The year 1994 witnessed the debut of a little family film known as The Swan Princess, one of several attempts by non-Disney enterprises to grab a slice of Disney’s highly successful fairy tale princesses franchise. My parents, who bought just about every movie that came out on video, quickly added it to our VHS collection once it had finished its theatrical run, and upon viewing it I found it to be a mediocre offering. Not an instant classic like other animated films, but certainly not hateable in its badness.
One scene from the movie did stick in my mind though. You’ll have to familiarize yourself with the film’s plot if you want more details, but in the beginning, Prince Derek makes an awkward and sudden proposal to Princess Odette based solely on her good looks. “You’re everything I ever wanted. You’re beautiful!” Derek gushes. “Thank you,” replies Odette, “but what else?” As our ham-fisted protagonist, Derek is obviously confused by this inquiry and after hemming and hawing for a moment, blurts out, “What else is there?”
Ah, silly Prince Derek. We of this enlightened post-modern feminist era know so much better than to limit our praises of women to their beauty.
Or do we?
A good friend of mine told me that he thought about this recently as he watched a few very different shows where males and females were introduced. “I noticed that the women were invariably introduced with a reference to their beauty,” my friend said, “Which makes perfect sense when introducing a woman whose job is at least largely, if not entirely, dependent on being physically attractive—model, newscaster, emcee, actress—but some of the women I saw introduced as ‘the beautiful/lovely [name]’ were athletes, politicians, or authors.”
I’m sorry to say, I’m not sure that the Church is doing much better on this matter. In my eighteen years as a Christian, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard male pastors, speakers and missionaries reference their “beautiful/lovely/gorgeous” wives, often with nary a word as to what else it is that they love about their wives. I currently attend a fairly conservative evangelical seminary where my classes sometimes have a male-female ratio of 4:1, and it’s not uncommon for class members to introduce themselves at the start of the semester with some brief words about their families. In this setting, too, I continue to hear regular talk of how pretty the wives are. I don’t blame my peers, as my guess is that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Romantic paternalism seems deeply embedded within evangelical culture.
As a married female student whose husband is not enrolled in seminary, I’ve struggled with how to introduce my own family when my turn comes around. I could introduce him as “my handsome husband,” but I’m not sure implementing my own brand of romantic maternalism really solves the problem. I could avoid descriptors, but that sounds dull. I could leave out mention of him altogether, but I worry that those who know I am married will think I’m choosing not to discuss my marriage for the wrong reasons. So I’ve taken to mentioning his other qualities: my selfless husband, my courageous husband, my creative and talented husband. He certainly likes it much better when I brag about him for those reasons rather than for his smokin’ good looks.
Which isn’t to say, men, that you can’t praise your wife’s good looks to others from time to time. I assume that good looks were on the list of reasons why you were attracted to her in the first place, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s nice to get compliments on my own appearance from time to time, and I enjoy giving them almost as much as getting them.
I simply echo the question that Odette asked above: “Thank you, but what else?”
Proverbs 31:10-31 contains a rather famous list of desirable qualities in a godly wife. The only thing that list has to say about good looks?
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30, TNIV)
Amen to that.