Education Week: Beauty paradox distorts social perception of beauty

Stephanie Dibb Sorensen said the world promotes “surface beauty,” which values a sensual outward appearance created by specific body types, clothes, makeup and accessories. This type of beauty encourages an attitude of covering up flaws in life rather than fixing them, according to Sorensen. (Maddi Dayton)

Common conflicting and misunderstood definitions of beauty often create a paradox that influences what society sees and accepts as beautiful.

BYU church history adjunct professor and LDS author Stephanie Dibb Sorensen expounded this paradox by discussing righteous womanhood and the relationship between righteousness, self-image and power in an Education Week presentation on Thursday.

Sorensen based her presentation on the difference between “surface beauty” and “deep beauty.”

Surface beauty, Sorensen explained, is measured by outward appearance through specific perceptions of what a woman’s clothes, body, makeup and other accessories should look like in order to be considered beautiful. This is the type of beauty embraced by the world and promoted by Satan, and its power comes from a portrayal of sensuality.

“In the end, this whole idea of surface beauty can get you the approval of others and it also can convince you to get power, but from the wrong source,” Sorensen said.

Deep beauty’s power comes from righteousness, according to Sorensen. It is based in the belief that a body is a temple that houses one’s spirit and that virtuous living develops beauty that shines from the inside out.

“Deep beauty earns the approval of our Heavenly Father and it helps us feel a greater sense of self-respect,” Sorensen said. “This approval is much more lasting and unwavering, and our virtue gives us confidence.”

The world’s increasing promotion of surface beauty has changed the social perception of what is considered beautiful, according to Sorensen. She said she found it interesting that after performing a Google image search of the word “beauty,” she had to scroll through about four full pages of close-up pictures of glamorous women before finding a painting that reflected deep beauty.

“Satan has made us think that beauty is just a very narrow definition of one part of what really should be a much larger definition of beauty,” Sorensen said.

Sorenson quoted Elder M. Russell Ballard’s 2010 General Conference address, “Mothers and Daughters,” warning that youth are “coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual and thoughtless promiscuity.” Elder Ballard explained that young women who dress immodestly can distort a correct perception of beauty, both in themselves and those who surround them.

“They not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal,” Elder Ballard said. “This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”

Sorensen said she has often wondered about the responsibility of women in the way men see them. After studying the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Sorensen concluded that “we can and should help one another to be our very best selves, and to fulfill our divine roles.”

“While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves,” Sorensen said. “Modesty in dress is one way that we can do that.”

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