“Presented for your consideration,” as Rod Serling would say: photo of what some would say was a beautiful woman.
The woman in question is Lady Diana Mitford, and Mr. James Lees-Milne, who was a friend of the family, said of her, “She was the nearest thing to Botticelli’s Venus that I have ever seen.” Looking at her, I am reminded of the country music lyric, “She’s not pretty; she just looks that way.” For Lady Diana was the wife of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.
More importantly, she was an admiring friend of Adolf Hitler, for whom she acquired (and retained to the end of her life) a profound admiration—indeed, she married Oswald in Joseph Goebbel’s drawing room. Like Hitler and his crowd, she was a confirmed anti-semite. When interviewed by the BBC in 1989, she described her old friend Hitler as “fascinating”, and when asked, “What about the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis?”, she replied, “Oh no, I don’t think it was that many.” Like the song said, “not pretty.”
The example of Lady Diana brings into sharp focus the question “what is beauty?” In particular, does it consist essentially of the flawless features of a Venus? Or does it consist essentially of what Saint Peter called “the hidden person of the heart” [1 Peter 3:4]?
Our own culture opts unabashedly for the first view, and glorifies outer beauty. An entire industry has developed to secure and preserve such beauty—creams that promise unfading allure, surgical nips and tucks, face lifts for the elimination of wrinkles, Botox injections for a more classical face, breast implants. In the Hollywood culture, all this warfare against the appearance of aging is not called “surgery;” it is merely called “having some work done,” as if such radical procedures were all in a day’s work, like giving the car a tune-up before a trip.
As the disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to opt for the view advanced by Saint Peter, and recognize true beauty when we encounter it. Oils and Botox and surgeries notwithstanding, we are all of us hurtling headlong toward death and disintegration, and whatever cosmetic help we avail ourselves of along the way will not save us. Lady Diana did indeed look beautiful in her early photos, like that presented above. Should we look on her exhumed outer form now (not to put too fine a point on it) she would look rather less ravishing than before. All outer beauty fades; the true beauty does not. “The imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit” mentioned by Saint Peter survives the ravages of time, and the inexorable grave. It is to this beauty that God calls all of us. And it is this beauty which calls forth the admiration of our heavenly Bridegroom: in the Song of Songs, He speaks to His bride and says, “You are altogether beautiful, my love, and there is no flaw in you” [Songs 4:7].
As members of the Bride of Christ, it is this beauty for which we should strive.