An episode of “The Twilight Zone,” a science fiction television series of the 1960s, was set in an imagined society where everyone underwent procedures to remake themselves into a stereotypical image of a beautiful person, such as featured in fashion magazines. The narrator introduced the show saying, “Let’s call it the year 2000...” (Jan. 24, 1964).
Well, it’s now 2010, and although not everyone has yet been artificially remade to look like a model, the number of cosmetic procedures done in the United States has increased to over 10 million a year, up by at least 50 percent since 2000. In her recently published book “Ugly as Sin: The Truth about How We Look and Finding Freedom from Self-hatred,” author Toni Raiten-D’Antonio wrote, “Every inch of the human body is now subject to cosmetic intervention,” and in an increasing number of professions, a stereotyped, ultra-youthful appearance, often achieved through cosmetic procedures, is deemed an essential ingredient to success.
Is such a focus on attempting to conform to a narrow idea of good looks the way to achieve real beauty? While I wouldn’t want to outline what measures anyone should or should not take in regard to their appearance, I’ve learned through my study that Christian Science offers original ways to think about beauty.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor’s founder, valued humanity’s expression of beauty, but she concluded that the most effective way to find it was by spiritual, not material, means. In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she wrote, “The recipe for beauty is to have less illusion and more Soul, to retreat from the belief of pain or pleasure in the body into the unchanging calm and glorious freedom of spiritual harmony” (p. 247). Here Soul is a synonym for God.
But is this spiritual approach still practical in the modern world where, for example, studies show that women judged to be prettier earn more than their plainer colleagues?
Although statistics show that cosmetic procedures have increased in frequency, an awareness has simultaneously arisen that a sense of true individuality can sometimes be lost in the extreme pursuit of a contrived style of appearance. For some, the mere fact that they no longer look – or perhaps feel – as much themselves, after having undergone cosmetic procedures, is a serious consideration. In her book, Ms. Raiten-D’Antonio describes her own train of reasoning that led to the conclusion that extreme cosmetic intervention was not for her.
As Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health: “Custom, education, and fashion form the transient standards of mortals. Immortality, exempt from age or decay, has a glory of its own, – the radiance of Soul. Immortal men and women are models of spiritual sense, drawn by perfect Mind and reflecting those higher conceptions of loveliness which transcend all material sense” (p. 247). The more we express spiritual qualities such as love, truth, sincerity, and compassion, the more we will exemplify true beauty, independent of physicality.
On a daily basis, we are confronted with many media messages about beauty, frequently designed to prompt questions as to whether we are satisfied with our own appearance. Christian Science involves thoughtful decisions about how we regard ourselves. When a decision is based on the influence of the divine Mind, God, it can result in only good, for we see the whole of our individuality is spiritual. As we are each divinely created in the image and likeness of God, who is also divine Love, it’s natural for us to appreciate the unique identity and beauty God has given us.
The basic decision involves our own conception of beauty: Is it simply comprised of physical characteristics that can be contrived and manipulated at will? Or is beauty something much more significant than that – the outward evidence of a consciousness spiritualized with concepts of loveliness that result from our accepting and expressing Love’s qualities? When we are seeking to do God’s will, we can be satisfied only with the expression of our spiritual individuality – the true evidence of His likeness. This constitutes real beauty.