Fairest of Them All – Holy Beauty, Unholy Vanity
“Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.” (Grimms Fairy Tales)
So, Snow White seems to start off as a story based on the merits of physical beauty. Snow White’s mother desires a child who looks a certain way–and she gets it. “When (Snow White) was seven years old she was as beautiful as the day, and more beautiful than the queen herself.” Naturally this doesn’t sit well with the queen, who is obsessed with maintaining her own beauty and despises rivals. Jump forward, and Snow White is on the run from her evil stepmother. When she ends up the dwarfs, they are so overwhelmed by her beauty that they welcome her right in “Oh, heavens, oh, heavens, cried they, what a lovely child. And they were so glad that they did not wake her up, but let her sleep on in the bed.” Then when Snow White falls prey to the queen, the dwarfs “were going to bury her, but she still looked as if she were living, and still had her pretty red cheeks.” And finally, the main reason the prince wants her is that she’s a really fine-looking dead girl: “let me have it as a gift, for I cannot live without seeing Snow-White. I will honor and prize her as my dearest possession” (Grimms Fairy Tales).
It would be easy to point to this fairy tale as being outdated and repressive towards women. After all, the main power that hung in the balance was beauty! The mother desired a beautiful child–not healthy, not clever, but beautiful. The queen is obsessed with maintaining her beauty. Snow White is constantly saved by her beauty.
Even Christians are said to dismiss vanity. After all, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV).
So, should we dismiss physical beauty as entirely irrelevant? After all, how we look isn’t important to God, just as long as we’re modest, right?
However, we have to consider that God made Esther as well. Esther, a simple young Jewish girl who was only noticed for she “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (Esther 2:7). Esther, who with other maidens labored for a year in beautification rituals, all for a man she only had one night to impress. As much as the movie “One Night With the King” sought to modernize Esther by making her witty and strong-willed, we really have no idea about her personality–all we know is that she “won the favor of everyone who saw her” (Esther 2:15). She might have just as easily been gentle and quiet, like Snow White. What we do know is that her beauty gained her the status of queen–and that the whole time, God had made her physically beautiful in order to to save His people. In the end, her physical beauty was a gift from God, just as much as if she had been gifted as a prophetess like Deborah or as a devoted helper like Ruth.
Physical beauty is a gift from God– a gift that is defined both culturally and individually as we view both those around us and ourselves in the mirror. It is not something to be envied, nor is it to be scorned. According to experts, “People may pay more attention to them, listen to them better. Also, good-looking people become more self-confident as a result of their looks and prior treatment by others.” This can be easily exploited. If God makes someone in such a way that the society they live in considers them beautiful, then they are responsible to use that gift wisely and humbly, and to surrender it gently when increasing years wrinkle their skin and wither their limbs.
Most of all, we must understand that we are each of us “fearfully and wonderfully” made in the Image of God (Psalm 139:14). It is in reflecting His image that we are most beautiful, no matter what our physical state.
And if someday you are dreaming and praying over your future daughter, send in a request for her to have secret ninja skills and a innate resistance to poisoned fruit. Because, you know, it can’t hurt.
Taste of the Fantastical
Fancy An Apple?