Last week social media went into a frenzy after the singer Adele released a snap on her birthday where she looked unrecognisable. It turns out the singer has lost quite a lot of weight during the lockdown. In a normal world, this would not be headline news but Covid 19 has generated a negative supply shock to news. The media is desperately trying to find any non-Covid stories to report. At the time of reading the story on the BBC, Adele’s Instagram post had gunned millions of likes and spawned much discussion on Twitter!
|Adele before the weight loss|
All of this of course has made me wonder whether I should be writing on this at all. I suppose what has got me thinking about this are the comments people have made about her. All of them admired how wonderful she looks now. The media has used words like “stunning”, “incredible”, “sensational”, “beautiful” and other words better not to be repeated. These media comments largely report what Adele’s celebrity pals and fans originally said about the photo!
The eagerness of people to comment on Adele’s new appearance reveals something good about human beings. We are all creatures of beauty who desire and long for beauty. There is no person who is drawn to something they regard as ugly! We are wired to recognise that something is beautiful and immediately take delight in that beautiful thing. My guess is that animals and plants do not share in the human capacity to recognise and appreciate beauty. Only human beings are blessed by God with the capacity to look at a picture of someone and reach a judgement that this is something worth affirming and retweeting to others.
Our capacity to appreciate beauty is an echo of time. It is reminding us that we are unique. We are made in the image of God. When God was creating the world, the Bible says God repeatedly saw “it was good”. One of the first things the Bible reveals about God is that he appreciates beauty! Later on we read about God making man in His image. He made us with that same capacity to admire beauty around us. We should not take this capacity to admire beauty for granted.
The other day I was sitting with my daughter and she wanted to read about the human eye. So we turned to the encyclopedia. We discovered together that we see things because light bounces off an object and then enters your eyes through the pupil which is the black dot in the middle of your eye. Our eyes collect the light patterns through the retina, which is an area of light-sensitive cells on the inside of your eye called rods (120 million) and cones (7 million). These turn the patterns into signals our brains can understand. The amazing thing is that once the brain takes in that information we are somehow able to come to the conclusion of what is beautiful and what is not.
Research shows that babies are born with a sense of beauty that develops in the womb as part of an innate ability to recognise human faces. Tests on babies as young as a few hours old have shown they are not just able to distinguish between faces but show a definite preference. The researchers concluded: "babies are born with a detailed representation of the face that allows them to detect and recognise faces....so attractiveness is not simply in the eye of the beholder, it's in the brain of the newborn infant right from the moment of birth, and possibly prior to birth...The fact that babies seem to like attractive faces does not alter their overriding interest in the face of their own mother….All infants are enormously attracted to their mother and this is irrespective of her attractiveness. A lot of this is hardwired and you cannot get away from the hardwiring."
That engineering of the human capacity to see beauty does not come from evolution. It is a gift from our Creator God. When people click like on Adele’s photography and comment on how she looks, they are somehow confirming that they are endowed by God with the capacity to recognise beauty. They are made in His image. They are also confirming that God has filled the world painted with beauty!
The problem is that as the comments on Adele’s photo shows, something has gone wrong with beauty in our world. It seems no matter how much beauty we have, we are never satisfied. The general consensus seems to be that the public admires how beautiful she looks at the present. This implies that before she did not look as beautiful. It is sadly the brutal reality that whatever people said in the past, what they really think is that she now looks beautiful. Before she was not! Indeed, some feminists are now claiming the compliments are a form of “fat shaming”. We should take that to including, a fat shaming of pre-lockdown Adele. Which of course raises questions of whether Adele is happy with the compliments today or she feels sad that people before did not think she was “amazing”, “incredible” or “beautiful”. Sharon Osbourne thinks it is possible Adele at night feels sad about it all.
It is possible many of her fans thought she was beautiful before but now they are simply appreciating what they see as an improvement in her beauty. Which of course simply reveals the underlying truth that there is no satisfaction to beauty. One never reaches a point where he or she says they have seen enough beauty! One reason why we are not satisfied with the beauty around us is that our understanding of what is beautiful is distorted. We can tell a lot about a person by what captures their attention and time. In our society the beauty that captures people must have some sexual connotation to it. Many of the comments, including this piece in the Daily Express, seem to be obsessed with how more sexually appealing Adele looks. The admiring of Adele’s beauty turns out to be simply another commodification of beauty. It is a distorted beauty!
We said at the beginning that when God created us, He created us in His image with the capacity to see and evaluate the world with his moral goodness. But the story of the Bible does not end there. Humanity rebelled against God. Beauty is meant to be what God says is beautiful. We decided that we think is beautiful independent of God. When God told us that it was a ugly thing for us to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we said it is a beautiful thing to do. In rebelling against God in Eden we changed the definition of what is beautiful. All sin is sin against beauty. Sin is calling beautiful something God calls ugly. In God’s aesthetic, the more distant something is from His ideal the less beautiful it is. The tragedy of human longing for beauty is that not only is it never fulfilled, it replaces what is beautiful with the ugly and calls it beautiful!
The good news of the Bible is that God wants us to live beautiful lives. He wants us to enjoy true and lasting beauty. And he has come to give us this lasting beauty by sending His eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the beauty of God dressed in the rags of human flesh. In Jesus the feet of eternal beauty walked through the pages of human history to reveal true beauty. He came so that we can know, experience and enjoy true beauty. Jesus enables us to do this this by changing our hearts and connecting us to the beauty of God through His death on the Cross. The death of Jesus paid the price for our ugliness, for our sin.
In of ourselves we are vile and ugly creatures. Sin has left its imprint of ugliness on us! Jesus has come to take our ugliness and replace it with His beauty. Those who belong to Jesus now share in the beauty of God forever. This is our comfort in this life when we are beset by the ugliness and trials of life. We are ugly but Christ is the beautiful Beloved of God and if we are trusting in Him. we are loved and accepted by God not because of what we are but because of who He is and what He has done for us. He is Jesus is our beautiful God who has come come to connect us to Himself! It does not matter what we are in ourselves. It is who we are in Jesus.
So let us look to the beauty of Jesus, not the passing beauty of this world! Let us allow this beauty of Jesus to change us! The true beauty of Jesus is a transforming beauty. As we look upon His beauty through the eyes of faith, we grow every day to love His true beauty! As we look on Jesus, we begin to look spiritually beautiful outside who we already are inside! We start hating the ugliness of sin in our lives! We live in the middle of a beauty war. The fog of the conflict means we do not see beauty clearly. With battle scarred eyes we look at what is ugly and think it is beautiful. But as we gaze on Jesus, His beauty takes over our hearts and help us see beauty as it really is!
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2020
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