You don’t love a woman because she is beautiful, but she is beautiful.”