When you look at others, or yourself, what do you look for? What do you see? In such matters it’s good to be aware of the spiritual perils of “lookism.”
Share the plate: Salem-Keizer NAACP
Celebrant: Benjahmin Boschee, Anchor: Joanne Manson
First service music: Cheryl Randall
Second service music: UUCS Choir
This service will include the Child Dedication ritual. Contact Rev. Rick or Christi if you would like to have your child recognized among the congregation.
Believe it or not, did you know that for over a century a number of communities in America had so called “ugly laws” on the books? The last one standing – in Chicago – was overturned in 1974. These laws made it illegal for “unsightly” or “unseemly” people to appear in public. Whoa! I mention this here to give you a historical frame of reference and maybe then you don’t feel too disheartened by this following snippet of news.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with UUCS member Vern Heibert over at Capitol Manor when he showed me a news article which at first I thought was a joke. It wasn’t. An entrepreneur in Southern California who created an exclusive website for “beautiful people” to meet will soon open an exclusive club for “beautiful people.” To join the website you have to be judged to be good looking by the website’s “beauty police.” If you are deemed to be so, then you’re welcome at this exclusive club. Those who haven’t been pre-screened by the website can still go to the club to be judged by the onsite “beauty police” to see if you are one of God’s chosen beautiful people. Anyone who isn’t seen as beautiful will be turned away. Note: The club will make special allowances for very wealthy people because they claim that great wealth greatly enhances one’s attractiveness.
What’s not to like about this business venture? Well, how about EVERYTHING!
This misbegotten venture can’t fail fast enough for me – it’s a lose/lose proposition. Think of those who will be turned away because they’re not judged to be attractive enough. Ouch. Think of the “beauty police” who have to render such judgments – at some level, delivering cruel blows to others will damage and diminish them. After all, when you harm another through your words or actions you simultaneously cause “moral injury” to yourself. What an awful job! Finally, pity those poor, deluded souls who do get in and actually swallow the superficial notion that one’s physical attributes are a barometer of self worth. What a spiritually stunting belief! Then, too, deep down inside, most beautiful people surely must realize how precarious their position is – physical beauty is fleeting – natural aging, or falling off your diet or exercise regimen will eventually land you in the realms of unattractiveness. How fragile is self worth that’s purely based on one’s appearance. What a shallow faith.
Nevertheless, the Church of the Body Beautiful holds great sway in our culture, and its cruel and callous doctrines afflict most of us, in one way or another. The key doctrine of the Church of the Beautiful Body is alternately known as “body fascism” or “lookism” – it states that only the fit and beautiful ones are worthy and can find salvation in the temple of beautiful people. All others are unworthy and cast into the outer darkness where the ugly are condemned to dwell. The God of this Church always proves false and fickle, for all of us, even the best looking, fall short of glory of eternal, everlasting beauty. As the Buddhists remind us, we are all subject to old age, ill health and death. Yet as flawed as the theology of the Church of the Body Beautiful is, body fascism is an economic driver that creates highly profitable businesses. So there many entrepreneurs who reinforce body fascist attitudes by endlessly enticing us with goods and services that promise to make us become better looking.
Who could blame someone for wanting to be “better” looking or, at the very least, not go downhill? Countless studies show that physically attractive people get preferential treatment in just about every arena of life. Researchers note that beauty bias seems to be hardwired in human nature – even 14 month old babies display it. So maybe it’s futile to try to completely override the injustice of beauty bias. Yet there is no denying the unearned entitlements and privileges that accrue of those who are simply physically attractive. It’s more insidious and widespread and damaging than you might imagine.
Nevertheless, doesn’t the thirst for some justice and compassion lead us to address the pain of those who are wounded and diminished by the body shaming practices of body fascism/ lookism? I speak of all those who have been maligned, mistreated, marginalized, who have been led to believe that because they don’t fit some conventional standard of beauty or attractiveness that they are flawed, ugly, unacceptable? How many overweight children are bullied in our schools? How many people have been told they are ugly or unattractive or have internalized this cruel Judgment and loathe themselves and their bodies? How many have fallen prey to eating disorders, how many people hate their bodies, how many people can never just relax and enjoy life because they don’t look they way they’ve been led to believe they should look? The answers to these questions would shock us, I think.
Thinking about this takes me back to my junior and senior years of high school. Lots going on in my life in those days – much of it sad, stressful and challenging. Eating became a way to escape, find at least some pleasure, dull the pain. At the time I had a weekend and summer job at a fast food restaurant where fries and burgers and greasy apple pies and milkshakes were right there for me. I packed on thirty or more pounds. People, especially high school students, can be cruel. And I heard some cutting remarks. It hurt. You’ve always known me as slender, but inside this skinny body there’s a fat shamed person. Who knew?
Eventually I lost the weight (not as hard when you’re younger), but if you’ve gone through such an experience it’s much harder to lose the deep seated feeling that your worth hinges on your appearance, for good or ill.
We live in a body fascist, lookist culture – it runs much of our economy and drives the lives of many people. A person can become conditioned to look at themselves and others through the judgmental lenses of lookism.
So there I am in the crowded grocery. I look around at all the other folks there and frankly, they don’t look so great to me. There are overweight people, people who are fashion challenged and people and those who just look like they’ve been run through the mill. No one within the range of my eyesight has a future in modelling and I don’t think any of them should count on spending any time down at the beautiful people’s club on LA. Frankly, it’s not a very pretty scene.
Wait! What am I doing? Why am I being this roving fashion and fitness critic – looking to see if folks are ugly and unattractive? Why? Because it’s the way our society has conditioned me to look at myself and others.
Here’s how this kind of thing plays out – when you regard a person in a certain way it manifests – subtly or not so subtly – in your interactions with them. That is, if there is an interaction or any connection at all. We communicate more than we realize. Having a negative bias will not lead you to having a life affirming interaction with others. You may not say anything, but folks will know. They will sense your disapproval. Thus, so many people get hurt, ignored, dismissed and you may not even realize the harm you’re doing.
I pause to take stock of myself. Looking at people through lookist, body fascist lenses is not in keeping with my spiritual values. It’s not. So stop it Rick! My values call for me to recognize the sacred worth of the people I meet in my life. Not just some people – ALL people. The Jewish and Christian and Islamic traditions affirm that all people – not just the ones who are admitted to the beautiful peoples clubs – are made in the image of the divine. The Buddhist tradition notes that every person has a Buddha nature. The Hindu tradition affirms that everyone is a manifestation of the sacred one. Our Unitarian Universalist tradition calls for us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
This is the vision I seek to have and to realize this anew – to hold this value in my heart and mind as I encounter others in my daily life. It’s a spiritual practice. Each meeting, each interaction in my daily life is an opportunity to live out my values – each encounter can become an act of mutual spiritual creativity in discovering the beauty of each person I meet.
Topics: Child Dedication